OP: 「Answer」 by (Leo Ieiri)
「噂の新入部員」 (Uwasa no shin’nyū buin)
“Rumored New Members”
In a season so full of wild cards four of a kind would have no chance of winning, Major 2nd is a division winner with home field advantage throughout the postseason (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). Mitsuda Takuya’s manga franchise is one of the pillars of Japanese pop culture, and of my own history as a manga and anime fan. We go a long way back, Major and I, and the affection is deep and heartfelt. As for Watanabe-sensei, at this point his stature as one of anime’s best – and most versatile – directors is surely beyond question. Giddy-up.
Sometimes franchises that have been around as long as Major can get a little stale, but that hasn’t happened here. Why is that? One can look at Gegege no Kitarou and say it’s continually refreshed by new talent at the creative level, but Major is and always has been Mitsuda-sensei. The key is that he totally changed the formula and the dynamic with “2nd”. He contemporized in the same way the current remake of GGGnK did – except of course he did it himself – though the full extent of that will only become apparent this season. And he gave us a totally different sort of protagonist.
Shigeno Daigo is someone I think more people can relate to than his father, Goro. Goro remains the finest example of a certain archetype of sports manga protagonist and he’s one of my all-time favorites – that won’t change (he also inherits Endeavor’s “bad dad” mantle this season, but that’s for another discussion). But Daigo was a bold choice for Mitsuda – a chance to explore not just the reality of trying to succeed in sports with limited physical gifts (sports manga has certainly done that) but also with the weight of expectations from having a heroic father. Psychologically speaking S1 was a deconstruction of what that scenario is like for a kid (which alone makes it unusual in sports anime).
Much has changed as the new season begins, and not just the passage of two years time. Daigo is now a 2nd-year at Fuurin Junior High School. He’s taller, unsurprisingly, though unlike his dad at the same age he still looks very much like a kid. But Daigo has changed in more meaningful ways. There’s a quiet confidence to him now that we certainly didn’t see from the 12 year-old Daigo – this is a boy who’s grown comfortable in his own skin, and while there’s not a trace of cockiness to him because that’s just not who he is, you can sense he’s like a tree that’s standing by the water side (he shall not be moved). He’s resolute, rather than arrogant.
At Fuurin, Mitsuda takes Major 2nd in a direction we rarely see from sports manga. The Fuurin team is a true mixed-gender group – Daigo is the captain, our old friend Mutsuko Sakura is the vice-captain, and four of the six returning players are girls. In Japan girls and boys can compete in middle-school baseball (depending on the largesse of the school), and indeed most schools only have a softball team for girls. There are lots of sports manga about boys, and now almost as many about girls, but very few where we see them directly competing in a physically demanding sport like baseball. And given that Mitsuda takes the baseball part of the equation very seriously, you can bet that he explores the complexities of this scenario with some depth.
For now, the almost-inevitable culture clash this causes is the center of the story. The school has recruited a bunch of freshmen from the prestigious Nanyou Lions little league club (middle schools in Japan make a lot of money from sports – if they’re competitive). And because of how elite youth athletes are treated here (and not just here), these boys are cocky and arrogant enough to make up for Daigo’s lack. Especially Nishina Akira, their ringleader. He’s played by Yamashita Daiki and I must say, it’s an impressively off-profile performance from him. They waltz in dispensing with all the usually deference to seniors, and expect the existing club members to fade into the background (or disappear altogether). Which is probably exactly what they were told would happen, in their defense.
You could hardly ask for a better status check on where Daigo is as a character than this first episode, because the way he schools the newbies is totally in-character. He cheerfully gives them the rope they need to hang themselves, then lets them do so. He shows rather than tells – and then, once they’ve seen the experiential evidence they can’t deny, he adds on the telling. Middle school baseball in not little league – a bigger baseball, the prominence of breaking pitches, simple experience. And girls can be serious ballplayers. Nanyou Little is not the only prestigious little league team in Mitsuda’s Japan.
Watanabe can certainly thrive with all sorts of material, including really edgy stuff like Koi wa Ameagari and Nazo no Kanojo X. But it’s a joy to watch him work with straightforward and beautifully-constructed stuff like Major. He’s equally adept at the character and sports moments, his command of pacing and comic timing is impeccable, and he clearly understands how to let what’s best about his source material shine. The premiere looks great too – the character designs are on-point – and the OP and ED are both outstanding. What a pleasure it is to have both Major 2nd and Watanabe back on our screens, and in a season of uncertainty (both in anime and the world) to have a show you know is going to be reliably great week after week.
ED: 「One」 by (SHE’S)