I realise it’s been a long time since I last wrote, and I’m sorry if you’ve been hitting this blog every day since looking for a new post (Remember guys, that’s what RSS is for.)
I guess you could say I fell off the (anime) wagon; I was half-way through writing a post about Durarara!! when I realised I just wasn’t feeling it as well as I should (my writing, that is. Durarara!! is really good, but you knew that already.)
When something like that happens, that vague lack of inspiration, it’s usually as sure a sign as any that I’m burnt out and need a break (and this blog was going so well in 2010, too!) Alas, it’s now April already and a new season beckons.
Living in ol’ Blightly, we aren’t taught the delights of baseball. For us, it’s either cricket or rounders, and the latter’s enjoyed mostly by girls anyway. So I sat down to watch Ookiku Furikabutte knowing basically zip all about the game, except that the Americans (especially Bobby De Niro) are mad about it. Why bother then? I love sports anime; the genre might be cliche, but for me, you can’t beat seeing an underdog battling against all the odds, trying their hardest to compete and eventually winning the respect of others through sheer guts and determination. For me, then, sports anime is a reaffirming and inspirational journey. A constant, heart-warming reminder that success and talent is always a curve-ball within our range; we just need practice and strength enough to know when its time to swing away.
Our journey, then, kicks-off when we meet high school new fish Ren Mihashi; though he’s unconfident and shy, Ren’s blood flows with an unlimited passion for baseball, and baseball alone. All he’s ever wanted to do is stand on that mound in the middle of the pitch and throw strike after strike to success. So, belying his timid nature, Ren dreams of being his team’s ace, their number one most important player, but he’s often struggling with his own (lack of) self belief as much as his opposition’s swing.
That’s really the basic outline of Ookiku Furikabutte, Ren starts the series by transferring schools and joining a newly formed team just in time for the summer competitions; we follow them, all strangers at first, from their early morning training sessions right through to the marathon matches themselves. Ren might be the main character, but several other strong personalities on his team shine through too; catcher Abe is a down-to-earth and tactically astute friend, Tajima is your typical hot-blooded shonen hero with immense natural talent and finally, their coach, Maria, is a no-nonsense, big breasted 23 year old woman with an absolutely wicked swing.
Seeing it all come together in Ookiku Furikabutte is a joy to behold. With everyone fighting for a common goal, they bond together and battle as one. They believe in each other. If it ever looks like someone’s feeling down and out, a team-mate is there, almost instantly, to shoulder that pain. Writing this now, I know it must be sounding cliche, but when you’re seeing it on screen, and you’re so invested in these characters, it’s heart-warming to sense this comradery between friends. That, for example, Ren can smile when he’s pitching, considering he’s basically a broken-heart in the beginning is really quite moving. Just like its great when Ren’s female cousin calls him “Ren-Ren” in front of his team-mates and they all burst out laughing at him for having such a “cute” rapport with her.
If Ookiku Furikabutte ever does come close to losing my attention, it’s probably because there’s been a sudden burst of complex baseball tactics that went way over my head, but this sense of confusion is often tempered by some amusing scenes involving the shrieking mothers of the players, all of whom are huddled together at the back of the stands, positively beaming with pride watching their children on the field.
At this point, I should note that despite this being a 25 episode TV series, it contains only two actual baseball matches, both of which are multi-episode, tense epics of inner-strife, clever tactics and brinksmanship. Because things progress at such a slow pace, I’m left wishing for an as-yet-unannounced second season (I could quite happily watch another 100 episodes just like this) or will have to resort to reading the original manga instead, but regardless, I’ve loved watching this.
It might be formulaic, but this is a story bubbling with positive energy and emotive characters. If you feel sad, in need of inspiration or just lacking a bit of self-confidence, don’t be afraid to have a swing at Ookiku Furikabutte. It’s ostensibly centred on Baseball, yes, but for all its sports-talk, it’s a true champion of friendship, team-work and fun.
Instead of spending hours writing about just one series, this week I’ve dragged myself in the opposite direction and reflected on four of my current favourites. There’s no real reason for the Tekkon Kinkreet image above, except to say that it’s one of the finest examples of fan-art I’ve clapped eyes on; tobiee is an amazing artist, but I digress, on with the show.
Gundam 00 – I’ve realised something shocking; I like Gundam 00. Similar to my time with Toward the Terra, it took a while to get under my skin, but by now, I’m watching new episodes as soon as they’ve aired. Boasting a plot dense with mystery and a number of conflicting ideas about war, philosophy and religion, I’m anxious to see whether or not the intervention of Celestial Being will result in the evolution, or destruction, of the modern world. At times, it’s breath-taking, especially the spine-tingling conclusion to episode 15, but the character designs (and therefore, the character’s themselves) are too contrived.
Ookiku Furikabutte – I know nothing about baseball, but after a few pointers from my trusted colleagues, I started watching Ookiku Furikabutte last week, and already, I’m hooked. Like Fighting Spirit, regardless of game-specific quirks, it offers some quite heart-felt, relatable depictions of emotion, friendship and psychology. We’re granted profound insight into the thoughts of the players stepping out onto the hallowed turf, on the very brink of being consumed by worry and self-doubt. For example, protagonist pitcher Ren Mihashi begins as a Shinji Ikari-level introvert; annoyingly timid, but his transformation into a confident, happy butterfly will be an inspirational moment to behold.
Shigurui – An early start to this past weekend saw me devour the last two installments of Shigurui and while I was prepared for its abrupt finish, I’m frustrated that I’ll never know the outcome of Irako’s final battle. Still, Kogan Iwamoto’s death was mightily rewarding. In a story where every character thinks nothing of inflicting cruelty and murder, the old-man was the most vile of them all; poor Irako (blind), Iku (one-nipple) and Mie (insane) deserved that bloody revenge. Indeed, alongside Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen, this is one of the finest samurai anime I’ve seen. It’s violent, corrupt and without compromise.
Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji – What is there that’s left to say about Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji? Fact is, it’s awesome; everyone agrees; the end. In the most recent episode, our hero was shaken in despair and within millimeters of a mashed ear-drum, all courtesy of crusty old yakuza sporting healthy delusions of grandeur. It’s almost impossible for Kaiji to escape unscathed, and yet, even as I write this, I’m savoring his inevitable victory, the big fat red letters about to be scrawled over Tonegawa’s wrinkly forehead that read ‘o-w-n-e-d’. I mean, our hero can’t lose; if I have faith in anyone, it’s faith in Kaiji.
Music spotlight – Discovered at ‘Music For Robots‘ was this fun remix of the Mega Man 2 soundtrack by retro splicer Johan AgebjÃƒÂ¶rn (the fantastic video was authored by Lichterloh). I mean, platform games, don’t they look great? It’s probably the nostalgia speaking, but there’s something about these 8-bit remixes I just absolutely, totally, completely adore, even listening to the first few seconds will recall a pang of feeling or emotion from an era long since past. Enjoy the echoes of memory!