Taisho Baseball Girls Anime Review
Taishou Yakyuu Musume
J. C. Staff
US Release By
Slice-of-Life Period Sports Drama
12 episodes, 24 minutes each
2009-02-24 - 2009-09-24
The year is 1925, a time of great upheaval and social change in Japan as the populace rapidly absorbs Western ideals and technology from the outside world. Our story focuses on two middle school friends, Koume and Akiko, who attempt to do something even their rapidly modernizing culture may not be ready for: Form a girl's baseball team and attempt to compete with boys teams on the same level. Just one problem: Neither one of them knows anything about baseball, for it turns out the only motivation Akiko had to start the club was being told by her baseball-playing arranged marriage fiance, Iwasaki, that women should stay out of athletics.
Fortunately, they do have one ace, an American teacher at their school named Anna who possesses all the knowledge and experience they need to get started on the right track. Aided by Anna's coaching and encouragement, Akiko and Koume set out to recruit seven other girls and acquire the skills, training, and equipment they need to form a legitimate modern baseball team.
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Taisho Baseball Girls does an excellent job mixing the appeal of a bygone era with good old-fashioned underdog sports drama and the thrill of building a new team in pursuit of a distant goal. The tired premise is saved by its historical setting, moderately realistic approach to the subject matter, and lovable characters. The plot is unpredictable and refreshingly light on stereotypes and anime cliches, and it takes a reasonable, even-handed approach to the gender battle symbolized by the sports. The series' only real weakness is its short length, which limits the character development and how far the team is able to advance in terms of a sports-related goal. The character art and animation are decent, if not outstanding, but I thought the attempt at watercolor-style backgrounds came across as lifeless and half-finished.
I really liked Taisho Baseball Girls, and since it's a recent release based on a ongoing series, the possibility of a sequel still exists. Considering how good this series is, that's certainly something to hope for.
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Taisho Baseball Girls basically combines the typical premise of girls trying to compete on the same level as boys athletics with the traditional underdog sports story about building a new team from scratch and trying to fight to the top against all odds. The concept is so overused it easily could have doomed this series to blandness and mediocrity, but it's saved by its historical setting, moderately realistic approach to the subject matter, and lovable characters. A few key issues, most notably the short length, prevent Taisho Baseball Girls from living up to its full potential, but it's still a quality TV series that even people who are not big fans of the genre can enjoy.
The main thing that attracted me to this series was its 1925 Japan setting. It was a fascinating era, and presents a whole host of unusual challenges in trying to start a female athletic club, let alone one intending to compete with men. It was especially amusing early on to see Koume beg her parents to get a new sailor-stye school uniform to replace her traditional kimono, only to get rebuffed as being too outlandish. When something as basic as what is now a standard school uniform is considered hip and progressive, you know you are turning back the clock a long way.
The era isn't used quite as effectively as I would have liked, though. The DVD box description mentions recent events such as The Great War, women being allowed to join political groups, the end of the Meiji Era, and Emperor Hirohito assuming the throne (oddly leaving out the even more recent 1923 earthquake that virtually leveled Tokyo). What do all those things have in common? Just the fact that none of them are so much as mentioned in the actual show. Talk about disappointing. Other parts of the series left me scratching my head, such as a scene showing that one players' hobby is swordsmanship, and she keeps real swords in her room. Uh, was it common for teenage girls to have real swords back then, or was that something the series just threw in on its own? Still, the setting is a major strength, and is well utilized as a backdrop even without the big events of the era playing a part.
As for the characters, well, they are just so cute, energetic, and hardworking that you can't help but root for them. At the same time, they aren't so excessively upbeat as to not get down when they realize what they getting into. They are realistically intimidated by the more physical aspects of the game and go through serious demoralization after a big loss.
One thing I really liked was how well they were introduced despite the short run time. While most shows like this use the recruitment format of one new character per episode, this one put together almost all nine players and their coach over the first two. And yet, none of them are overlooked. For the most part, the series fully explains the types of people they are, why they want to play baseball, and what talents they bring to the team. Some of the characters are rather stereotypical, such as the popular girl with fans that worship her (to the point of lesbian lust), the brainy nerd (who of course wears glasses), and the unconventional non-conformist who always speaks her mind. But I suppose with so many characters, they can be forgiven for falling back on well-established themes for a few of them, and it's not like they don't exist in real life.
