“Play Ball!” – Taisho Baseball Girls (anime) – 9/10 Peeps

“If All You See Is How I Look, You’ll Miss The Superchick Within” – “Superchick” by Superchick

Genre: Sports/Comedy/Slice-of-Life/Historical/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Sentai Filmworks

Art: It’s super-cute! The girls are all fairly recognizable, which says a lot because of how large a cast it is, and it’s in bright, vibrant colors. Definitely nice to look at.

Summary: 1925 – six years since the end of the Great War, four years since women were allowed to join political associations and one year since Emperor Hirohito assumed the throne. Only thirteen years after the death of the Meiji Emperor, Japan is a nation re-inventing itself, swept by wave after wave of wars, disasters and political unrest. War looms in China, males over the age of 24 are about to receive the right to vote and a strange new type of school uniform called the “sailor suit” is being introduced. But at least the national pastime, baseball, remains bound by tradition, the exclusive realm of men and boys. Until now. When a local player arrogantly states that girls should become housewives instead of going to school, teenage firebrands Koume and Akiko respond by forming their own baseball team. It’s shocking. It’s scandalous. And yet, in a nation in which almost anything seems possible, it may just be the start of something greater than any nine girls can imagine. It’s not just a game, it’s history in the making in Taisho Baseball Girls! (Back cover of DVD case)

Review: This was one of my favorite anime that I watched over winter vacation. Taisho really succeeds at capturing an era, before the destruction of WW2 and during the years when massive social change was happening. Koume is a young girl that wants nothing but to embrace the coming era. She wants a new, modern hairstyle. She wants a sailor suit instead of a kimono. She wants things that her traditional parents would never let her have, and it bothers her to no end. Her best friend Akiko is in similar straits, but because of her fiancée’s arrogance, has latched onto one way they can show that they can be modern: Play baseball.

But this is not a time or era when you’d have a flock of girls ready to sign up! They have to beg, plead, and cajole to get even six members, and all 12? It takes half the series just to get the team together. At the same time, it doesn’t fall into a trap of being repetitive. While they’re looking for members, the girls who are interested have to learn baseball from the ground up. None of them even know how to throw the ball, and have to enlist their English teacher, Ms. Curtland (yep, she’s actually English!) to teach them. They have to create their own clubhouse, tend their own field, and fight the school administration to be able to do the most basic school activities. It’s pretty cool to see these girls so willing to put themselves on the line, because everything is against them. They are outright dismissed by other schools because the only other teams out there are boy’s teams – and many see it as silly to challenge girls. Their families definitely don’t approve when they find out. And the school wants nothing more than to shut them down.

This is never really presented in an overly dramatic way, which is really admirable. All the these things are just the Facts Of Life in this story and the girls just find ways to deal with it.

At the same time this weaves in everyday life, mainly in the form of Koume’s family and what happens when a boy she meets falls in love with her. She’s not really thinking about that at this point in her life, but she has unwittingly brought a major complication into getting her family’s support. Her friend Akiko is in an arranged marriage against her wishes. And while some of this falls back on traditional tropes, it’s another thing that is just seen as being what it is – something common in those days, nothing surprising or overly shocking. And these things do manage to come to a fairly satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, it’s a wonderful series that wraps up perfectly in 12 episodes, and definitely one that I am happy I invested in.

Recommended: The back cover rates this as PG, and I think that’s pretty accurate. The most offensive that it could get is there’s one girl that clearly has a crush on the main, and another girl that crushes on that girl, but it’s hard to say whether this is romantic or a case of girls just idolizing each other like modern girls idolize famous women. I’m fairly sure that it could go either way.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Bamboo Blade (anime or manga)

Hikaru no Go (anime or manga)

Girls Und Panzer (anime)

Chihayafuru (anime or manga)

Moshidora (anime)

Big Windup (anime)

“A Game Of Love” – Cross Game (manga) – 8/10 Belleflowers

Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.  ~Pete Hamill

Mangaka: Mitsuru Adachi

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life/Sports/Comedy/School/Shounen

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/8 volumes) *Note- in Japan it was originally released as 17 volumes. It’s being released in omnibus format in the US.

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Viz Media in the US.

Art: This definitely has a softer, gentler take on the characters than most manga today look, making it visually distinctive but not unattractive. It works very well for the story that’s being told.

