Battery - First Impressions

The latest in the long and storied history of NoitaminA anime series,Battery isn’t the story of voltage, capacitance and positive vs negative charge. Well that last one sort of. In this story of baseball, can two young boys with different backgrounds and temperaments get along and work together to become the best pitcher/catcher duo, or in baseball lingo, a “Battery”.

The Lowdown

Young Takumi Harada, one of the best pitchers in his former hometown, is forced with his family to move to a mountainside town in Okayama prefecture because of his father’s job. He’s about to enter middle school when right after his move, he runs into local Gou Nagakura, himself the same age as Takumi Harada. As chance would have it, Gou is a catcher, and Gou has heard of Takumi’s talents. While Takumi’s skeptical of Gou’s talents and maybe a little too cocky and overconfident of his own, the two decide to work together and form that titular “Battery”. Based on the award-winning light novels by Atsuko Asano.

What is this? This is a series blog, where we’ll provide informal and brief hot takes after each episode in a given anime series. We’ll be updating this every week after each episode, so please check back for more thoughts!

Episode 3: Dispute
Airing July 28, 2016

Kindly enough, the title of this episode pretty much encapsulates everything that happened this episode. If you were hoping that Takumi would become a little more likeable, well we’ve got a lot more time to wait it seems.

They mysterious illness from last week was all but forgotten this time. Maybe it was just a common cold and I was hyping it up to be something more. But not to worry, the first of several blow-ups between Takumi and others this week involves Takumi and his mom. In a vacuum, Takumi’s mom might seem like a grumpy character who’s constantly upset at Takumi. But Takumi hasn’t been nearly sympathetic enough to her as she’s been to him. Last week, while worrying about him and his new school in their conversation about Seiha, he retorts back to her, “You’re actually worried about me? Are you sick or something?” And then this week, practically demanding her sign the club form without any sort of kindness or even a please. Most of communication isn’t just what you say to others, but how you say it that often matters more. Takumi has been grumpy around his family and particularly his mother from episode 1. Pre-teens are grouchy and insufferable as their natural state of being; I know, I was once a grouchy and insufferable pre-teen myself. It’s a part of growing up, learning how to communicate with others effectively. So far, the how Takumi is saying certain things is overshadowing the what he is saying, at least with his mother.

Which leads to everything in school. Takumi has a blowup with the Vice President of the Baseball Club and another one with a school teacher. When a teacher asks what you have in your pocket (on your first day of school no less!) don’t say a gun. Seriously??? I was flabbergasted when I learned about this. A strange situation gets even stranger when Takumi gets weirdly manhandled by his future coach, later some background information about Takumi’s grandfater being a famous coach of the school, and then the baseball practice....

Oooh boy. When practicing with the Vice-captain, Takumi deliberatelythrows a wild pitch to injure the catcher who wasn’t wearing protection, so he could get Gou out there. He pauses, changes his fingering and then threw it into the dirt before it even reached home plate. Not exactly endearing behavior from this guy. No matter if we get a “happy” moment later on of Takumi and Gou pitching together in practice. Which then leads to the hair dispute between Takumi, his coach, and Gou and his teammates.

Now I feel I need to take a moment here to talk about this situation. Takumi has a certain logic to what he’s saying, but at the same time, it’s an absolutely terrible position to dig your heels in here. As a long time sports player, I’ve had to do many things that my seniors and my coaches asked me to do that I didn’t necessarily want to do at the time. But it builds a sense of camaraderie that if you haven’t been a part of, you won’t really understand. Sort of like how training camps build bonds between teammates by breaking everyone down physically, but even outside of practice there are lots of things everyone does even if they don’t want to as part of team-bonding. And Takumi is openly defying all this, and his coach’s will. Which is an even more egregious form of disrespect in Japan.

In any other sports series, a character like Takumi who has been this unlikeable and this uncoachable would be your resident “Delinquent” character. Someone supremely talented but who does only the things he wants to do, when he wants to them. Think Kentarou Kyotani of Haikyuu S2 or Amahisa Kousei of Ace of Diamonds S2 for recent examples. Both are incredibly gifted talents in their respective sports but don’t play well with others, eerily similar to Takumi so far. Both eventually got roped back into playing the sport after getting either kicked out or walking away from it at an early age. While those characters are side characters and foils for our main rooting interests, Takumi is the focal point here so our base interest is in his success over everyone else, but I’m just not buying it. Not in the way he’s been acting with everyone in these three episodes.

That was a lot longer than I wanted it to be, but I felt I had to get all this out. I apologize if I sounded unduly harsh or was ranting but these are my impressions. There’s nothing wrong with unlikeable characters but most everyone so far has been characterized that way. It isn’t very common to find an anime main character who’s the most unlikeable of the cast. In the mean time we can only hope there’s some change coming.

In one line: Takumi is showing the symptoms of your typical “delinquent” sports character, and everyone else is also trending unlikeable as well.

Episode 2: The Bank of a Pond                          
Airing July 21, 2016

I mentioned potential places for drama last week, but I didn’t think we’d see it so soon! But before I get to the stuff we all want to talk about, we should backtrack a bit and talk about some of the other moments this week.

