Pitch To Contact! Teammates and Character Transformation in Ookiku Furikabutte

Higuchi Asa, the creator of Oofuri aka “Big Windup,” studied high school baseball in Japan for ten years, and it shows. Baseball playing itself fills most of the anime, with some games lasting several episodes. Many critics have also commented on the attention to detail in this show, which highlights the raw emotion and psychology of the game. In any case, this show took me completely by surprise. It is moving, vivid, funny, and if we are not embarrassed to look for it there, full of meaning.

The cast includes the ten tenth-grade boys on the newly formed Nishiura High hardball team, who in the Japanese system are in their first year of high school. Many believe that Higuchi has written some of herself into their coach, Momoe Maria. The main character is allegedly Mihashi Ren, pitcher, but his quirky teammates often steal the show.

“Play ball!” The Nishiura Ten, with Mihashi at center

In spite of his ability to throw accurately to any of nine sections of the strike zone, Mihashi’s self-confidence is nil. As he sees it, he got the starting pitcher position on his junior high team because his grandfather ran the school. He thinks that the losses his team suffered were due to his selfishness in not yielding the pitcher’s mound. Mihashi is not easy to watch, but he is certainly easy to relate to. Who has been completely free of this kind of horror and self-loathing at one’s own real or imagined shortcomings?


Mihashi’s usual facial expression

Catcher Abe Takaya, who sees Mihashi’s unwillingness to leave the mound as an asset, is determined to make an ace out of Mihashi and a winning ball team out of Nishiura. This same determination leads Abe to make the foolish promise to Mihashi that he will never get injured or sick all three years in which they’d form a battery, a promise that becomes important in the second season of Oofuri – but that, perhaps, is a topic for another essay.

Abe’s usual response to Mihashi’s usual facial expression

The first season of Oofuri is about the students forming bonds as teammates and pulling together to win games for the sake of Mihashi’s confidence. Eventually, they draw as their first summer tournament opponent a seeded regional champion from the previous year. But the bottom of the ninth inning has Nishiura defending a one-point lead against them in a rainstorm, with one out and a man on third – and Tousei’s cleanup batter looking Mihashi squarely in the eye. Mihashi has pitched the entire game, and is on the brink of physical and mental collapse. “Yet even still, I don’t want to get off the mound,” he thinks. “This is just like in junior high. We’re going to lose, and it’ll be all my fault.”

Suddenly, second baseman Sakaeguchi Yuuto calls out to his teammates, his pitcher, and himself: “Let’s go!  Bring it on!” Each of his other teammates (excluding Mihashi and Abe) chimes in, ending with right fielder and team captain Hanai Azusa. “Yeah! Hit it to third!” “One out!” “Pitch to contact!” “Mizutani! If it comes to you, throw home!” “Yeeaahh!” “Mihashi! Just throw your best ball, and leave the rest to us! No matter what happens after that, no one will complain!” The effect these rallying cries have on Mihashi (without him even fully understanding), and the electrifying finish to this ball game, are by themselves enough to justify watching the show.

The first season ends when some of Mihashi’s teammates visit him at home for lunch, Mihashi having skipped school to recover from exhaustion. Slowly, Mihashi is learning that he and his teammates can trust and value each other. As Mihashi staggers back to bed after his friends leave, he wonders to himself: “Is it normal to be this happy?”

Yes. Yes, Mihashi, it is. All too rare, unfortunately, but definitely normal.

Written by co-blogger R86, who wrote a previous post about Major. His series on Oofuri continues: Swing With All Your Might!

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About R86

R86 is a chemistry professor, which is the sort of job that probably made you stop reading already. He lives in Minnesota during the cold months and Texas during the hot months (true story). In his spare time, he enjoys music (flute/saxophone/clarinet and MIDI/Vocaloid synthesis), drawing, writing, and watching anime. Besides his posts here at Beneath The Tangles, he also keeps a deviantART journal, updated roughly once per week.

Posted on 02.09.2011, in Anime and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. This series is among the ones I plan to watch this year. I look forward to it.

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  2. That’s beautiful.

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  3. Thanks Bobbee…. (who is a friend of mine, and this is an inside joke between her and me, not that it is insincere)

    Thanks also for the link to the parallel discussion between Mef and TWWK, as I was wondering if that was still happening. A word of advice to others planning to watch this show: I do not recommend it for viewers under the age of 16, the same age as the boys on the team. Third-baseman and cleanup batter Tajima Yuuichirou (who is OF COURSE at the front of the group pic) has a straightforward, uncomplicated personality, part of which entails always saying the first thing that comes to his mind, which is usually somewhat crude. :p

    I have one more essay on “Oofuri” locked and loaded, and then that will be it for baseball anime. The irony is that I haven’t followed pro baseball in decades! :)

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    • Between this show, Major, and Cross Game, this site is quickly becoming an anime baseball blog. I think I need to watch Touch next and make it four for four!

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  4. Another for my want-to-watch list. This looks good!

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    • I’ve started the series myself and it’s definitely good so far!

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      • I think it’s a fair deal: you watch “Oofuri,” I watch “Cross Game.” ;D

        By the way, your punishment for referring to Hanai as “the bald guy” on the other blog, is that you must learn the surnames of all ten boys on the team. The fact that six of them have black hair makes it harder! Extra credit for their positions and their given names (most of which I had to look up). If you can actually give their jersey numbers, then your nerddom exceeds mine! :o

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        • Hehe, hey, I was only three episodes in! I think I’ll be happy if I can just memorize Hanai’s name and those for the manager, and the cleanup hitter by the end of the series (in addition to Abe and Mihashi)!

          Well, Cross Game IS twice as long, so I think I come up with the good end of the deal here. :P

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          • >… if I can just memorize Hanai’s name …
            >and the cleanup hitter['s] …

            TAJIMA! Given name Yuuichirou!… As if I can talk. In my head, I keep thinking of “Cross Game’s” Senda as “DBZ Guy.” :D

            >Well, Cross Game IS twice as long, so
            >I think I come up with the good end of
            >the deal here.

            I’m not sure about that — with the 24 episodes of season 1 of “Oofuri,” and the 14 of season 2 (including “episode 12.5″), it’s actually pretty close. Plus, although Kou hasn’t won me over like the Nishiura players have, he is decidedly easier to watch than Mihashi.

            Besides, after making it through “Major’s” 150+ episodes, the 50-odd episodes of “Cross Game” are no big deal. :)

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            • Bah. *26* episodes of season 1. Wish I could edit posts!

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            • Hmm…I was just thinking about season 1. I didn’t realize it was that long. Oyyy…what have I gotten myself into!

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              • Don’t worry, there’ll be more. At least, I hope so. From what I remember, the manga version is on hiatus until either late 2011 or early 2012, and then, with any luck at all, there will be a third season of the anime. The place the second season ends is psychologically satisfying in many ways, but by no means what anyone could call an ending.

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