Anime Review: “Big Windup!” – Animation Scoop

Anime Review: “Big Windup!”

Based on a manga by Asa Higuchi, the 2007 broadcast series Big Windup! turns the clichés of the anime sports genre upside down. The main character is neither an ace who needs to be taught the importance of teamwork, like Ryoma in Prince of Tennis, nor a newbie who discovers his exceptional talent as he works his way to the championship, like Ippo in Fighting Spirit or the hot-tempered Hanamichi in Slam Dunk.

Ren Mihashi (Sean Mitchell Teague), the terminally insecure hero of Big Windup! is genuinely talented pitcher. But he was bullied so mercilessly by his middle-school teammates, he’s convinced he’s a complete failure. When Ren arrives at Nishiura High (a fictional school in Higuchi’s native Saitama area), he’s immediately recruited by catcher Takaya Abe (Greg Ayres), the team’s strategist, and by dynamic coach Maria Momoe (Cynthia Cranz). (Marie quickly demolishes anyone’s objections to a woman training the boys’ team: She can handle anything the kids—or a nosy adult—can dish out.)

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Mihashi makes Eeyore sound upbeat. He apologizes to his teammates when he wins a big game (“I gave up four runs!”). His fellow-players are having none of it. Third baseman Yuichiro Tajima (Todd Haberkorn), an exuberant ex-Little League star, simply ignores Mihashi’s moaning and treats him like an old pal. Mihashi is flabbergasted to realize skeptical center fielder and team captain Azuma Hanai (Joel McDonald), second baseman Yuto Sakaeguchi (Aaron Dismuke), and the rest of his nutty teammates actually like him.

Mihashi also discovers he’s a much better pitcher than he realized–as long as he follows Abe’s signals. Abe draws the unenviable assignment of literally and figuratively leading the neurotic pitcher by the hand, making sure he eats enough to keep his weight up, stretches properly, doesn’t overdo practicing and throws the pitches he’s told to throw. Mihashi alternately impresses and exasperates Abe. He realizes that scolding Mihashi “would be like kicking a puppy” and that “he’s not going to change without major psychiatric care.” But Abe’s patience quickly wears thin; he can’t keep from yelling, which reduces Mihashi to a quivering heap of insecurity. But when they work together on the diamond, the results are impressive

The first season of Big Windup! focuses on Mihashi joining the Nishiura team, and preparations for their first major game. The second season picks up where first ended: As the summer tournament continues, Nishiura is pitted against a formidable team from Sakitama High. Already, the players are beginning to think about the Koshien, the annual high school baseball tournament that is one of the most popular sporting events in Japan. (Pitching in the Koshien is the dream of countless Japanese boys.)

Tsutomu Mizushima directs with understated assurance, stretching a single game over four episodes, yet maintaining suspense. The result is a sports series that will even appeal to viewers who don’t like baseball. But what makes Big Windup! really stand out are the character interactions, which have a solid ring of truth. When the team visits Mihashi’s house for the first time, Tajima immediately starts rummaging through his room, asking “OK, where’s your porn?”

Funimation released the first season of Big Windup! a few years ago with an exceptionally lively dub. Ayres conveys Abe’s grudging affection and mounting exasperation with equal skill, while Teague walks a delicate line, keeping Mihashi sympathetic and downtrodden without feeling pathetic. Haberkorn often steals the show as the warmly upbeat Tajima. Nozomi has just released the second season, but in Japanese only. It’s fun to be back on the mound with Ren and the gang, but the viewer can’t help missing the English voices. Sadly, this engaging series has yet to find the audience it deserves in the US.

Big Windup: The Complete Series S.A.V.E.
Funimation: $17.54 4 discs DVD
Big Windup: OoFuri 2
Nozomi: $49.99 3 discs, DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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