The major complaint I have is that there isn't any explanation about Anna's background. How did she end up in Japan? How did she get so good at baseball, both on the diamond and tactics? Unless I'm mistaken, girls playing baseball in the 1920s was just as much of a taboo in America as it was in Japan. Surely there must be an interesting story behind her, and to not include it at all was a major disappointment, especially since she was one of my favorite characters. She gives the team gentle encouragement and kind advice when needed, but also ruthlessly pushes them through intense practices and workout routines, knowing full well that's what has to be done for them to succeed.
As for the leads, Akiko and Koume, they are charismatic and pleasant enough to effectively drive the series, while they fittingly take the two baseball positions most intricately connected to each other (Pitcher and Catcher). It was interesting how despite Koume being established as the central character, it was not her idea to put together the team, but rather Akiko's, who shows exceptional work ethic and determination for a rich girl growing up with all the privileges of high society. Koume mainly goes along with it to help a friend and secretly rebel against the wishes or her traditional working-class family. Interestingly enough, her "traditional" family runs a Western-style restaurant, which I presume is supposed to represent the culture clash Japan was experiencing at the time. However, I found it absurd that Akiko's sole motivation to do something as dramatic and life-changing as starting a baseball team was a few sexist remarks from her arranged fiance. What would she have done if he was a professional assassin or sumo wrestler instead of a baseball player? Heck, the first episode is even called "That which the boys do," as if that would be the only motivation any girl would have for playing baseball. Really, couldn't they have at least given Akiko some prior baseball knowledge as a source of inspiration? That would have solved this problem quite easily and effectively.
Still, for the most part the series retains a moderately realistic tone. There are some parts where this takes a nosedive, such as a particularly inane "Rouge Batter" episode where some of the girls dress up like ninjas and go around challenging their potential opponents to random batting practice matches in the middle of the night (and end up inadvertently pursuing some criminals in the process). But, most of the story and events are fairly believable, as is the baseball action itself. There are no 150 MPH fast balls, 15-foot leaping catches, or home runs knocked all the way to the pacific. Just simple, fundamental baseball moves that only occasionally push the boundaries of what one would expect from players of their age and talent level.
Probably my favorite aspect of the series is how unpredictable and fascinating the plot and characters turn out to be, with a good evolving story and characters that don't always fit into neat stereotypes. It's certainly not smooth sailing for Koume and her teammates, as it takes an understandably long time to develop real talent and team cohesion. Furthermore, some of their training methods backfire horribly. For example, they decide the best way to get real experience in a short time is to play a practice game against a well-established and organized boys team early on, figuring even if they lose, it will still be a good way to hone their skills. What they don't take into account is how devastating a decisive loss can be to team morale, and how being utterly crushed can have a rather limiting effect on any new skills that might be learned. The result is a major setback that nearly breaks up the team when they've just barely started. This whole incident was a great display of how the girls' courage and determination isn't always a sufficient substitute for good planning and and proper strategy, and gives the team a good lesson that they take to heart for the rest of the series.
Furthermore, the series skillfully avoids the "all males are sexist pigs" angle and doesn't make it seem like the whole world reflexively opposes what the girls are doing--reactions to their team are very mixed, regardless of gender. Most of the boys teams they challenge are remarkably gracious and honorable about the whole thing, often enthusiastically accepting their challenges and not rubbing it in or bragging too much when they win, even in lopsided contests, sometimes even fighting hard against the school system for a chance to play against them. When they express reservations about playing against the girls, it's usually based on their legitimate concern that they are so much better that it wouldn't be much of a contest, a concern often based on prior events, rather than gender issues. They are also often frequently impressed by the girls' rapid improvement and do not hesitate to let them know, and even Iwasaki comes around to see the error of his prior way of thinking. It was especially refreshing to see even the source Akiko's anger and desire to start the team depicted as a rational human being acting as he was brought up based on the culture of the time, and changing his views as a result of experience, rather than a simple "bad guy" who the girls need to defeat.
