Considering this episode didn’t feature who I felt was the strongest character of the first two episodes (Seiha) it was remarkably successful in moving the story forward. Battery isn’t a series that’s interested in warm and cuddly, that’s for sure, and that’s very much reflected in its main character. But when you start out with a character who’s full of rough edges, that gives you a lot of dramatic surface area to polish.
I noticed an interesting trend in some of the commentary about Battery after the second episode especially, and that’s the opinion that the cast (particularly Takumi) didn’t “act like middle-schoolers”. The implication is that Takumi was acting like a child, and I think part of that disconnect comes from the fact the he and Gou certainly look older than the typical seventh-grader. But the irony for me is that Takumi (and Gou, for that matter) is very much acting like a kid his age (an athletic star especially) – self-centered, cocky, emotionally tone-deaf. I think the issue is more that we rarely see 12 or 13 year-olds in anime who act their age.
I wonder if the same thing isn’t going to happen to a degree with the tone of this episode. It was awkward, very awkward at times – and I suspect there are going to be commenters who point to that as a flaw. But just as with Takumi and Gou’s behavior, that awkwardness is very much intentional. This is just a function of Mochizuki Tomomi as a director – he’s a naturalist of the highest order. He embraces the silences and the glares and the sinking feeling in the gut when you’re losing control of your surroundings, because those things are powerful emotional drivers at many times in real life. Mochizuki is a master at depicting alienation, as anyone who’s seen shows like Zettai Shounen or Sarai-ya Goyou could tell you.
Takumi is not a boy who sees room for compromise or placation in any phase of his life. Even in asking his mother to sign his permission slip for the baseball club he forces a confrontation – not so much because he wants one, I think, but because it simply doesn’t occur to him to do anything but blurt out what he wants. The awkwardness continues when he crosses paths with the vice-captain of the baseball team, Nobunishi-kun (Morishima Shuuta) on entering the school grounds. Nobunishi admonishes him for not having the top button of his jacket done up, but whether this would have been enough to turn things ugly or not becomes moot when the boy grabs his arm. That arm, as we know, is (figuratively, and maybe more) a sore point for Takumi, and soon enough he’s dragged into the staff room to be dressed down for his insolence.
Japan is an uncomfortable place for someone like Takumi – a person who doesn’t see the value in ritual for its own sake and respect based on things like seniority or position. And in Japan, like it or not, children are not viewed as having the same fundamental rights as adults. And when the teacher who also happens to be the baseball coach, Tomura Makoto (Gouda Hozumi, the original Leorio and one of the most accomplished sound directors in anime) manhandles Takumi, it feels very much like an intentional attempt to humiliate and dehumanize him. Talk about awkward – this scene is brutally so, by design. One of the themes of Battery is clearly the difficulty people like Takumi have in adapting to a society that’s not built for them.
Of course, this is Japan, and this is middle school – and abjectly defying your coach is clearly a course fraught with peril. “Otomurai” is as stubborn as Takumi is, and clearly we’re headed for a collision. The coach does let Takumi pitch, and he’s enough of a baseball man (he played under Takumi’s grandfather before he “abruptly quit”) to see the boy’s talent. Takumi is initially asked to throw to Nobunishi, but intentionally throws a fastball in the dirt to try and knock him out of commission (he’s wearing no gear bar a mask) so he can pitch to Gou. It’s a nasty thing to do, but this is still the most upbeat scene of the episode because for the first time, we really see Takumi express joy. Being on the mound, going all-out throwing to Gou, he smiles like the child having fun that he is.
It’s clear that Takumi loves baseball. But is there any reason to doubt him when he says he’d rather be benched and not get to play than follow the coach’s wishes and cut his hair? Yes, he’s right – there’s no reason why Japanese baseball boys should have to be buzzcut boys. It’s a ritual that makes little sense – but ritual is important, especially in this kind of environment. This is the struggle for Takumi – he’ll brook no one and no thing unless it makes sense to him. And the world just doesn’t work that way – he’s going to find that out sooner or later, and it’s going to be pretty damn painful when he does.