With a look of intense focus, and the control of a precision-based machine, the pitcher eyes the figure facing him from across the diamond. The eyes across send a look, an equally piercing gaze as if the moment at hand was the potential last. Like a razor across the open field while the roaring crowd suddenly vanishes into liquid translucence. With bases loaded and two strikes, this is no longer about winning.
As another season comes to a close this last week, and the diamond is scorched with the hopes and dreams of another generation of players, I must openly admit that it’s been years since I actually watched a baseball game (live, or on the tv). Coming from a background of kids either playing soccer or baseball, it can be said that the game’s a part of my DNA whether I like it or not. And that feeling has slowly been aching back into view as this year’s Cross Game has given me flashbacks of almost feverish proportion. It seems to be something in the way that Mitsuru Adachi’s characters grab readers and viewers mutually that keeps us coming back to the ballpark. Perhaps it is in hopes of illuminating those dreams for another go-round? It’s been a rough and tumble year to be honest, and with a need to look toward more realistic heroes riding higher than ever, it’s very likely no coincidence that my marathoning of Cross Game led me into my first re-watch-a-thon of the 80s sports classic, TOUCH in well over a decade. And this time with a newbie like my roomie in tow, this along with Cross Game’s heartfelt, delicate storyline has given me some true hope for the future of the anime pastime.
My roomie is a good several years younger than I, and was quite unfamiliar with works outside of Rumiko Takahashi. To be fair, she was never much of a fan of anime/manga until I moved in two years ago. Outside of Ranma 1/2, she wasn’t sure where to begin, and over time it’s been fun to just let her run wild in the library. And it seems that thus far, the most effective works have been the ones involving sports & romance, which has been very lucky on my part since many of my favorites land in these areas! And it’s probably been most due to works like TOUCH that I have been such a lover of scribbled sports drama over the years. So to see it again, with another set of eyes recepting to it has been one of the more rewarding viewing experiences I’ve had all year.
It’s just tough to beat the feeling of passion involved in these works. The themes are so universal, that it’s also easy to see the parallels with the creative process itself.. From inception to creation, with so many hands involved until the final product is out, it’s a miracle at times that any work forms as well as they do at all. And the 1985 – 1987 tv series based on Adachi’s seminal baseball saga is one of those grand miracles that still speaks to dreamers the world over.
For the unfamliar, TOUCH is the tale of the Uesugi brothers. Young twins who couldn’t be more similar in appearance, and yet opposite in nature. Younger twin, Kazuya, is a reliable, kind, and actively popular among his peers as an up and coming pitcher for the Meisei Middle School baseball team. His soft-spoken, open nature runs contrast to his older brother, the indignant, lazy, and hopelessly unpredictable Tatsuya. Rounding out the central leads is girl-next-door, Minami Asakura (played by seiyuu legend Noriko Hidaka), who has grown up with the boys as their parents’ friendship allowed them to share a play room made in between their respective homes (which has naturally become a study room in time). With the Twins’ happy-go-lucky parents, and Minami’s always supportive Cafe-running master of a dad, life’s been relatively good. Until of course, youth begins working its troubling magic, making the rivalry between brothers more pronounced as their third party begins blossoming into her own wondrous person. A person with dreams for both boys as they lead diverging paths towards destinies involving identity, love, dreams, and a fierce battle to reach the holy grail of baseball, The Koshien.
And the previous paragraph doesn’t even begin to do the series justice. As the series swiftly introduces us into the world of the characters, the largest winning component hits the senses early, and that is a compelling need to organically tell the story. Nothing passes by lazily in this series as we actually see what makes each character tick. It takes its time in laying out Tatsuya’s personal obstacles, as well as Kazuya’s need to be respected by those he cares for. It’s easy to see why Japan fell head over heels with these characters, as they live and breathe within their elements, so that even when they are involved in making less-than-admirable choices, we can’t help but understand. Another plus is the crew’s often faithful use of Adachi’s design work which gives the whole story the sheen of a nostalgic Japan that only enhances the proceedings. The sheer depth of love for sports, and the drama inherent is a major part of what makes Adachi’s manga so popular, and here, his(and the writing staff’s) love of boxing, gymnastics, and natually baseball pays off in placing us in the players’ minds without needless voiceovers. TOUCH, at its best embraces the power of story at some of the finest levels I’ve ever seen in popular visual media, as this is a show that delivers what many shonen titles have strived for, a thrilling drama of pride versus heart.
So as we are amidst the second season of Adachi’s Cross Game, the cycle continues to offer more than what many may consider to be merely another remix of the man’s treasure troves. This time involving young Kou Kitamura, who’s life has always been surrounded by yakyuu, but never really grasped his interest outside of suckering local kids into ordering matching uniforms from his family’s sporting goods store. If anything, his first love is being given free tokens to play at a local batting cage run by the friendly Tsukishima family. A place which is also home to four daughters of varying ages & temperaments. One of which has placed great hopes on Kou despite his disinterest, and sweetly sees him as potentially something more than a close friend as both share birthdays, and have practically grown up together. Initial turning points ensue when tragedy strikes, leaving Kou, and the third eldest Tsukishima sister (the ever baseball-centric & tomboyish Aoba) to perhaps shoulder both their foggy relationship, as well as the burdens of dreams left behind.
True that there is a familiar formula at work here, but the presentation involved makes for classic storytelling that pays to be retold from one generation to another. For many, the pacing may be a point of conjecture, but this is also testament to a need to just ease into a world rather than be force fed it. Very little seems forced or filler-based. And it has a sincerity rarely seen in current shows. The visual & aural approach of the show may take some a little getting used to, but once the staff allows Adachi’s magic to envelop the viewer, it truly becomes increasingly harder to resist. And perhaps it’s just me, but to just see a modern show take a turn for the earnest without gimmicks or hooks outside of story does not only the medium, but television something to respect. Inspiration can be a tough commidity to come by.But as long as staffs and artists are willing to remind us of what it means to feel it, I’ll certainly be looking across the field in anticipation.