God’s in his Heaven, all’s right with the world.
OP: “Itsuka no Jibun (いつかの自分)” by anderlust
When this season was just a twinkle in Buddha’s eye, there were two series that immediately stood out for me as the cornerstones. The first was Mob Psycho 100, with its immaculate staff and highly-regarded source material. And the second was Battery, which checked about as many boxes for me as any show could sight unseen. Among the greatest anime directors of all-time in Mochizuki Tomomi, original character designs by Shimura Takako, a return to restrained and mature material for NoitaminA, an exalted novel as source material, and baseball. I love baseball, I love baseball anime, and I figured I was going to love Battery.
Welp, I was right. There have been other shows that have deeply impressed this season, but my two titans haven’t let me down. There’s some interesting history with this series and NoitaminA. The last (and only, unless my memory’s faulty) pure sports series airing in the block was Ping Pong, and that sure turned out well (though it took a while for a lot of viewers to get past its eccentricities). And the other time NoitaminA adapted a novel by Asano Atsuko (No.6), it brought out a rather sickening explosion of homophobia and narrow-mindedness that hardly did anime fandom proud. So there’s plenty of precedent here, though where it points us is hard to say. While there’s no indication of serious male/male romance in Battery yet (honestly, even No.6 was barely shounen-ai) I don’t think the audience has matured much when it comes to even the suggestion of it in a mainstream title. I would love to be proven wrong, if it comes to that.
If ever any two series could be more stylistically opposite and in the process prove the range of ways in which you can make great anime, it would be Mob Psycho (or Ping Pong for that matter) and Battery. Mochizuki-sensei (who’s also writing this adaptation) is by nature an extremely restrained director. He understands the value of silence and stillness as few others, and uses them to great dramatic effect. Zero-G is a newer studio and the animation is fairly modest here, but the art and character designs are really stunning. Kusama Hideoki’s resume as a key animator is packed with tasteful and aesthetically refined anime, and it shows here. And Mochizuki uses Senju Akira’s background music sparingly, to gently season the narrative rather than overwhelm it.
Battery is just that sort of show. It takes its time getting where it’s going, and prioritizes being natural over being artificially dramatic. It’s the story of a boy named Harada Takumi (Uchiyama Kouki) about to enter middle school, who’s moving with his family to rural Okayama to live with his grandfather for reasons not yet elaborated. Takumi is a star pitcher, full of confidence and lofty ambitions, who views joining a small-town team as an opportunity to make a big splash in a small pond rather than as a drag on his ambitions. Takumi is close with his adoring little brother Seiha, who’s played by young Fujimaki Yuui. I’m a big believer in casting kids to play kids, because even if there’s a lack of polish it’s usually more than made up for by authenticity. And in a series going for a naturalistic style like Battery is, that’s invaluable.
There’s some interesting subtext around the family. Seiha is apparently sickly, to the point where both Takumi and their mother are overprotective of him, yet he longs to follow in his brother’s footsteps and become a baseball star himself. Grandpa was one of those – in fact he went to Koushien, though Takumi isn’t interested in hearing about someone else’s trip to that hallowed ground – and he seems to take Seiha’s side in all this (as a veteran anime watcher I see unsettling signs for Seiha, but we’ll see). I loved the scene where Grandpa refused to teach Takumi a breaking pitch, citing the danger to his elbow – it used to be widely held that kids shouldn’t learn breaking balls until high school, but sadly the business of youth sports seems to have made that passé. And then there’s Takumi’s hand shaking as he holds his chopsticks at the dinner table, which could be a sign of almost anything from elbow fatigue to anxiety disorder.
The X-factor in the story is the kid Takumi meets on his evening run on the night of his arrival, Nagakura Gou (Hatanaka Tasaku). He’s a classic country bumpkin (when Takumi meets him he’s carrying a pail and a fishing pole) but Gou is also a baseball boy. A catcher, in fact – and a much more upbeat and agreeable personality than Takumi. He seems destined to form a battery (thus, the title) with Takumi, and their clumsily machismo-driven feeling out process is the bulk of the premiere. Their partnership will no doubt cause great consternation to the more reactionary members of the audience, but whatever it eventual develops into it’s clearly going to form the heart of Battery.
There’s a definite hint of Adachi Mitsuru in this premise and the way it’s executed (which is a great by me), though Battery is less whimsical and more organic than the typical Adachi story. Having spent some time in these small Japanese mountain towns with their roadside canals and stone bridges, and their gorgeous Shrines atop tall staircases with their central railings (remember, the middle is for the Gods), I really appreciated the way Mochizuki and Kusama instantly made that world seem real. There’s great art in telling a story without forcing a story, and in that it really seems as if Mochizuki is a perfect match with this material. It’s never going to be a commercial hit and I’ve no doubt it will have its share of detractors, but series like Battery are a big part of the reason why I love anime, and why NoitaminA has been such a big part of its history. This series always seemed destined to be one of the season’s best, and that’s exactly what a NoitaminA series should be.
ED: Ashita, Haru ga Kitara (明日、春が来たら)” by anderlust