Big Windup is a baseball story. The target demographic is seinen, or late-teen/adult males. Only the first season made it to the US. I can see why, but it’s too bad, because it’s a really good baseball story. As in really, really good.…well, kindof. Plus, at $44 for a half-season of 13 episodes, it’s a little pricey. UPDATE: The second half of the season is out now, and it’s quite a bit better.
Plot Summary, with spoilers
Middle school kid Mihashi comes to HS. Was a pitcher in MS, but was hated by his team because everyone thought he only had the starting pitcher position because his grandfather owned the school. Because of this he has no self-confidence. With the help of his catcher, and the coach, he goes on to win the big game against his old school. This gives him some backbone (well, notochord) and we end Part 1 with his team registering for the big multischool tournament and getting assigned to play their first game against last season’s winners.
You know how some anime are strictly “fan-service”, with only minimal attempts at a plot? Ikki Tousen is the most notorious, but Rosario+Vampire is similar. Well, Big Windup is like that, only instead of panty-flashing or blouse-exploding, it has baseball. The trouble is, there’s still too much plot, or rather, too much character development. Mihashi, the lead character (hero is way too strong a term, protagonist too positive) is an absolute dishrag. All through the first two episodes, every time someone mentions something about his old school, something about his previous experience, something that reminds him of his old team, he bursts into tears. If there was an Annie Award for creating the most spineless character, the writers would have won in a walk. Halfway through the first episode, you realize you have absolutely no sympathy for the dork. He’s just somebody who gets in the way of the real reason you are watching.
The rest of the characters are OK. Lady Coach is typical hard driving woman who makes it in a man’s world by knowing more about baseball than anyone around, and doing things like working a part time job as a high-rise office building window-washer to get money to buy stuff for the team (big boobs also help). Catcher has moments of indecision and inexperience, but mostly acts as if he has a Masters in Psychology. The rest of the team is…the rest of the team.
But that’s enough of the fripperies. What this anime is about is baseball. In most anime, if there’s a sporting event at all, it lasts one episode, and maybe seven minutes of it involve your actual running around on the field. In the Big Windup, the first two episodes set up the situation, and the next five deal with one game. Almost every at bat. Almost every pitch, gets covered. The most common view is through the catcher’s mask, looking up at the batter. There’s a running internal monologue of the catcher’s thoughts. “He chased that fast ball outside. Now he’s dropped his elbow a little. He’s thinking were going to come back inside on him. Let’s try the forkball.” Sometimes it’s the batter. Occasionally, it’s the coach. It’s like a tutorial on how to think your way through a ball game.
In fact, the actions of the faculty advisor (the math/science teacher) and the coach, together present a separate tutorial on how to run a HS ball club. Everything from a lecture to the kids on how their actions during a meal prepares their brain for success on the field (not what they eat but how they think about it), to how to train their peripheral vision. The last few episodes are a look at how tournament play is organized in Japan. I understand the author of the original manga actually spent some time researching the topics at various HS.
This is one of the few anime I have seen that isn’t in ‘anime’ style. No big eyes (well, not very big). It’s also one of the few that comes over better in the English dub than via subtitles. I find that generally the English dubbers overact, on top of the typical action anime overacting, but in this one they hit exactly the right tone. Except for Mihashi, of course. He’s a dork in any language (but he improves in the second half).