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.
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?
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.
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.