First Impressions – Battery

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

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17 comments

  1. R

    Yet another fantastic (so far) novel adaptation. Maybe the most consistently good media for anime adaptations.

  2. H

    I really enjoyed this episode. I think it has a lot of potential – it’s not often that you see a sports anime that isn’t just about ‘the flames of youth’ (although I do have a soft spot for those). Rather, it’s simple and restrained, yet is packed with lots of little things. I especially found the strained family dynamics and Takumi’s apparent anxiety (which I think will probably interplay with each other) quite interesting. I think you described how I feel about it perfectly – ‘It takes its time getting where it’s going, and prioritizes being natural over being artificially dramatic.’
    I’m also interested in seeing how Seita fits in to all of this. Particularly in the credits, this series seems to be less about junior high baseball and more about the interactions between Seita, Takumi and Gou, which I am quite excited for.

  3. R

    Love it…always a fan of Mochizuki Tomomi. And very much enjoyed this natural feeling.

  4. D

    “Welcome back Noitamina, I’ve missed you.”

    I know virtually nothing about Baseball other than what i’ve picked up from old ‘Peanuts’ comic strips and the odd TV show here and there, but I got the impression that’ll be the hook the story hangs off rather than the story itself.
    It’s top of my list for the season.

  5. And that’s one of the reasons I see an Adachi connection. He certainly loves baseball and his baseball stuff is great, but the sport is the canvas, not the painting. I think Battery will be very much the same.

  6. I liked the 1st episode but at the same time do not like Takumi so far. He acts like an arrogant dick. I’m guessing problems with his brothers health down the road might make him more humble?

  7. Yeah, I gotta agree. The MC was not very likable. Surely that will change with time. (Hopefully.)

  8. You know, when you start a series with a main character who isn’t instantly likeable that means there’s room for them to develop. It used to happen in anime all the time.

  9. R

    The perfect MC trend is one could very much do without (but unfortunately most LN disagree with me). Give me characters developments and arcs any day.

  10. Really great first episode, I find both leads really likeable despite their flaws.

  11. R

    I’ve actually always been rather baffled by the outcry over No.6 Like Enzo said, it barely counts as shounen-ai. Like that plot point is brought up and dropped within the same episode to focus on sci fi environmental craziness (and WASPS) instead.

    And if you turn back the clock 10ish years or so that sort of relationship or subtext was pretty damn common in a lot of series (not just actual BL series and not always purely fujo bait). It almost feels like running a giant loop and ending up where you started.

  12. Y

    Definitely lived up to my (high) expectations. That water-color opening was magnificent! I also loved how in this premiere we’ve already got the threads all laid out.The fact that Gou’s family owns a hospital (which he’s likely expected to succeed) and he has cram school hints at some potential drama with family: academics vs baseball. Takumi on the other hand is a bundle of mystery, but his defensive, prickly attitude and competitiveness definitely hints at some sort of damaged confidence. As for Seiha, I sincerely hope that those “unsettling signs” you mentioned won’t come true.

  13. Actually I’d forgotten that hospital thing, but don’t you think that suggests as a possible Seiha connection as well?

  14. Y

    It does. It’s just that I’d personally prefer the anime not steer in that direction. Because if it’s not done right, it could very much ruin the series for me.

  15. D

    I enjoyed the episode overall, but a lot of the character interactions and drama felt a bit stiff and rough around the edges. An odd mix of characters trying to be more down to earth while relentlessly playing out their respective archetypes. Maybe the writing style just needs a bit of time to grow on me, time will tell. Everything else was excellent. Hope the baseball elements really are the backdrop for the main story here, as it would make a nice contrasting change after my foray into the world of shounen sports anime.

  16. M

    I have nothing against subtle same-sex romance or anything controversial issues in anime, but the most important thing to me is that you tell that upfront to your audience from the start, don’t try to disguise it and then when you reveal it don’t try pull a fast one of ‘but it’s there all along from the start!’ when it was actually very ambiguous or almost non-existent. Usagi Drop, to me, was the biggest offender of this.

    No. 6 is just some anime fans being their asshole self, anyone bother to read some background will know that the original novel already implied some shounen-ai, but it still treated like it was a major reveal that ruined the anime. Another one I saw treated the same was Love Lab, the manga clearly introduced male characters and the girls will have their own male crush, but somehow when the anime introduced them it somehow ruined a yuri anime. These kind of fans are just trolls that like to manufacture false outrage to make them feel important.

    That being said, I don’t really like to watch any shounen-ai subtext in sports anime but if Battery at most reached Oofuri’s level of subtext then I will definitely watch this.

  17. S

    I don’t think you have to telegraph every potentially controversial plot point in from the start. I mean, why? The writer should tell a good story, not necessarily the one I want to hear. And I don’t really care if what flavour of sexuality the romance is, as long as it adds to the story (not detracts from it) and stays true to the characters. I was going to object to the Usagi drop comparison, but I realise now you’re talking about the Manga, not the anime right? The anime was nothing short of sublime, but what I read about the manga, it ends somewhere else entirely.

    All of this is pretty far off-topic for Battery, at least from what I can tell. 20 minutes isn’t a lot to draw conclusions from though.

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