Unlike other sports anime, Ookiku Furikabutte tends to focus more on the sport than the everyday high school dramabomb like, for example, H2. That would be commendable, if Ookiku Furikabutte wasn’t just plain goddamn bad at baseball.
I like baseball. I wouldn’t say I love it — I don’t have an MLB.tv account to catch every single game in a given day — but I do know more about baseball than the average fan. If you wanted to get in-depth on why Joe Torre or Ned Colletti sucks, I’ve got all day. If you also yearn for the day that FireJoeMorgan.com returns to blogging, you and me both, man… you and me both. For some strange reason, however, I’m just not into baseball anime. Actually, I’m just not into baseball stories period and why not? Because it’s a lie. It’s a fairy tale full platitudes and cliches. It’s about the gritty underdogs and their steely dedication to the game we love, of clutch hitters and rabbits on the base paths. If baseball anime was real life, every team would have nine Ecksteins. Trust me… that’s not a good thing.
When baseball fans make the headlines in America, it typically isn’t a good thing. From projectile vomiting onto 11 year old girls, to assaulting an umpire on the field, to getting tasered in front of an entire stadium, baseball fans here in the States tend to make the rest of us look like drunken assclowns. Thus, there’s something to admire about how Japan has assimilated a Western sport into its culture and made it wholly theirs. Each batter even gets their own unique cheer. For instance, here’s a “hitting march” for a rightfielder:
The game rides on the swing of your bat
Hit it with all your might!
Nobody can stop you;
Run, Hiyama, Run!
To contrast, the cheer for the catcher:
Home plate is all yours to defend;
Show us again your strong arm;
It’s you, Yamada–
We’re countin’ on you.
An interesting argument has been put forth that the “the fundamental rhythmic pattern of these cheers is a three-seven beat that is reminiscent of agricultural song cycles that date to the medieval centuries” (Kelly 88). For an American fan, there’s something unique and impressive when observing a Japanese game in action not so much for the game on the field but the rhythmic pounding of Taiko drums and non-stop cheering for nine solid innings (okay, they do pause when the pitcher’s on the mound).
And if the fans can’t make it to the game, they all gather at a local bar, dressed from head to toe in team regalia. Anthony Bourdain, a traveling celebrity chef, visits one such bar at about 3:40 into the following video:
It’s not about win or lose; it’s about the team, something that includes both the players on the field and their fans:
“It’s like when your child is running in a foot race in kindergarten. Even more than winning a first-place ribbon, you cheer your kid on fervently hoping that she or he will at least do well and get through without an injury. That’s what cheering the Tigers is all about! — Anonymous “Tiger-crazy” fan, Sense and Sensibility at the Ballpark
Though this isn’t to say that losing doesn’t matter:
(I highly recommend the rest of the Kokoyakyu documentary.)
Baseball permeates into every facet of daily life. A mother wakes up at 4:15 AM to make a bento for her son:
Dedication isn’t required of just the youths. It feels like an entire community is pulling together. From the top to bottom, from coaches to team managers, everyone has a defined role and they do their best to perform these roles to the best of their abilities. The way a junior tearfully stands before his seniors and declare that he won’t let them down no matter what makes you think that something cataclysmic might happen if 110% effort isn’t given every single day. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s admirable to observe — I would like to believe that this is the true spirit of baseball. Baseball in real life is a great thing.
So why can’t I enjoy baseball fiction?
From this point on, a pretty nerdy nit-picking of “smallball” commences. I’d stop now unless you really love baseball.
Like all sports related stories, it’s about the scrappy underdogs. In Ookiku Furikabutte, it’s ten first year players beating favored teams over and over. At some point, these guys should be considered the favorites, but I guess everyone just missed the memo.
Okay, it’s human nature for us to cheer for the underdogs, the downtrodden, etc. It’s just how they get to the victory pedestal in the anime that bothers me. Stealing bases, bunting, hit-and-running, outrageous efforts on the defensive end… all things that aren’t worth much in the real world become larger than life in fiction.
