Reviewby Caitlin Moore,
Tamayomi: The Baseball Girls Episodes 1-12 Streaming
In middle school, Yomi Takeda studied and practiced to perfect what should have been a deadly pitch, so hard for batters to hit that it would guarantee them a win. Unfortunately, this pitch was also difficult to catch for her teammate and childhood friend Tamaki Yamazaki and they ended up losing them the game. Now the two reunite in high school, but their school's baseball club is all but disbanded. The two girls and their new friends, the twins Yoshino and Ibuki, decide to revive the team and try to get to nationals.
There are a few key ingredients to making a great sports anime. The first is, of course, the sport, although it's fair to use that term a bit loosely, since most people count karuta in Chihayafuru and mahjong in Saki. The sport must be fully realized onscreen, with the rules, techniques, and strategies accurately portrayed.
The second is stakes. Sports anime generally portray competitive school sports; it's not just about cycling or running - it's racing. The protagonist is usually an underdog, often from a school that once had a strong team that has long since gone to seed. Maybe the club is in danger of being disbanded from a lack of membership. If there are enough members, they don't care enough and mostly treat it as a hangout club. Something causes a sea change - most often a new member who actually gives a damn - and they go from a group of noncompetitors to scrappy underdogs.
The third is character development. It's nigh-impossible to be drawn into a sports narrative without caring about the people involved. Ensemble chemistry is essential. There are rivalries, both within the team and with other schools. Maybe not every member has a distinct personality, but the central cast has plenty of beliefs and opinions. They clash and struggle but ultimately pull together. Maybe they win and maybe they don't, but the true victory was the friends they made along the way.
Tamayomi: The Baseball Girls succeeds reasonably well on the first two fronts, but fails dismally on the third. It's only natural for a sports anime to focus on a few team members while leaving the others more vaguely developed, especially if it's only a single cour. Even for an ensemble-driven show, thoroughly developing an entire sports team would be a tall order. So, in theory, it makes sense that I can't remember the names of the team members outside of the central four. However, Tamaki, Yomi, Ibuki, and Yoshino would be right at home as background teammates as well. There's not enough personality to add up to a single Shoyo Hinata or Haruka Nanase.
I've lambasted series before for assigning each character a single personality trait or gimmick, but even that would enliven the cast of Tamayomi. The writers seem to think that “blandly pleasant” is enough to build audience investment. Well, writers, I'm sorry to say that it isn't. Blandly pleasant is boring, and boring is pretty much the worst thing a show can be. It creates a shaky foundation for most everything important to a sports story. Camaraderie is important in sports stories, but works best when it's built up from something. Their personalities can't really bounce off each other when one is best described as “nice and slightly reserved” and the other is “nice and more outgoing.” Internal and interpersonal conflicts are resolved with smiles and kind words in the span of a few minutes, without any real emotional growth or development.
One of the most interesting things about the show (and I do use that term loosely) is that, though Tamaki and Yomi are the titular characters, Yoshino is the one who receives the most development. Tamaki and Yomi resolve their problems almost immediately, and work together smoothly from the outset. Yoshino, meanwhile, becomes the team's de facto coach, responsible for picking player order and strategy. It makes sense, since she's the baseball otaku and has long since taken a more academic approach to studying the ins and outs of the game and its nuances, but that combined with the lack of interesting conflict leave Tamaki and Yomi with little to do outside throwing and hitting balls.
With such unengaging characters, it's nigh-impossible to get drawn into even the highest of stakes. There's plenty of room for exploration here. Bitterness tinged Tamaki and Yomi's middle school separation, with Tamaki asking Yomi not to use the pitch she worked so hard at developing. Their advising teacher played on the team back when they were champions. The club wasn't in danger because of lack of interest, but because of a violent incident the previous year that led to their disqualification from the championship and almost every member resigning and ruining their reputation with other schools. These contextual tidbits are interesting! These are stakes! Even if Tamayomi never entered the sports anime hall of fame, there was plenty of material that could elevate it into being an entertaining mid-range sports anime, or even a memorable one.
The baseball part of Tamayomi isn't too bad either. Of all the mainstream popular sports in the U.S., I probably know the basic rules of baseball best, which isn't saying much, but I know fairly little about its finer points. Still, Tamayomi seemed to be a pretty decent representation of the sport, especially at a high school level. Scores tended to be low, and there was a lot of strategy about what kind of pitch to use when, who to put on base against which pitcher, and so on. There were no super-powered moves, and Yomi's special pitch seemed realistic, but it's hard for me to say for sure. The biggest issue was that they play in white shorts which may be safe on a professional level, where their form is strong enough to consistently slide on their hip rather than their legs, but for amateurs, it seems to be begging to lose all the skin on their thighs.
Of course, if they covered their thighs, we couldn't see their thigh muscles, which the direction and storyboarding were positively obsessed with. While I appreciated seeing the athletes having some kind of athletic body - so many sports anime featuring female teams fail this metric - I began to suspect that this design choice was made with prurient interests rather than any respect for athleticism. More often than not, the camera focus goes from a tight zoom on a girl's thighs to her butt, or vice versa, especially at times where a wider shot would do better to show off their form and skill. Moreover, baseball is as much in the arms as the thighs, and they have no upper body muscle to speak of. I'm not asking for bodybuilders on par with Dorohedoro's Noi - just a bit of definition to show their strength.
But then again, Tamayomi doesn't do great with that kind of detail. In the first episode, Yoshino takes Yomi's hand and comments on how callused they are. The camera zooms in on the two's hands, which are as smooth and featureless as any anime hands. Throughout the series, the characters' faces tend to go off-model during anything but close-ups, and outside of the sports games, the animation tends to be rather stiff and full of shortcuts, with the occasional bits of weird anatomy.
There's two basic kinds of animation for the sports action: CG models and hand-drawn cuts. The CG models aren't absolutely terrible, but they are poorly integrated into the hand-drawn backgrounds and tend to be a bit off-putting. The hand-drawn cuts, which are rarer, are actually quite nice-looking, with some attention to detail in the girls' form, but unfortunately most of the focus is on their butts.
What pushes the last arc beyond redemption, beyond any chance of being interesting or memorable, is the music. At times when the music should be communicating the characters' emotional states, soaring through victories and dropping in their lowest moments, it does… nothing. It sounds straight out of a royalty-free library, suggesting quirky shenanigans or chill hangouts as the pitcher stares the batter down from first base. But more than anything else, it is a death knell - the death of any remaining chance of tension, of the viewer's investment and attention span.
Tamayomi is death by mediocrity, a perfect combination of writing too cowardly to aim for anything more than agreeable and direction devoid of any voice. It is less than the sum of its parts, completely forgettable in every way.
Overall : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Music : C-
+ Has some decent story beats; not actively terrible
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