As I said before, the show's biggest problem is its short length. With only 12 episodes about a team with almost no prior baseball knowledge or experience, there are hardly any games of real significance; most of the baseball action is taken up by training programs and exhibition matches. I would have liked to see the team's hard work and effort put into practice more often once they achieve the status of a legitimate, talented baseball team. Also, more episodes could have given the characters a lot more depth and given some of the lesser members of the team a bigger role in the story, while also providing more detailed background explanations for them (especially Anna).
Also, while the character models, vehicles, and buildings look pretty good, the backgrounds are a pathetic joke, especially the scenes taking place outdoors. I think they are supposed to resemble watercolor art, but they are so lifeless and poorly-shaded that they often resemble something out of a half-finished children's coloring book. There is simply no excuse for animation this poor, especially for a series made in 2009.
Despite being neither a girl nor a major baseball fan, I really liked Taisho Baseball Girls. It excellently mixes the appeal of a bygone era with good old-fashioned underdog sports drama and the thrill of building a new team in pursuit of a distant goal. Better animation and at least a few additional episodes would have really helped, but neither issue detracts too much from the overal quality of the series. And, since it's a recent release based on a ongoing series, the possibility of a sequel still exists. Considering how good this series is, that's certainly something to hope for.
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"Princess Nine" uses a nearly identical premise of forming a girls baseball team to compete with boys, but in a much more modern setting (1998) with baseball at the high school, rather then middle school, level.
There are also some other anime series' on the market covering baseball in general, such as "Big Windup" and "Cross Game."
Notes and Trivia
Based on a series of light novels written by Atsushi Kagurazaka, which have been ongoing since 2007. There's also a manga adaptation by Shimpei Itoh. Neither are available in English as of this writing. There's also a video game adaptation for the PSP, which somewhat amusingly is a visual novel rather than a baseball game.
The "Taisho" in the title refers to the Taisho Era in Japan, roughly covering 1912 to 1926, a time of fairly stable peace and prosperity. Political shifts even enabled Japan to briefly flirt with the concept of democracy before descending into a military dictatorship and a foreign policy based in imperialism.
Baseball in Japan has a long and rich history. Horace Wilson, an American civil war veteran and educator who was hired as an advisor to the new Japanese Meiji government, is credited with introducing the sport to Japan in 1873. It quickly gained popularity and soon baseball was being played at athletic clubs and college leagues across the nation. By the 20th century, matches between American and Japanese teams were quite common.
However, professional leagues took a bit longer to develop than in America. The first professional leagues were founded in the 1920s, but quickly folded within a few years due mostly to financial problems. The first major professional league was the Japanese Baseball League, which lasted from 1936 to 1950. In 1950, the Nippon Baseball League was founded. Consisting of 12 teams, it remains the top level of professional baseball in Japan to this day.
US DVD Review
Sentai Filmworks released the whole series as a two-DVD set, with 6 episodes on each disc. It's subtitled-only, there are no scene selections for the episodes, and additional features are minimal--the "Special Features" section only contains previews for other anime shows and the DVD credits.
The subtitles occasionally provide some additional information on what the characters are saying and doing, such as identifying a classical poem or story being read in class, and explaining the cultural significance of a particular item or possession. For example, when Koume sings a song in the opening of the first episode, the subtitles display a lot of information on it, stating the name, the tune it's used with, its parody nature, and even pointing out the fact that some of the landmarks mentioned in her song were actually destroyed in the great Tokyo Earthquake that took place two years earlier.
While the additional information does have some appeal for those who appreciate the history of the setting, such as me, it can be annoying to try to read two sets of subtitles at the same time, one for the actual dialog and the other for the description of it. Most of the time I had to do a lot of pausing and rewinding to take it all in. I think it would have been much better to simply include the descriptions in a separate trivia section as part of the special features. This problem also would have been solved by including a dubbed version.
Very little objectionable content, probably falling into the 10-up range.
Violence: 1 - Several people get drilled by errant throws and fly balls, including at least one hit to a rather sensitive spot.
Nudity: 1 - Even this series couldn't resist having a big bath scene, but it's depicted in a non-revealing and non-fanservice-y way.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 1 - Some light profanity will occasionally sneak into an episode, but very rarely.
Available in North America from Sentai Filmworks on a single two-DVD subtitled-only set. It's also available streamed on Anime Network, subtitled; the first two episodes are free, the rest require a subscription.