Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Anime Review: Taisho Baseball Girls

Sorry this is delayed again folks, just got hit with a headcold that's left me a bit out of it for the past two days, should be fine by the weekend's reviews!

For some reason or another, there are just more genres of anime than there are of American television. Mecha, cute girls doing cute things, sports, these just tend to pop up more in movies than tv shows (well, cute girls making guys realize the beauty and value of life but whatever). I try to keep my viewing schedule as balanced as I can make it, especially as I work my way through my backlog where I have more freedom to pick and choose whatever has caught my fancy and, since it's been a little while since I last talked about a sports series, I decided to watch "cute girls do baseball which is sort-of-kind-of a cute thing". I'd heard a little bit about this series when it first came out on DVD but not much so I settled in expecting an okay series, one that wasn't terrible but nothing I would spend a lot of time recommending, and I was surprised by it.

Taisho Baseball Girls

It's the year 1925 and it seems as if there are more and more western influences on Japan by the day. New types of food, dress, and even sports and some of them, such as baseball, have become quite popular in the last few years. One thing that hasn't changed much however is that while men can take advantage of all these new changes the women are still expected to stay behind at home and become housewives without exception. Young woman Akkiko has just been told this by her fiancee when she mentioned that playing baseball sounded fun and is determined to prove him wrong by starting up a baseball team at her school and starts with dragging her best friend Koume along with her.

The first few episodes of this show weren't bad or slow but they didn't make me love the show. It actually moved fairly quickly, the girls formed a team, played their first game, and of course lost terribly since they were such raw beginners. They start training afterwards and I do think that the show made a good call in having this not be just a sports show but a show about the girls' lives, which included baseball in it. We don't focus on each girl equally, Akkiko and Koume get the lion's share of screen time, but we see at least a bit of each of their lives and how they're changing in this strange time. About halfway through the series really hits it's stride and becomes a charming, hilarious series full of the girls getting into silly situations and growing as a result. They form friendships with each other, they're challenged to do their best from seeing their friends succeed, they occasionally chase robbers around with baseball bats! This light dose of absurdity works well for the series, particularly because it doesn't use this as a shortcut in fleshing out the girls and keeps the tone from getting too heavy. This is a series that would be far less memorable if it hadn't been a bit silly and tonally it also works much better with the humor.

It's also one of the most obviously feminist series I've ever seen (as if you couldn't tell from the summary) with the girls constantly chafing at the idea that people don't take their team seriously because they're beginners (which they even admit they could deal with) but because their women. Naturally the side characters also come around by the end of the series and I think it helps that most of the "antagonists" felt a bit more fleshed out than strawmen to start with or at least be genuinely young enough to have not deeply thought about where a woman's place "should" be and I think that really helps with their conversion by the end. This is where I think the light tone and humor of the series really help, while a major part of these girls' lives is not getting the respect their deserve when playing baseball it's far from the only part of their lives or the only thing they think about. I think the story was smart to realize that and to not have the girls point this out every episode and just let it come up naturally as the story progresses.   

Appearance wise, the whole show has a bit of a soft look to it, at first I wondered if it had been animated in SD instead of HD but since Sentai recently put this out on blu-ray I guess that's not the case. The backgrounds look as if they were done with colored pencils, gently blurred but you can still make out the lines, and the colors in the show are a tad muted (which, given the time-frame and that artificial dyes probably weren't hugely in use makes sense, although I could be wrong about that). A dub was produced, I watched the subbed version on hulu, and I was a bit surprised at how many translation notes they had in-episode. I thought a lot of them went on a bit too long, as if they were more suited to be in the extra pages of a manga than on-screen as the characters were talking, and a few were oddly extraneous as well ("this might mean that the character has never had omelet rice like this before or has never had it at all given the time period!") but I'm sure they helped out someone. I actually thought it was a bit fun that some of the girls speak is a distinctly more old-fashioned dialect (I'm surprised we didn't have a translator note or two on that) and that's part of the reason I prefer to watch shows set in Japan in Japanese, otherwise you miss out on little details like that!

For my final verdict, in case it wasn't already made clear, by the end I was charmed by this series and recommend it to anyone who likes sports anime, historical works, or wants to watch something that does have some feminist ideology in it (especially since it's all up on hulu now, for the longest time it was missing one of it's middle episodes but it's all there now!). It's a bit silly but I think a lot of the best series out there are a bit silly as well, four out of five stars from me!