Friday, March 12, 2004

I was watching a bunch of episodes of H2 last night. H2 is a baseball anime based on an Adachi manga. Adachi is the mangaka who's also responsible for Touch, a much better-known baseball anime. If you haven't seen the Touch compilation movies, do your best to find 'em and watch 'em. Of course, the magpie anime importers are not at all inclined to be helpful in this regard. Sports anime is considered far more risky and dubious than something easy to market, like, oh, say, bishie girlporn. ADV's Princess Nine is the only notable exception to this rule so far, and it had the whole gender-war thing going for it. Usually, the only way a sports anime is going to find its way into the American market is if there's some sort of wacky sci-fi element, like Battle Athletes Victory's sports-in-space silliness.

Anyways, H2. Our hero is a subdued high school freshman, who was a big noise on the middle school baseball circuit. Hottest thing since yadda yadda yadda. But he mangled his pitching arm, and the doctors told him to drop the whole baseball thing before he's irrevocably maimed. He's given up on baseball, and is starting over as a rookie on his new, baseball-less high school's soccer club. His air of put-upon competence and slow-burn resentment is really charming, in a teen-age-ticking-time-bomb sort of way. But it turns out that a hapless baseball "fan club" has formed at the allegedly-baseball-less high school, and he gets drawn into his old ways... It's a very slow, very talky, likable show. It's never going to win any animation awards, and there's an absolute minimum of style or flair to the production. The kids have a certain way of talking that more closely resembles the nostalgic rambling of over-the-hill ex-jocks than anything I'd expect out of an actual teenager, but I find myself willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Especially when he quietly, but thoroughly trashes soccer as a trendy, dull sport full of thugs and shallow shits. My sport in school, insomuch as I had one, was soccer, and I hated it like I hate dislocating my knee.

Entire TV series based on sports is something of an American rarity. I can think of few examples to the contrary. HBO's First and 10, perhaps, but that was more of a soap about a football team than about the game itself. The American imagination seems to generally exhaust itself on the subject of sports within the timespan of a two-hour movie. Beyond that, we founder and fail. Meanwhile, the Japanese TV anime market is rarely without at least one Koushien saga playing somewhere. More importantly, they're almost always about school teams, or amateurs, with the notable exception of professional boxing.

Of course, in the case of baseball, this might have something to do with the general weakness of professional Japanese baseball, in comparison with the highly competitive high school circuit, with its legendary Koushien tournament. I've read recently that there are many more anti-fans of the Yomuiri Giants than fans of any professional team in Japan. Meanwhile, high schools compete in developing world-class baseball clubs like gangsters cultivating racehorse stables. It's one of the factors that seems to drive Japan's slightly disturbing youth fixation - the fact that many of their best baseball players' careers are effectively over with their graduation from high school. The cry of "seishun! seishun!" is a perennial in sports anime, and it's definitely on parade in H2, where our hero's career is over in middle school, and we're treated to the spectacle of a over-the-hill high school freshman agonizing over whether to play just one more game.

No comments: