OP: 「Equal」 (イコール) by (Sumika)
「明青のエース」 (Akio no eesu)
I have more than a passing familiarity with this series. That, of course, is because I blogged the manga for some time. I eventually gave it up because the translations were so erratic, but I’ve continued to read them as they pop up so I know the story pretty well. I’m not so worried about spoilers here, though, because what you’d be worried about comes not from Mix, but Touch – the seminal series which this is a sequel to in ways which are still evolving. And if you don’t know Touch, you’re on your own, sorry – I draw the line at spoiler tagging series from 35 years ago.
A few facts about Touch:
- 1 manga series with over 100 million volumes sold, winner of the 1983 Shogakukan Award for shounen
- 1 TV series of 101 episodes, averaging over a 30 TV rating (One Piece typically pulls about a 6)
- 2 anime TV specials
- 3 anime theatrical films
- 1 live-action theatrical film
- 1 game
- “Tatsuya” and “Minami” were the most popular baby names in Japan for two years
In short, Touch is a big deal in Japan. In many respects it can be said to be the most popular TV anime ever, and among the most popular manga. So when Adachi Mitsuru announced he was doing a sequel, that was a big deal too. Mix isn’t as popular as Touch and there’s no way it could have been (the world has changed too much), but it’s massively outsold Adachi’s other post-Cross Game manga (some of which he’s left unfinished, as he’s notorious for doing) and it was inevitable that it was going to get an anime adaptation at some point.
That point has come as Mix is sitting on 14 volumes at almost 7 years after its launch. Adachi is releasing it as a monthly this time, but he’s been consistent with no significant hiatuses, and there’s no indication that the story is anywhere close to finishing (Touch was 26 volumes, for what it’s worth). It’s not known how many episodes this series will run, but it’s hard to imagine it’s going to be a complete and uninterrupted adaptation – which is going to place us on unfamiliar territory for an Adachi series. Which is ironic, because if anyone trades on familiarity, it’s Adachi-sensei (even when he’s not doing sequels).
I like Mix an awful lot, though I don’t think it’s achieved quite the same emotional heft as Touch as of yet. And for my money it’s Cross Game that’s Adachi’s masterpiece. Touch is a youthful lightning strike of a story, Cross Game the work of a more mature and sanguine writer, and it’s comfortably in my top 5 all-time where both anime and manga are concerned. I don’t think Mix will achieve those heights (Touch doesn’t either, in point of fact) but it’s going to be interesting to see how a nearly 70 year-old Adachi handles another story in the Touch mythology.
The elephant in the room for me was the casting of Kaji Yuuki as protagonist Tachibana Touma. I’m never happy to see Kaji’s name on a series I like – no seiyuu can drag a project down like he can – but Touma seems an especially ghastly piece of miscasting. It wasn’t a huge problem in the premiere, but to be frank Touma didn’t really talk that much. Series can survive having Kaji in the cast, and even as one of the leads (Shin Sekai Yori being the prime example) but they’re never the better for it – and the role of the male lead in an Adachi series is obviously beyond a crucial one. To go from the heights of Miyu Irino to the depths of Kaji Yuuki seems an especially cruel twist of fate – we’ll see how much of an issue it is (for me, at least) going forward.
Apart from that, everything was fine – if you know Adachi, there can’t have been many surprises here. OLM certainly knows their way around baseball manga, and while director Watanabe Toshinori doesn’t have an especially impressive resume Adachi series don’t place huge demands on the role, really. There are some interesting touches, like the 4:3 aspect ratio flashback scenes at the beginning and the old-school TV scene cuts, but basically this is Adachi. It’s baseball, it’s siblings, it’s romance, it’s innocent fanservice and gloriously awful puns and author self-deprecation. The X-factor here is that it’s also Touch, but even manga readers can’t make a final assessment on that one yet.
As for the rest of the cast, that’s a rather fascinating turn as Touma’s two siblings Souichirou and Otomi are played by real-life siblings Uchida Yuuma and Uchida Maaya respectively. For my tastes Otomi is the more important (Adachi’s female characters are no mere window-dressing, and she’s no exception) and Maaya really nails it (Yuuma is fine too). Since the premiere didn’t explicitly spell out the unusual Tachibana family dynamics in the premiere I’ll leave it to you to puzzle them out for now if you like. As for the baseball side, well – again, if you know Adachi that will seem very familiar. But Adachi has a miraculous ability to make familiarity a positive rather than a negative.
One thing that stood out about Cross Game (among many) is that it had an absolutely gripping premiere, but Mix isn’t like that. This series is more of Adachi’s typical measured buildup, but for me the premiere was pretty much on-point. I love the winks at the audience, like when the first-year Ichiban Natsuno remarks that Touma and Souichirou “don’t look much alike”, and all the reaction shots and facial expressions – it’s like relaxing into your favorite recliner at the end of a long day. I think Mix is sort of aimed at a captive audience, and you’re either a part of it or not – but if you are, it should prove to be comfort food of the highest caliber.
ED: 「Kimi ni Todoku made 」 (君に届くまで) by (Little Glee Monster)