The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Battery the Animation
How would you rate episode 1 of
Battery the Animation ?
What is this?
At his previous school, Takumi Harada was an ace pitcher for a successful team. After moving schools, he looks forward to joining a new middle school team with a less-than-stellar reputation, because he wants to be able to say that he's the reason the team becomes good. While out jogging, he encounters Go Nakagura, the son of his mother's high school friend, and Go recognizes Takumi from TV appearances at previous tournaments. As a catcher, Go convinces Takumi to pitch to him, insisting that the two will form an unstoppable battery (pitcher-catcher combo). But Takumi's grandfather, who was a famous pitcher in his day, sternly reminds Takumi that baseball isn't baseball if it's not fun. Battery the Animation is based on a series of novels (adapted into manga) and can be found streaming on Amazon Prime on Thursdays.
How was the first episode?
I am consistently impressed by how engrossing anime series about sports are, particularly when they're about a sport that I find dull to watch in real life. Battery: The Animation is the latest in a line of baseball shows that has failed to bore me the way the real game does, and the fact that it looks awfully nice is an added bonus. This may be the first episode where the camera lingering on someone's crotch made sense – as Go is riding his bike home while Takumi runs beside him, we get several shots of his thighs, which serve to show how much control he has over his pedaling in order to both keep pace with Takumi and to hold his balance when he's carrying a bucket with live fish and water, which has got to be heavy enough to throw him off. All of the movement in the show, or at least the important movement, shows a similar level of detail, with the result that it all looks natural, from Takumi throwing the ball to his hand shaking as he tries to keep his cool at the dinner table.
Even though the show will evolve to be more about baseball, or so I assume, this first episode is mainly about Takumi himself as he and his family move in with his grandfather. Takumi has a bit of hero-worship for his maternal grandpa, who was a pitcher of some renown in high school, and possibly beyond, although that isn't clear yet. Fittingly, his younger brother Seiha worships him, which I would guess that their mother finds troubling. She's clearly overprotective of Seiha, whom she feels to be delicate and prone to illness. I have my doubts as to whether or not this is entirely true (although that may just be because I read Everything, Everything recently), because Seiha doesn't exhibit any of the usual “frail anime child” signs. Regardless, it's very clear that Mom pays more attention to her younger son to the point where I wondered if perhaps she was Takumi's step-mother – all of the storytelling tropes are there. Regardless, Takumi has reacted by making pitching his be-all and end-all and keeps his emotions under wraps, presenting a prickly exterior to the world. Part of the story's work will be to help him shed that, at least with Go, his presumptive catcher once school starts. While it seems safe to assume that their relationship will be at the heart of the series, I hope that Takumi also gets to develop his relationship with his family as well and that Seiha doesn't end up being tragedy fodder.
Battery is definitely off to a promising start. With its attention to physical and emotional detail and the juxtaposition of Takumi's prickles with Go's and Seiha's sweeter natures, this has a lot of potential as just a good drama, never mind a sports one. It feels like it'll be heavier than the more recent sports shows we've gotten, more Cross Game than Haikyu, but it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.
BATTERY was definitely one of my top picks coming into this season. Based on a well-regarded manga and adapted by a veteran director whose credits run back to old classics like Maison Ikkoku and Kimagure Orange Road, it seemed to fit perfectly into the low-key drama space that the noitaminA block had built its reputation on. Based on this first episode, it's looking like BATTERY will be very capable of following through on that promise.
The direction and art design both quickly reveal themselves as strong marks in BATTERY's favor. Tomomi Mochizuki's style isn't ostentatious, but it is very adept at creating a strong sense of place. And the show's faded but warm colors strongly evoke the sense of a rural town, letting the backgrounds echo the slight sense of resentment Takumi might feel at his new home. The show also moves at the pace of slow adolescent life - this episode only covers the space between two afternoons in Takumi's new life, letting extended scenes of Takumi jogging or stewing in his feelings guide the audience into his slow-burning headspace.
Takumi is a bit of an unusual protagonist all around. He's not a very likable kid - he seems to care only about baseball, but his enthusiasm basically never expresses itself in a positive way. He's proud and brittle, and when his new “friend” Go makes a light jab at his pitching ability, he immediately fires back with unwarranted snipes about Go's relative affluence. It's actually nice to see a sports show protagonist who doesn't immediately sell himself to the audience; Takumi's a sullen adolescent, but his actions parse as true to a very common personality type.
It helps tremendously that Go is here to act as a counterbalance to Takumi. Go is much more positive in his passion, but that doesn't mean he lets Takumi get away with his jibes. When Takumi starts mocking him, Go gets right up in his face and asks “what does how rich or poor my family is have anything to do with baseball?” When Takumi responds to Go's missed catch with “if there was a runner at first, he definitely would have stolen second,” Go fires right back with “oh, I didn't know you planned on letting people on base.” The rapport between Takumi and Go is adversarial but immediately believable, a bond marked by clear friction with plenty of space to grow.
Not all of BATTERY's dialogue so far matches the sharpness of those exchanges, and the show's animation isn't the strongest, but this is nonetheless a very accomplished premiere. If you're in the mood for a character-focused sports show or a character drama in general, BATTERY shouldn't be missed.
We've already had a series this season about soccer, so sure there must be a baseball series, too, right? Battery the Animation is the answer to that question, and as baseball series go, it's off to a solid start, one which pairs good visuals with potentially interesting characters.
The appeal starts with the two leads. Takumi is baldly cocky guy, one who has somewhat of a sour attitude but is clearly confident in his pitching, to the point of getting irritated when anyone suggests less. He's also determined to get even better, hence him bugging his grandfather to show him how to throw a slider. He hits it off almost instantly with the hulking Go, who despite his good-natured disposition is also uncompromising when it comes to baseball; in one great scene he matter-of-factly says he's going to punch Takumi if he doesn't start pitching to him seriously during some practice throws. The chemistry between the two is almost immediate and obvious, as Go is exactly the kind of person that Takumi needs as his battery mate: someone who is just as passionate as him and won't take his crap. (I can see the shipping coming already...)
But it isn't just them. All of other characters around them have a natural feel to them too, and the interactions seem genuine. These aren't your standard anime archetypes and tropes being played out here, and these kind of interactions can go a long way towards supporting the series until it delves more heavily into the baseball aspect.
The technical merits are nothing to sneeze at, either. Though the animation does have some trouble staying on-model during the pitching scenes, this is otherwise remarkably well-animated as sports series go and does not rely on standard baseball visual shortcuts, either. Despite a subdued color palette, character designs and backgrounds are still clean and satisfyingly detailed. Studio Zero-G is probably best-known for producing '90s OVA titles like Shadow Skill, but if these production values hold then this series could put them back on the current anime map. Interestingly, the soundtrack is very sparsely-used.
What the series lacks at this point is a strong emotional core, which is usually critical for the success of series like this. (the minimal use of the soundtrack could be the problem here, too.) Still, it is made well enough that such a shortcoming can be overlooked for now. If you like sports series, this one has a lot of potential.
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