Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.
The anime world has no shortage of sports shows. There’s a huge range found in this genre; from universally-known games like basketball and soccer to less popular ones like parkour and shogi. However, most of these shows still have one core aspect in common: they all feature boys teams.
Let’s face it — girls are a rare find in sports anime. If you’re lucky, a show might care to mention the presence of a girls team. But most of the time, you’ll find them serving as team managers. I’ll admit, some anime do center on girls sports teams. But for some reason a whole bunch of them are about survival games or other niche sports. It’s unusual to see girls playing classic sports in anime, and when you do, they’re mostly just being cute or funny.
Here we find the first aspect that sets TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS apart in the sports genre. Not only does the show focus on an all-girls team, but it also acknowledges and presents the sexism seen in sports and everyday society.
TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS is about a group of high-school girls forming a baseball team amidst the gender and cultural barriers of 1925 Japan. The team’s founder and pitcher, Akiko Ogasawara, seeks to prove to her fiancée, Sousuke Iwasaki, that girls can do more than just housework. To do this, she resolves to beat him at his own game — baseball. Throughout twelve episodes, Akiko recruits a team of girls and together they grow from knowing nothing about the sport to officially facing off against Sousuke’s team on equal ground.
History at Play
TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS’ focus isn’t just a gimmick to attract people interested in the usual “cute girls doing cute things” deal. Rather, the anime seriously considers the social consequences of women participating in a sport typically played by men. This is especially evident in its historical setting of the Taisho era (1912-1926).
1925, or Taisho 14, isn’t known for its gender equality. Women didn’t have many rights back then and couldn’t do a lot of what we consider socially acceptable nowadays. Akiko and her arranged marriage to Sousuke is one of the biggest examples of such. Sousuke claims to respect Akiko as a person, but at the same time thinks that she’s better off as a housewife than anything else.
The show also provides plenty of other details that point to women’s places in society back then: running in public is unladylike; speaking too much is crude; and talking to boys when unmarried is vulgar.
Thus, much of the series’ conflict comes from the girls trying to breaking free from such expectations rather than the baseball games themselves. They frequently face skepticism and rejection. Parents don’t want their daughters acting so rough. The school refuses to involve itself with “tomboyish troublemakers.” Boys teams don’t even consider them worthwhile opponents. And time and time again, the girls pick themselves back up and try even harder.
Social constrictions aren’t the only parts of the Taisho era that the anime covers well, though. The show’s costume design does an excellent job of conveying character background without dialogue-heavy exposition, while still remaining culturally significant.
The Taisho era, a time when westernization was still coming into the mix, signified heavy cultural change for Japan. It straddled the line between modern and traditional. One way the show demonstrates this is through the uniforms the girls wear at school. Sailor uniforms had just been introduced in Japan, and wearing one was a symbol of advancement and modernity. It was also a status symbol, since the wealthier families could afford such new clothing for their daughters.
The students at Toho Seika Academy are a blend of modern and traditional, much like the Taisho era itself. Just by looking at a character’s outfit, you can often take a pretty good guess at her background. For example, Akiko, who comes from an affable family, wears a sailor uniform; Koume, whose family runs a small restaurant, dresses in more traditional attire.
It’s a clever and historically-accurate way of categorizing characters and providing insight on the families they come from. Consequently, viewers can appreciate and infer from the art on their own without getting distracted from the story.
A Careful Balance
Taisho society’s constant scorn towards the girls simply for being girls is sadly not too far off from today’s. In the first episode, Sousuke mentions his belief that “a woman’s place is in the home” and “academics have nothing to do with a woman’s life.” Even in 2017, some people would still agree. Just look at all the backlash STAR WARS and DR. WHO got simply for introducing female leads after years of male ones.
These are real struggles that still exist in the modern world, and they may ring true with many viewers. As such, it’s all the more satisfying to watch these girls fight back against those notions. As they do so, TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS remains conscious of its cast and careful with its presentation.
Most of the adults and boys who oppose the main team aren’t seen as malicious or evil for their beliefs — just old-fashioned and ignorant. Likewise, the girls of the baseball team don’t launch into monologues or lectures about how wrong those beliefs are. Such dialogue isn’t necessary since the viewers should already know it. Even if viewers don’t, the girls still prove the point through their actions. As a result, any dialogue the show does offer is succinct yet powerful.
“If it’s our lack of experience that amuses you,” the team’s catcher, Koume, tells Sousuke at one point, “that’s just how things are and I can’t complain. But if it’s the fact that we’re women that amuses you, that’s something I can’t let slip by.”
One thing TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS does share with all its fellow sports anime is the determination of its characters. The girls unite with the goal of defeating Sousuke’s team, but barely any of them even know the rules of the game. How could they, when society forbade them from going near it? Nonetheless, they study hard to learn, and are eager to throw themselves into training.
Even still, things don’t fall into place for them. They must scrape together equipment, pretending that it’s for their younger cousins instead when asked. Most other teams their age reject invitations for practice matches. Interestingly, Sousuke’s accepts, but it soon becomes clear they did so just for entertainment’s sake. The boys condescend Akiko’s team the entire match. Left with no other options, the girls must practice with elementary-schoolers.
Watching the girls suffer through such humiliation and setbacks is both painful and stirring. At first, they can’t even score a point against the elementary-schoolers. But the anime takes care to show their slow yet steady growth as a team and as individual players. There are no superpowers or outrageously-skilled members here — everyone has the same starting point, and everyone perseveres through their hard work and resolve.
When an outfielder throws herself to the dirt and finally catches a fly ball, I’m cheering alongside her teammates. When the first batter performs her first base steal, I can’t stop grinning. And when at last they can hold their own during an official match against Sousuke’s team, I’m bursting with pride. These girls who had put up with their forcibly sheltered lives are finally stepping forward and taking control on their own. It’s inspiring, and not just because they’re doing better in games. Every point they make feels like a win against a society that has tried so hard to confine them.
Girls, Be Ambitious!
For a show set in 1925, TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS demonstrates with respectful grace how it feels to be a woman even in modern times. Perhaps it just goes to show how society hasn’t really changed all that much after all. The odds are stacked against you and people will doubt your ability, but that’s no reason to sit back and accept it. The characters’ conviction and courage to take a stand against their own society using baseball is compelling and oftentimes heart-racing.
Social commentary and sports may seem like an unusual combination in anime, but TAISHO BASEBALL GIRLS pulls it off smoothly and successfully. If you like your anime with a slice of feminism, definitely give this one a shot. It won’t disappoint you!
Featured image from Sentai Filmworks.