Summary: 5th grader Koh Kitamura lives next door to the Tsukishima family, owners of a batting cage and the Clover cafe. His girlfriend, Wakaba, is the 2nd Tsukishima daughter; the 3rd daughter, the baseball prodigy Aoba, can’t stand him. Wakaba dreams of Koh pitching at legendary Koshien Stadium, site of the national high school championship finals. However, tragedy strikes, and it is up to Koh, with the help of Aoba and his other teammates, to make Wakaba’s dream come true. (ANN.com)

Review: I’m not used to gentle, slow, and sweet romances in my shounen. I’m not used to shounen being slow and steady, either, so that probably does a whole lot for my perception. This really turned me on my head when I first heard about it. Could a shounen really develop it’s characters in a realistic setting, where the characters are dealing with life sintead of giant monsters, and baseball instead of magic powers?

The answer is that yes, it can. The characters are charming, each with their own quirks and personalities. This seems like a simple slice-of-life until an event in the first volume sets up the plot for the rest of the chapter – the death of Ko’s girlfriend and one of the Tsuishima girls, Wakaba. A good deal of the manga is either overtly or unconciously these characters dealing with her death. For Ko, it provides a drive to play baseball in the most prestigious tournament in the nation, something that Wakaba had dreamed about. As the years pass, there are little things that show that he never forgets her, that she lives on his memory as strongly as if she was there.

The romance that starts growing between him and Aoba isn’t immediate or obvious. They have to deal with Wakaba’s death, since she adored Ko, and Ko still loves her. Aoba doesn’t even really like Ko all that much, but as he pursues his dreams of becoming a baseball player, she starts supporting him in surprising ways. She practices with his team, gives him the pitching form that makes him so good at it, and shows up for games. She sees him as a player who could be really good, but it’s only as his pitching speed grows faster and faster that she starts paying attention, since she said the man who could win her heart had a pitch of 100 MPH. Seeing her come to realize that one day he might hit that speed is adorable and heart-warming, but at the same time bittersweet, since she recalls her sister’s warning to not steal Ko away from her. Since I’m only halfway, I’m wondering how she’ll deal with this.

Cross Game is as much about baseball as it is about relationships, though. The path to becoming a great baseball player is littered with hard practice, a dismissive coach, and unsupportve teammates. Somehow, a team forms from Ko’s childhood friends that played baseball together once upon a time, and are bonded through love of the game and the ties that have to each other (Aoba, in many cases – many of the boys are in love with her at some point or another, and all know how much she loves baseball). Through the usual small-town connections, it’s impressive to watch them undermine and overthrow the coach that dismisses them as dirt. This has some great moments when they do it, that had me cheering. But for all that, I wasn’t really drawn into the baseball parts. I’m not a huge baseball fan, and unfortunately, the way the game was presented was dynamic and did a good job of making it tolerable, but it still wasn’t my cup of tea.

Even so, this really managed to bring together the baseball and relationship elements perfectly. I was impressed by how much heart went into the story, and how well it was told. This really changed my perception of shounen manga, and for that I take my baseball cap off to it.

Overall, this is a really well-told relationship manga with some sports thrown in to keep the target audience interested.

Recommended: 13+. This does touch on how the characters are affected by death at a young age, of someone very young. There are occasional pantyshots, as well as scenes of girls in bikinis that are obviously meant to titilate, but it never is obscene or really prevalent.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Touch (manga)

H2 (manga)

“The Cards Dealt” – Chihayafuru (anime) – 9/10 Pencils

Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play. ~Mike Singletary

Genre: School/Sports/Josei/Romance

Review Status: Complete (25 Episodes/25 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US by

Art/Animation: Thjis looks pretty nice, looking a lot like shoujo but with a good amount of detail in character design and backgrounds, moreso than usual these days. The colors are bright and vidid, to boot, making it look fantastic! The animation is also quite good. They saved on the budget by having a solid amount of cut-away and slow-motion shots when cards are flung into the air, but it doesn’t look stupid and the money saved went into making the rest of the animation look very good.

