Sentai Filmworks // 2009 // 300 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // January 9th, 2011
Girls can't play baseball! No, really they can't in 1920s Japan, but these plucky gals are going to give it a shot.
One of the genres of anime that you rarely see over here is the sports anime. Over the years we've gotten a taste of a few, but most of these series never reach North America. So while this genre may be a bit tired in its homeland, it can be a refreshing change of pace for gaijin.
Taisho Baseball Girls at its heart is your typical sports (and baseball specifically) anime. You got a group of kids who form an underdog team. They struggle to get nine players. They struggle to train. They play practice games. They stink at the beginning of the show. But through their combination of skills, cuteness and perseverance they end up being a force to be reckoned with. There's a big game where all the players chip in. There are triumphs and tragedy and it all ends with a nice message about doing your best and being a team player. Nothing new here in the story department.
So how does Taisho Baseball Girls stand out from other shows like Princess Nine? The first thing is by setting the show during the Taisho period of Japanese history. This period spans from 1912 to 1926, and the anime itself occurs in 1925 where many of the changes introduced in the era are in place, but are still new and exciting for the Japanese populous. This includes the infamous sailor school uniforms that became a staple of schoolgirls (and anime) afterward. There is also a strong push toward western clothing, cinema and sports.
But the main focus is the push for Japanese women to have more freedom and move away from cultural ideals of keeping them passive, demure and in the home. For many of these girls the change to Western clothing and the sailor outfits represents a break from the norm, a feeling of freedom. And the fact that they want to play baseball just pushes the idea further. Many of the boys and men around them don't understand what playing baseball means to these girls. At best they think its a cute little phase they'll go through before it gets too hard and they give up. At worst they outright refuse to accept the fact a girl would want to or could even play baseball. It's this element that adds a freshness to the plot and the stock characters we have here.
Of course the gals in Princess Nine faced a similar set of obstacles and the connections between both shows is very strong. The main difference is that Princess Nine focused on the rivalries within the team and how it affect the team as a whole. Taisho Baseball Girls deals more with the struggles of the girls learning to play, and dealing with the reactions of other people to their team.
The focus of the series is two girls, Koume Suzukawa (Kanae Ito) and Akiko Ogasawara (Mai Nakahara). Koume is afraid her father, who is very traditional, will not approve of her playing baseball, so she hides the fact from him. This causes all kinds of problems as she makes ups excuses to go to early practice and interact with boys from a neighboring school. Akiko is the girl who came up with the idea to form the team, because her fiance said that a woman's place in the home. She decided to beat him at his own game. Her goal is to create a team that can stand toe to toe with his nationally ranked team. However, working with players who are eager but not experienced (some of the girls can't even catch a ball) proves very difficult. Akiko internalizes many of her emotions and it ends up taking its toll as the series continues.
These girls and their relationships with family and friends drives the story. Sure it's all surrounding baseball, but this is definitely geared toward young girls (probably the same age as the target audience for something like Kalaido Star). So there are lots of school related issues, as well as relationship complications to explore. This is a 12 episode series and it manages to provide a complete story with plenty of drama, laughs and baseball action, but the pace is a bit rushed.
The animation is delightful, really there is no other way to describe it. The main characters all have a sweet character design, even the guys are of the cute variety. But it's the backgrounds and details that make this a pleasure to watch. You don't see much anime taking place in the Taisho era and so it was neat to see all the vintage cars, mixes of Western and traditional Japanese outfits, and silent movies (which feature in a couple episodes). The backgrounds are all done in a watercolor style, giving everything a soft nostalgic look. It adds to the charm of the show.
The opening and ending themes fit the story perfectly. The supporting music is a mixed bag, some of it coming across very silly for the comedic moments. But the rousing fanfares for the baseball and training sequences work well enough. The Japanese voice acting fits the bill as well.
Sentai gives you all twelve episodes on two discs. The picture is excellent showing off the details of the outfits and unique backgrounds. The sound is good; the music and dialogue clear. Subtitles are easy to read. Be warned, a couple of cultural and historical notes appear during the show and you may want to pause the DVD to read them and the dialogue. I appreciate the notes, but I'm wondering if there is a better way to handle these.
If you're looking for cute girls playing baseball this will meet your needs. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and while the story arc was very familiar, the characters and setting made it all worth while.
These girls are guilty of crying in baseball, but the series is not
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Wikipedia: Taisho Period