「池のほとり」 (Ike no hotori)
“The Banks of the Pond”
It’s probably no exaggeration to say Battery isn’t a series that’s going to play to the masses. It doesn’t seem to have a natural target demographic, apart perhaps from the old NoitaminA audience (which tended to be pretty small anyway, and never had a sports-themed show to contend with). It’s not a hard-core sports series like Diamond no Ace, nor is it an Ikebukuro shippers paradise like Haikyuu or Yowapeda. It has no commercially powerful source material to support it and be supported by it (the novels it’s based on were released well over a decade ago). In short, it’s one of those periodic anime that make you wonder how they were ever greenlit in the first place – and like many of them, it makes me heartily glad that in defiance of all logic it exists.
As if all that weren’t enough, Battery also gives us a main character who, at this point in the story, is pretty unlikable. This is a syndrome I’ve seen repeated over and over in recent years – in a medium where light-novel adaptations have become highly influential, fans don’t have much patience for a character who has to develop into someone admirable. They want a winning protagonist right out of the gate, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that everyone is going to be pretty much the same in the final episode as they were in the first. That’s certainly not true with either the writer or director of Battery‘s prior works and it won’t be the case with this one, but I don’t know how many viewers are going to stick around long enough to find that out.
For now, though, Takumi is a big (abnormally big for a 12 year-old, even a jock) bucket of attitude. There are some definite patterns emerging here, and one of them is that Takumi is someone for whom things have tended to come pretty easy – at least in terms of baseball. As his grandfather says, he’s been given a great gift that no amount of practice can replicate – he can throw any pitch wherever he wants, at any time. But as a result of it, he’s never really suffered adversity. This is a syndrome common to super-athletes – as kids they utterly dominate the competition, to the point where their sport is barely a challenge. But the higher they go up the chain, the less likely that is to continue. Sooner or later, at least some of the c0mpetition catches up to you – and it’s how you react that determines whether you flame out or become one of the unicorns who can actually compete in a sport professionally.
It’s also clear that Takumi’s love for baseball is genuine – at least for as long as he owns it. That makes it ironic that all of a sudden he’s being asked left and right to urge those close to him to give up the sport. In the case of Gou, I think we can assume the reason his mother wants him to quit is so that her son can follow in his father’s footsteps (in Japan, it’s more or less expected that an eldest son will inherit a father’s medical practice). Takumi’s own mother is asking him to convince Seiha to stop playing – or trying to – for reasons that were already clear in the premiere.
Takumi’s reaction to these requests is telling – he’s totally unwilling to entertain the idea of urging Gou to quit, because he knows Gou is good enough to help him succeed on the diamond. But he’s happy to piss on Seiha’s dreams, and a real fault-line clearly exists in the Harada family over this. Seiha’s medical issues haven’t been explained clearly yet, but there does seem to be some sort of legitimate issue at work there. But Seiha is a pretty clear-headed and determined little boy, and he has allies in his grandfather and in Gou as well. That’s why it’s no surprise when Takumi goes to meet his new catcher at the Shrine and finds Gou already there, playing catch with Seiha (who, as we know from the premiere, has a pretty good arm himself).
The contrast between the brothers could hardly be more stark here. Seiha is adorably frank and wise, taking a very mature view about his possible future in baseball (“I don’t want to become you. I just want to play”). Of course for Takumi, everything has to be about him – his favorite response to other people’s problems seems to be “It has nothing to do with me”. He’s really at his most obnoxious here – being rude to adults (as he is) may be more shocking in Japanese society, but being so cruel to a child who adores him is the far greater sin in my view. Throwing away Seiha’s precious baseball is indeed crossing the line, and Gou points it out in no uncertain terms.
What this all comes down to, I think, is Takumi being “weak under pressure”. His reaction to Seiha getting lost is for all intents and purposes abject panic, and his fall in the lake after he and Gou find Seiha once again highlights that there’s something going on with Takumi’s pitching arm (which he tries to protect when he falls – whether it be an anxiety disorder of a physical ailment. Takumi defines himself through baseball, because in baseball everything has always been handed to him. He’s going to taste the harsher side of life now, clearly (perhaps terribly harsh, though I hope what I’m imagining doesn’t come to pass), and how he’s able to persevere and grow through that experience is going to define both Takumi as a person, and Battery as a story.
A quick note: I’ve started an anime and Japanese culture-themed Youtube channel called Notaku with Setsuken of Anime-Evo.net – stop by if you get a chance!