Summary: Chihaya Ayase is a frank and ebullient girl who becomes fascinated by the obscure world of competitive karuta, a card game based on Japanese poetry. Introduced to the aggressive style of the game by a quiet and thoughtful elementary school classmate named Arata Wataya, the two quickly become close friends. They start playing as a group with Taichi Mashima, Chihaya’s smart and athletic childhood friend, until they have to part ways during their middle school years due to several circumstances. As their high school life begins, they meet once again. (ANN.com)

Review: I feel guilty for being so behind on this! I waited for the consensus to come in on whether it was any good, and then had to delay watching it for a while. This is definitely a sports anime along the lines of Hikaru no Go, with solid character drama and skill-building and game-playing, mixed together into a wonderfully exciting anime that i a bit different from the norm – especially for josei anime! No other josei anime touches this sort of high-adrenaline competition, but Chiyahafuru manages it beautifully.

The nice thing about this show is that it’s even easier than Hikaru no Go to follow with the game. It’s an easy one to play, with poems being read, and the players swiping cards off of the field of play when they are able to recognize what line is being read. It’s easy to become familiar with the poems that they use, and they gain an extra level of depth as the show goes on when one of the club members expresses her love of the poems themselves that made me, at least, appreciate the meanings of the poems more, which meant I was more engaged when I watched them play. The play itself is handled well, with interesting adversaries and different aspects of the game dealt with. I was a bit bored at first, as Chihaya won every game she came across. I didn’t realize it was because she was just that good until she got to the higher-level players, where every card was a hard-won victory, where it began really focusing on the game and whether they’d really be able to win. She’s not a perfect player – as the man, Chihaya does have the inborn ability to be top-notch (made especially clear in the last episode), but she still has many flaws that need working on.

It also meant that the firt half of the series was more about building relationships and a team. Since Karuta is a team sport, it means that the story has to be as much about the side characters as it is about Chihaya, and that’s pulled off with as much skill as the games. Chihaya is a pretty standard, almost shoujo-like heroine. She’s lighthearted, determined to follow her dreams, loves Karuta, and is determined to get others to like it as well. There’s a romantic triangle brewing between her and her two childhood friends, Taichi and Arata. Taichi has been in love with her for a while but is wary about revealing his feelings because she’s still hung up a bit on Arata, the grandson of a Karuta master and who moved away in their childhood. Arata has come across his own difficulties playing it since they last saw him and a chance meeting with his old friends reignites a desire to play, but they won’t be playing against him until the second season comes around! Taichi joines the Karuta club because of Chihaya, but he finds tht he has his own determination to win regardless since it’s a way to escape his mother’s overbearing rules and desire to see him be #1 in everything.

The other three members recieve varying amounts of screentime and importance. Kana is the next most important, a poetry and classical-Japan enthusiast that has set her sights on becoming a professional card reader. Her hopes and disappointments on that journey are given some highlight, and it’s sure to become even moreso later, as she heeds to become a Class-A player for 5 years to do it! Since she’s now Class-D, it will be a long, hard struggle. She serves as a disciplinarian and loveable little sister to the rest of the members. Komano is almost as important, more of a strategian for the group than anything else. His statistics have helped out numarous times, and on the last episode of the season they reveal something important that mean Chuhaya mught have a shot at taking the title of ‘Queen’ of Karuta players! These two have their struggles and joys wth the game made clear. Unfortunately, the third member Nishida gets a passing glance. He’s there just to fill space in the club, and that’s how he’s treated story-wise.

One of the more interesting parts of the show was watching them be recruited one by one into the blub. Not everyone bends to Chihaya’s will, and she doesn’t exactly make the best club leader. She’s more of their mascot than anything, and watching them try and figure out how to deal with each other is one big ball of fun! They don’t all get along at first, and don’t all get along all the time, either. And on top if it they’re struggling to keep the team alive since it’s not a national sport or recognized activity that can win scholarships or national acclaim. The school will shut them down in a heartbeat, so theyneed to struggle for a few wins to try and win over their advisor; she’s as against the team as anyone, but got roped with it through some faculty shennanigans. Watching her come over to their side was fun and encouraging. It lightly parallels some of the issues Chihaya faces at home, shadowed by her glamorous older sister. Even though she’s proud of her sister, sometimes it’s nice to have some recognition.

This was definitely made for a second season, and I am eagerly awaiting it. This shone among the winter anime, is a really fun anime in and of itself, and left off on such a cliffhanger! I’m crossing my fingers that it will be announced soon.

Overall, while this did have a bit of a slow start with Chihaya winning everything, this show gained a lot as it went on and is one of the better anime out there.

Recommended: 8+. This has no objectionable content, but whether the younger kids would be interested is up for debate.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Hikaru no Go (manga)

Bakuman (manga)

Big Windup (anime)