Let’s get one thing straight: I do not care about baseball. I’ve been to one “real” baseball game with family, and enjoyed it deeply–mostly because jack shit happened and I had all the time in the world to sit and write. I do not care about baseball.
But goddamn it, I care about baseball. I find myself muttering things like “safety bunt” while trying to interpret mystical hand signs. I don’t know what it is that ails me, I only know it’s name:
Very specific niche baseball anime. I did threaten to talk about these, but no one took me seriously. Now we all have to pay.
I can’t really figure out who “One Outs” was made for. As soon as I got a load off anti-protagonist Tokuchi sailing through broken glass with no shirt on and his pants unzipped in the opening animation, I had to go check a few wikis.
The official protagonist is Kojima, a stolid star batter getting on in his baseball career who goes off to literally train in the mountains. He encounters a gambling ring based around a high-stakes game called “One Outs,” which places bets on whether or not a single player can hit a ball.
The undefeated champion of this is Towa Tokuchi, who manages to get his opponents’ heads twisted around so bad they never hit his pitches. Kojima (black-haired) then convinces Tokuchi (blonde) to join his failing team.
Wildly inaccurate opening aside (the main character isn’t even in it), this anime made me care about baseball to an insulting degree. The show takes its time to introduce each opponent on the latest opposing team in detail, so that we can measure the strengths and weaknesses of every character on the field. And, of course, we’re always waiting to see what Tokuchi plans next. Never thought I’d see the Manly Sports Butt Pat be weaponized for subterfuge on the playing field, but that’s “One Outs” for you.
What makes this anime (and manga!) so fascinating is that, despite knowing Tokuchi always comes out on top, the tension remains constant. This is thanks to two different things.
One, Tokuchi objectively isn’t very good at baseball. In fact, he’s kind of a pansy compared to some of the other players. He as such pulls of his ridiculous wins via emotional manipulation, trolling, and sheer lack of shame. He’s also a bit of an ass to his teammates, who struggle to work with him. They don’t trust him until they begin to rely dangerously on him. At which point Tokuchi leaves the team to teach them a lesson.
Two, Tokuchi is self-serving, a gambler first and foremost who will weasel money out of anyone. Half the fun of the show is watching the corrupt team manager try to twist Tokuchi’s contract to his own advantage while Tokuchi finds new, delightful ways to wrench it back. In fact, this plays a part in his decision to unexpectedly throw a game at the expense of his teammates.
So we all know Tokuchi can find a way to win every game. But will he bother? And if he doesn’t, will the other characters pull through without him? What happens if someone on the team refuses to go along with his plan? Lord knows Tokuchi doesn’t have the people skills to ask anything nicely.
It’s like everyone is in a typical enthusiasm blaster shonen sports anime except Tokuchi. Winning on gumption alone gets you nowhere, skipper. Destroying the other team’s morale and dignity is where it’s at.
A polar opposite to “One-Outs,” but still somehow like the younger version of it. “Big Wind-Up” is a little easier to get your head around. It’s a high school anime that focuses on friendship and trust a lot, but also on the necessity of learning to accommodate others even when they are genuinely irritating or flawed. No one in this series gets away without having to undergo some self-improvement, which I respect.
Our main character’s deal is that he can pitch any kind of ball perfectly. His name his Mihashi, and he has light hair. Unsurprising.
Unfortunately, he’s a wilting crybaby who, after a long history of bullying and personal failure, is too afraid to do anything he hasn’t been explicitly ordered to do. Abe, the black-haired ace character who recognizes Mihashi as the Designated Foil he is, sets about trying to shape him into a reliable player. This is hindered by their terrible, awful social skills, personal baggage, and naturally incompatible personalities.
Given its age range, this show acknowledges the inevitability of certain losses. Schools with bigger teams, for instance, or older players. But it still pulls intellectual and spiritual victories out of every lost game, just like “One Outs.” And it makes me care about baseball.
Space Adventure Cobra
You may or may not in your lifetime have encountered “Space Adventure Cobra” before, but if you have, you probably remember it well.
It’s simultaneously terrible and outstanding. It runs exclusively on “because we thought it looked cool/sexy/ridiculous,” and nails it with the aggression of a wolverine in heat. It also breaks out into moments of genuine misogyny among the cheese and dated characters, which is a little uncomfortable, but I find this show extremely charming.
Plus, it’s got that eighties anime look to it that’s unmistakable. You know, the one that really stands out around the sideburns.
Now, as you’ve probably realized, “Space Adventure Cobra” is not about baseball. It’s inspired loosely by the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” It features a man working a nine-to-five in a how-much-science-fiction-can-we-pack-in-this-bitch world. He visits a cinema which allows him to experience a pre-arranged sequence of events in different genres. This triggers his memories of being Cobra, the deadly space pirate casanova, who wiped his own mind and changed his face to escape his enemies. He then goes on roguishly heroic escapades throughout the galaxies with his robot companion Lady Armoroid.
So why’s it on the list?
While I loved the show, I loved it even more when it hit the “Rug Ball” arc–basically a gladiator-style football/baseball/rugby gameshow with the rule consistency of Yu-Gi-Oh. Which, naturally, Cobra has to find a way to win on wits and audacity alone. It does a bit of what “One Outs” does, where each player is a named character with explicit skills, flaws, and motivation, and the sequence of the game is mostly them planning around each other and getting away with cheating.
Basically, Cobra picks up a failing team, recognizes its advantages, and proceeds like a slightly less refine Tokuchi to use them, working together with–you guessed it–a dark-haired teammate. Who, given the show, is an extremely feared ex-pirate. But my point stands.
Deliver my soul.
The heart wants what the heart wants. And my heart, apparently, wants anime featuring eccentric but brilliant pitchers, who are the Sherlock Holmes Jesus of baseball (and usually light-haired) in tandem with one stoic ace player (usually dark-haired) who provides a perfect foil to their character. Is that too much to ask?