Takumi has two separate conversations with people asking him to help talk someone out of playing baseball anymore: Gou Nakamura’s mother regarding Gou, and Takumi’s mom regarding his little brother Seiha. With Gou’s mom, I had a really hard time trying to see her side. Stopping a 12 year old boy who’s just about to go into only middle school from playing a sport only because of his grades just doesn’t sit well with me. I know it’s part of the culture, but I’d understand more if he was in high school. And it really isn’t her place to ask this of Takumi, not when they’ve only just met and have bonded through baseball but also because it’s, well, her own son she’s talking about. On the other hand, Takumi handles it as poorly as you can imagine, so no one comes out of this conversation looking particularly good.

The other conversation comes from Takumi’s mom and this one actually makes a little more sense. She knows Seiha looks up to Takumi but she doesn’t want him to get hurt exacerbating whatever condition he has in doing so. Let’s talk about this condition for a second, because I’d love for someone to be more explicit about what exactly Seiha has that stops him from playing baseball. In the opening scene between the two brothers, Seiha just ... starts having abdominal pain all of a sudden? Is it a heart or cardiac related issue perhaps? I know Battery will probably never explain exactly what’s going on with Seiha, but that’s a little annoying to me that he’ll probably just have this plot-convenient condition.

All of these pressures put upon him finally starts to weigh Takumi down in the next scene when he lashes out at both Gou and Seiha. This is where knowing what Seiha condition has would be most helpful. It’d be much easier to understand why he shouldn’t play rather than have everyone just tell him he can’t for no explicit reason. Takumi finally snaps at Seiha, but at least he realizes immediately that he’s acting really terribly. Eventually this leads to Takumi and Gou looking for a lost Seiha in the woods behind the shrine. I was hoping that the imagery of the dead fish wasn’t going to be that on the nose, but Seiha turned out to be all right (Though this certainly doesn’t mean that he’ll be fine forever, I predict). Takumi eventually has that cathartic release of stress built up from all of these conversations after saving Seiha, which really humanized him for me. Yes, he’s a bit too surly and grumpy for a pre-teen for my taste, but he is being placed in a lot of stressful situations for a kid his age. He isn’t handling them particularly well, as Gou points out, but hopefully this will come with time.

Now the Post-ED scene kind of surprised me. I thought Takumi getting sick from falling in the pond was your standard “Anime character gets wet so he must get sick immediately” but there may be something more here. The way he says, “There’s no way this will happen again” seems to suggest to me that maybe Takumi has some sort of recurring/prexisting condition as well? Possibly related to his hand trembling in a scene in episode 1? We’ll have to wait to find out.

In one line: Pressures mount and Takumi continues acting very unlikeable, but the events here will hopefully drive Takumi’s character progression going forward.

Episode 1: The Day They Met
Airing July 14, 2016

The first thing you may notice, if you’re coming into this series solely because of its focus on baseball, is a very different atmosphere and tone than what you might be expecting. Most baseball anime usually focus on high school, where the focus on competing against others and getting to go to the legendary Koshien is the paramount goal of everyone involved. Almost mythical struggles between opposing teams leads to unimaginable tension on every single play and the name of the game is blood, sweat and tears.

But while there is at least 1 other team represented in the OP, the calming music and visuals from the very beginning suggest a very different kind of show. The show is definitely taking its time with the story rather than the quick and snappy pace that most sports shows take us on, as the summary up above is essentially all we’ve seen so far. Takumi is a pretty cocky individual, remarking that he’d rather be the proverbial “big fish in a small pond” than in a stacked powerhouse team anyway.

He’s still a devoted pitcher to baseball though, as his first decision after arriving at their new house is to ask his grandfather unsuccessfully to teach him a breaking ball, and his second is to take a jog around the neighborhood, where he eventually meets Gou. The bigger, kinder foil to Takumi’s more sullen but confident nature, the two of them make a fast rapport with each other. I can only imagine that the focus will mostly be on the two of them and their relationship, rather than any competition, particularly with lines between the two like “Your catcher is like your wife”. There are lots of other little sparks of tensions between characters and potential places for drama to pop up in later, but I’ll keep my speculation to a minimum for now. Takumi and Harada are the main focus and by the end of the episode, they seem to have become close friends.

On the technical side, I have to be impressed with the work of Studio Zero-G as this is their first real anime series that they’ve worked on. I’m not too familiar with Atsuko Asano’s other works but Battery seems close to the baseball-focused works of Mitsuru Adachi (Cross GameTouchH2for example) at being much more focused on the characters than the sport itself, while being a little less overdramatic than Adachi’s stories can sometimes be. At least for now. Director Tomomi Mochizuki has the art, music and story pace working together in great harmony. He has a history with these kinds of slower shows, like House of the Five Leaves and Zettai Shounen, the latter I haven’t yet seen but have heard good things about. The OP and ED are wonderfully understated stuff by anderlust, accompanied by beautiful water color images reminiscent of the backgrounds in this past winter season’s Grimgar. I won’t talk about the technical stuff too much going forward, as that’s not my specialty, but it was worth mentioning just for the first episode.

Battery may not appeal to the typical sports anime-fan as it isn’t full of the testosterone-inducing all out battles between and amongst high schools. However, it’s got solid character work so far and hints of tension in the future, all while using baseball as a potential launching point for more emotional stories. And I’m in for that.

In one line: A nicely understated first episode with hints of tension to come.

Vital Stats:

Battery is being produced by Zero-G and airing during the summer anime season. Based on the award winning light novel series by Atsuko Asano, it’s being directed by Tomomi Mochizuki (House of the Five Leaves, Zettai Shounen). Airing in the NoitaminA slot, Battery is available for legal streaming on Amazon in the US.