「グラウンドに立つ」 (Guraundo ni Tatsu)
Of course it’s a shame pretty much nobody is talking about Battery, but it’s not all all unexpected. It can proudly stake out a place in the ranks with shows like Kyoukai no Rinne and Binan Koukou – and the majority of the sports anime I cover – in that category. It’s prickly, uncomfortable and not all interested in being your BFF. But it gets better the deeper you understand it and deeply rewards close attention, and it’s also turning out to be much more baseball-focused than it first appeared to be – just not, perhaps, in exactly the way most baseball series are.
One of the things I find especially appealing about Battery is how uncomfortable most of its human interactions are, and how willingly Mochizuku-sensei embraces that. It aptly reflects the state of mind of Takumi, for whom life is a constant source of personal discomfort for refusing to accept him as he is. That includes Gou, who’s apparently never once showed anger towards his friends. Sawaguchi’s tearful reaction was a very age-authentic moment, and the boys are generally at a loss about what to do – eventually urging Takumi to apologize to Gou. That’s something we’ve yet to see Takumi do – who knows if he’s even capable of it at this point? He’s completely uncompromising – for better or for worse.
When Grandpa sees the red marks on Takumi’s neck he immediately figures out he’s been fighting with his “wife” (Seiha does too – must run in the family). This is about as vulnerable as we’ve seen Takumi – he clearly wants to ask his grandfather for help in dealing with Tomura-sensei, but the old man is not going to bail his grandson out here even once he finds out it’s his old player coaching the team. The best he can do is offer the observation that Tomura is bluffing – that he may pretend he understands kids Makoto’s age but he really doesn’t. And that middle-schoolers are indeed a mystery, and the “scariest” (especially for a coach) age of all.
Back at practice there’s no sign that the impending head-on collision is avoidable. Makoto simply has no decorum whatsoever – he says what he thinks, even when it means confronting the coach over stuff like canceling practice over a few raindrops. It’s no better with the sempai either – they take his latest confrontation with the coach as a sign that the time has come to physically bully him. Fortunately Gou – even in spurned wife mode – still has his pitcher’s back, and he expertly defuses the situation without humiliating the upperclassmen.
The hair thing remains a major bone of contention – probably the biggest – and it’s a vexing one, because while Takumi is really correct that it’s kind of dumb, he’s also being a stubborn dick by not just going along with the tradition. It’s actually the captain Kaionji who steps in and engineers a potential escape route for all parties by asking the coach to try batting off the freshman battery. It’s a no-lose for Kaionji – if Takumi is humiliated there’s a small chance he’ll stand down, and if he proves to be amazing enough perhaps Tomura will relent and let him pitch in games. It’s an interesting battle – the coach is more focused on Gou’s receiving than Takumi’s pitching, but Takumi makes it abundantly clear that he has a special talent any coach who wants to win would want to exploit.
Tomura’s visit to the Harada home is the best sequence of the episode, and not just because it’s more extended screen time for Seiha after a long absence. Seiha is great, don’t get me wrong – the most likeable character in the cast for me, and precociously clever in an innocent way – but the conversation between Gramps and his old player is great in its own right. Tomura is obviously respectful, even a bit in awe – but still hurt that Grandpa quit, having taken it as a comment on the team’s inability to get to Koushien. In truth it was because his wife became terminally ill (as Seiha has figured out, and explains to Tomura).
Tomura is obviously here for one reason – to ask Gramps to talk Takumi into toeing the line. But the old man again refuses to be a crutch – in fact, he tells his former pupil that it’s Takiumi’s obstinate nature that may be the key to his baseball prowess so early in life. The most important thing he tells Tomura is not to turn his grandson into a “robot that only wants to win, and indeed this is a point near and dear to me. As I’ve come to know Japanese high school baseball it’s struck me in watching games live both how technically skilled the players are, and how joyless they seem. There are a few in Japan who decry this aspect of schoolboy baseball, but it rarely gets a hearing in manga or anime. There are more immediate concerns – clearly Nobunishi has no intention of letting Takumi off without extracting some revenge for his attitude (and potentially losing his catching job) but in the long haul, this theme of trying to let a young person be themselves instead of forcing them to confirm may well be a major component of Battery.