The irony is that teamwork is so praised in baseball when the reality is that, of all sports, baseball mostly boils down to individual matchups. There’s a reason advanced statistical analysis has caught fire in the baseball world. VORP, FIP, WARP3… they’re not just random acronyms pulled out from some some nerd’s ass. Since 90% of the game can be reduced down to pitcher vs. batter, it’s easier to analyze the game discretely as opposed to a more fluid sport like, say… soccer. In such a reality, every action in baseball can be quantified in terms of its chance to put runs on the scoreboard. Unfortunately for baseball anime, steals and bunts tend to hurt run production more often than not due to judicious use from “strategic” managers. In fact, it’s sometimes downright stupid to bunt.
In the third episode, the manager decides to have one of her better hitters (after all, she slotted him 2nd in the lineup) sacrifice bunt the man on first to second with no outs. So now her three-hitter is coming up to bat and what is she thinking?
If she was playing it safe, she would have him sacrifice bunt as well to move the runner on 2nd to 3rd, creating a 2 out scenario. I… she… oh my god, my head hearts. Anyhow, he manages to get a triple. Wasn’t she glad she didn’t have him bunt?
So now there’s a runner on third with one out and the clean-up hitter coming up. This is, again, usually one of your best hitters; that’s why he’s called the clean-up batter. What does she have him do? Squeeze bunt. Since he IS your clean-up hitter, you gotta have faith that the guy can hit the ball into the air and deep. You gotta have faith he will usually drive the ball in, get on base, and possibly keep the rally going. Unless it’s the bottom of the ninth and this is the game-tying or winning run, there’s no reason whatsoever to squeeze bunt in this situation and guarantee that you now have two outs instead of one. A squeeze bunt could also go so horribly wrong.
Let’s examine another moment. A semi-flashback scene occurs halfway into the first episode of Ookiku Furikabutte. Two guys are trying to determine why batters are so flummoxed by Mihashi’s pitching. At first, they were swinging and missing at curveballs:
So what was their brilliant strategy?
You see a montage of at least four guys in the bunting stance all popping out thanks to their inability to bunt fastballs. Okay, nobody ever does this. When a pitcher is relying heavily on curveballs, nobody decides “hay guys, let’s start bunting.”
Baseball anime is full of managers giving signs, calling for bunts and steals, calling them off and filling out lineup cards… like any of this matters. Nope. Baseball is actually a simple sport. See ball, hit ball, run. You want to draw walks and hit line drives. On the flip side, you want to limit walks and line drives. There isn’t a whole lot of strategy yet everyone tries to outthink the sport and, as a result, themselves. One last example:
Think about this for a moment. The entire team apparently goes emo just because the 5-spot hitter is intentionally walked. Are you serious? Albert Pujols just got walked yet again. I guess the Cardinals must be in abject despair. Look, I understand the idea of walking a good batter to limit the damage he can do. After all, a walk is slightly less valuable than a hit. But the idea that intentionally walking someone can destroy a team is ridiculous. In fact, the whole strategy is stupid. Nobody intentionally walks a batter with the bases empty. Not even Barry Bonds got that kind of treatment.
The light-hearted drama inbetween the baseball games in Ookiku Furikabutte is fine though it can be a little over the top at times. Seriously, big bro slams his brother against the wall for losing?
That’s not cool, big bro. Anyhow, the camaraderie between Mihashi and his teammates are endearing. There isn’t any silly romance subplot tacked on yet, but even if there was going to be one (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read the manga or anything), it’s probably not going to be some sappy love triangle full of meaningful stares and poignant vignettes. In Kokoyakyu, a coach pushes his team hard because he believes you need heart to win. I can buy that. There are supremely talented athletes who have failed on the biggest stage because they lack that heart (Vince Carter anyone?). I think heart is important to baseball too, especially for younger people learning not just how to play as a team but how to be accountable to the team. If Ookiku Furikabutte was about the heart, dedication and sacrifice one needs to devote to the sport, I’d be cool with it. Unfortunately, the anime thinks it’s smart about the game when, sadly, it’s when the game is actually played that I think the anime falls apart.
P.S. The OP to the first season was so much catchier.