Every so often, Steph will write reviews of sports anime and manga. Why? She likes them and she thinks you should watch them, too. If you like sports, you’ll like these series.
This is my all-time favorite show. I’m not even going to beat around the bush with that one. It’s actually taken me some time to write this review because I don’t even think I can begin to give this show the justice it deserves. It’s woefully underwatched in the United States, too. When I’m at an anime convention and somebody else knows the show, I immediately exchange online contact information with them so we can make friends – that’s how rare it is to find people who like it outside of the internet.
Anyway, let me take a few minutes to tell you all why this is the greatest show ever made and why you all need to watch it immediately, especially if you love baseball. This isn’t a cartoon. This is an extremely realistic depiction of baseball that happens to be animated. I have looked high and low for a better depiction of baseball. I have yet to find anything that captures the heart and essence of the game as well as this show.
The show’s title in Japanese is Ookiku Furikabutte, shortened to ‘Oofuri‘ by the fanbase. Its first season received an English dub and went under the somewhat painful sounding name of ‘Big Windup!’ but most fans generally choose to ignore that name because it sounds silly. You can find stuff regarding it by searching for either name, however. (In fact, if you search for a specific character on Google, I’m one of the first results to come up. But let’s not talk about that.)
Before we get into the plot, let me briefly explain the mysteries of high school baseball in Japan. It’s serious business. I don’t even know if there’s anything in America that can even come close to comparing. There are actually two major tournaments each year, one held in the spring and one held in the summer, with the summer one being considered significantly more prestigious. The summer tournament, which is referred to officially as the National High School Baseball Championship and colloquially as Summer Koushien (Natsu no Koushien), is a huge deal, and high school baseball teams from around the nation set it as their goal every year. Koushien is the name of the stadium in which the Hanshin Tigers play; it hosts the tournament every August. Prefectural tournaments determine who makes it to Koushien itself, and then the teams play in a knockout fashion until there is only one remaining. Students pour their hearts and souls so completely into Koushien that losses typically bring tears to their eyes, especially seniors who have had their last crack at making it there. Many players who do make it, both winners and losers, scoop up some of the infield dirt as souvenirs.
Oofuri delves into that insane-sounding world of high school baseball and introduces us to Ren Mihashi, pictured above. Mihashi struggled as a pitcher in middle school due to a number of factors, and he’s considering dropping the game altogether when he enters high school, going to a different high school than his middle school teammates in order to avoid them. Instead, the coach at his new high school, Maria Momoe (a twenty-three year old woman with extremely large breasts), ropes him in when she sees him watching the boys already on the team practice, and she brings him together with catcher Takaya Abe. Although Mihashi’s social anxiety makes him extremely difficult for Abe to work with at first – he was bullied at his old school – Abe sees potential in him and they begin to click as a battery. Despite the fact that Mihashi’s velocity is extremely slow, even on his fastball, he has pinpoint control (I like calling him ‘Anxious Greg Maddux’). Abe uses Mihashi’s control to their advantage, and the makeshift team of just ten first-year students sets off towards Koushien.
Without spoiling too much of this series, I’ll do my best to introduce you to some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.
Like Yuuichirou Tajima:
I think that sums him up pretty well, actually. Tajima is Nishiura’s cleanup batter and third baseman. Tajima has no shame. He’s tiny, so he can’t hit for power, but he’s on an entirely other level compared to the rest of the team and has a ridiculous ability to hit pretty much anything he sees. Outside of baseball, though, he’s an idiot. He’s one of the first people to really befriend Mihashi, though, and his never-say-die spirit motivates a lot of the other players to do better. The five-hole hitter, team captain and right fielder, Azusa Hanai, has a one-sided rivalry with him due to his skill.
To encapsulate the team spirit of Nishiura, there’s this:
That’s from season two. That is how Nishiura gets themselves loose for at-bats. I really don’t know what to say, but it’s pretty fantastic.
Of course, people who know me know that I like side characters a lot, and naturally, my favorite team in this series isn’t Nishiura. Every team in Oofuri is extremely well-developed, and as you watch them play against Nishiura you get to know them like they’re friends, too. Basically, in watching this show you make hundreds of friends. My “best friends” from this show are the students of Tosei High School, who first endeared themselves to me when they caught Mihashi in a rundown during their game. Mihashi made this face, and their staff ace, Junta Takase, lost it and had an unstoppable giggle fit in the dugout. I’m a sucker for boys who laugh easily. Junta became my instant favorite. (Junta is the character whose search results on Google include me if you type in his full name.)
The rest of the team quickly won me over. There’s second baseman Shingo Shimazaki, who I find way more attractive than I should since he’s not real, third baseman Jin Mashiba, who is the cutest thing you’ll ever see in your life, backup catcher Riou Nakazawa, whose heritage is Japanese, European and Brazilian, and, of course, the amazingly perfect Kazuki Kawai, the main catcher and Junta’s “husband.” I’m serious. They’re referred to as a ‘married couple.’
Which brings me to my next point: the depiction of the battery relationship in Oofuri. Battery is viewed differently in Japan than it is here, with a large amount of importance being placed upon the bond between the pitcher and the catcher. They’re actually often told to work together as if they’re married - spouses develop trust for each other and work together to solve problems, and that’s what a pitcher and a catcher are supposed to do. Oofuri takes this to a new level of gay, which appeals to a certain type of anime fan, and the batteries are almost shown as having relationships that border on seeming romantic. (Honestly, once you watch Junta and Kazuki interact it’s really hard to convince yourself that they’re not completely in love with each other.) Although the battery relationship in real life doesn’t go to that extreme, it’s highly amusing.
Especially if you’re me and think Junta and Kazuki are the cutest couple in the world. (For a great article on battery in Oofuri and other series, go here. This nails it, although it doesn’t mention the best battery in Oofuri and focuses more on Abe and Mihashi.)
Why You Should Watch Oofuri: IT IS THE BEST SHOW EVER. NEED I SAY MORE? Actually, the way it depicts Japanese high school baseball is accurate to a T (although some of the battery relationships – hell, every relationship – come across more suggestively than intended), and it shows the games played in real time. You could actually sit there with a scorebook and score each game in this series. It’s the perfect substitute when you’re missing baseball.
Where You Can Watch Oofuri: Season one is on Hulu with subtitles. Some of the English dubbed episodes appear there, as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think the English voice actors fully captured the spirit of the original show. Season two can be found here. If you want to read the original manga, most of it is here.
Go and watch and read this and tell me you don’t find this amazing. I’ve never met anyone who says otherwise.
Steph Diorio is an avid manga reader/anime watcher who uses cartoons to help her get by when it’s not baseball season. When it is baseball season, you can find her writing about the Orioles, the Red Sox, and Stanford University’s baseball team. You can follow her on Twitter at @1863_project.