Saturday, January 21, 2017

REVIEW: Big Windup! (anime TV series)

I’ve already reviewed Big Windup! twice, but I figured a third time wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, I’ve watched this twice in the past month. The first time was intended to be a refresher before watching Big Windup! 2, while the second time was a bit of presidential inauguration self-care.

This first season of Big Windup! introduces viewers to the Nishiura High School baseball team. The team barely has enough members, and they’re all freshmen. Mihashi, in particular, stands out. He says he doesn’t want to be on the team, but it’s obvious he desperately wants to be a pitcher. He pitched all throughout middle school, and his experience on that team was so bad that it emotionally scarred him. He’s now convinced that he’s a terrible pitcher and that no one could possibly want him on a team. However, Abe, the catcher, recognizes his determination and skill and wants him to stay on the team.

The first half of the season shows the whole team training and learning to work together, after which they play against Mihoshi, the team Mihashi would have been on if he hadn’t purposely transferred to another high school. In the second half of the season, Nishiura plays against Tousei, the winner of last year’s National Koshien Tournament.

I rewatched the entire series during my end-of-2016 rewatch and was surprised at how many details I had forgotten: Tajima’s habit of loudly announcing how often he was able to masturbate, much to everyone’s discomfort and horror (oh Tajima, dude, stop); how much of those early episodes featured mental training, such as meditation; and all kinds of details about how the various games went. Although I’d seen the series before, the games against Mihoshi and Tousei still had me at the edge of my seat. I remembered how the one against Mihoshi ended up, but I couldn’t recall if Nishiura had won against Tousei or not.

During my next rewatch, I skipped all of the mental training stuff and went straight to the things in the show that I loved most: Mihashi becoming part of the team, Abe trying to bond with Mihashi, and every moment of the games against Mihoshi and Tousei.

Abe was a bit of a jerk to Mihashi at the beginning of the series - he planned to use Mihashi like a puppet in order to get the results he wanted, and Mihashi was too timid and easily manipulated to resist. Thankfully Coach Momoe put a stop to that pretty quickly, but the damage had already been done: Mihashi had no intention of ever going against Abe, even on the rare occasion when his instincts said he should. I don’t think I noticed how much of a problem this was, or how potentially damaging it could be, when I first saw the series - it was Yuri on Ice that got me to thinking about it. At any rate, this season doesn’t really delve into any of those issues, but I can now say that Big Windup! 2 does. But more on that when I review that DVD set.

While I loved watching the games (the first point scored against Tousei was just as hilarious and exciting the third time around as it was the first), my absolute favorite thing about this series remains the relationships between the various pitchers and catchers. The big one was Abe and Mihashi, of course. In this first season, Abe learned to genuinely care about Mihashi, even though he couldn’t always understand him or properly communicate with him. He respected Mihashi’s dedication to pitching and wanted Mihashi to enjoy playing baseball and being on Nishiura’s team. The next season went even deeper but, again, more on that when I get around to reviewing it.

Kanou (Mihoshi’s pitcher) and Hatake (Mihoshi’s catcher) had their own issues to work out - with more experience, they’d probably have worked really well together, but they weren’t quite there yet. Also, their differing opinions about Mihashi’s pitching put a bit of wedge between them. I loved Tousei’s battery. Kawai (the catcher) was usually pretty steady but not always sure about how to handle Junta (the pitcher - Junta is his given name, so calling him Takase would be more consistent, but “Junta” is how I think of him). Junta tended to be quiet to the point of seeming withdrawn, so Kawai had to guess how he was feeling and how to bolster his mood. It wasn’t until a bit later in the game that he started to relax and really pitch his best.

I like to think of Junta and Kawai’s relationship as a glimpse at what Mihashi and Abe’s relationship might be like in the future. The characters had some similarities, but unlike Mihashi and Abe, Junta and Kawai’s communication efforts went both ways - Kawai would notice that something was off with Junta’s mood and try to help, and vice versa. Abe would do that with Mihashi, but all Mihashi ever did was look for signs that Abe was mad at him or feel stunned excitement when Abe praised him.

Other characters I enjoyed: Tajima and Sakaeguchi. Both of them took special care to watch out for Mihashi, something that became even more obvious in the next season (again, more on that when I review that DVD set). Tajima was the confident and relaxed big brother who cheerfully translated for Mihashi when Mihashi was too stiff and awkward to communicate clearly, and Sakaeguchi watched Mihashi carefully and tried to smooth things over between him and Abe whenever necessary.

All in all, I highly recommend this series, and this season in particular. I sincerely wish that there were English-language editions of the manga that I could buy, or that the anime had a third season.

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