Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beta Versus Baseball Anime

Koshien Stadium, in all its magical splendor
I really dislike baseball.  I hated it growing up and now as an adult I’m still pretty sour on it.   I find it so dull.  Its one of the few sports that even watching it live doesn’t get me excited.  So of course when I came across a Japanese anime about baseball my first reaction was to throw it in a fire, but for the sake of fair play I decided to watch and review it instead.  Then I remembered that I had access to another, older anime about also baseball.  Therefore, because I apparently hate myself, I decided to watch both series at once in order to compare and contrast.  So obviously this has been the worst month of my life.
Before we get into those two anime I wanted to talk a bit about baseball in Japan.  This may surprise you if you aren’t all that familiar with Japan but baseball is the most popular sport in the country.   Brought over in 1878 the sport grew in popularity over the years until it became the country’s national pasttime.  It’s so ingrained into their culture that they even made their own word for it: yakyu, which literally means field ball.  Today professional baseball in Japan is played in Nippon Professional Baseball, a organization that despite a few rule changes in not very dissimilar from Major League Baseball…except that NPB is apparently a tiny bit more racist/xenophobic.
This popularity extends into their high schools as competition between different schools is a big deal there.  There is a very large tournaments where schools from all over the country battle each other for the right to meet at the finals at Koshien Stadium.  There are two main tournaments apparently take place in spring and summer respectively.  The more important one seems to the “Summer Koshien” which is the largest scale amateur sporting event in Japan.  That’s pretty cool.  I may not be the biggest sports fan in the world but I do love overblown tournaments!
Pictured: The Super Hulk Tournament
Not Pictured: Dignity
By the way the Summer Koshien is where both the anime I’ll be reviewing take place for the most part.
The first show is called Big Windup! Oofuri, though in Japan it was known as just Big Windup! or rather Ookiku Furikabutte (Oofuri is the nickname for the original title).  It was based on a manga by Asa Higuchi starting in 2003 and still running today (Though it’s currently on a year long hiatus).  A twenty-five episode (And one OVA episode) anime adaptation was created in 2007 by A-1 Pictures and licensed for America by, who else, FUNimation Entertainment.  In a surprising show of dedication manga artist Higuchi, a former softball player and a HUGE fan of baseball, actually researched the sport for ten years in preparation for creating this comic.  I don’t even have the patience to research for two weeks let alone ten years.  In any case the hard work shows as Oofuri is one of the most detailed works I’ve ever seen.
The second anime is Princess Nine, titled Princess Nine Kisaragi Girls High Baseball Club (Really? Are you sure it’s a long enough title?) in Japan.  This cartoon won’t count towards my anime experiment because I watched it long ago.  In fact it was one of the anime  first series I ever successfully completed watching beginning to end…though I HATED it back then, probably because I was more than a little sexist as a kid.  Unlike Oofuri this was an original anime.  It aired in 1998 and created by Pheonix Entertainment, reaching America via ADV Films in 2001.  So good luck finding this show now because ADV seems to be out of the anime business these days.
Both these shows have many similarities but some very important differences.  Both shows focus on a newly formed high school baseball club that are depicted as the underdogs in the upcoming Summer Koshien (One because they were made up of freshmen, the other because they were all girls) and both have a very talented pitcher leading them to their surprising victories.  The main difference, other than Princess Nine being all ladies, is that the scale of realism.  With Big Windup! obviously a lot of effort went into making the story as true to real baseball as possible.  Princess Nine on the other hand has a lot more fantastical elements including baseball maneuvers that borderline being super powers (“Lighting Ball”, “Wave Motion Swing”) and possibly aliens.  Maybe.  If I were to compare the two it’d like comparing a licensed professional spots simulator video game to an arcade style Mario sports game.
This is pretty much the same level of realism as "Princess Nine"
I’ll talk more about both these shows in much greater details later, but I can tell you that I feel a strange sense of fascination with the Summer Koshien after dedicating so many hours to fiction depicting it even though I’m still fairly negative on the sport itself.  Tomorrow I’ll be posting the reviews of Big Windup! followed by Princess Nine later that day.  It’ll be a double header of reviews (GET IT?!?!?!?!).
I want to go to there
For more info on Japanese baseball click here and here.

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