“Act like a married couple.” The Romance of the Baseball Battery in Anime and Manga.

article and header image by: ajthefourth

I will dedicate the next three years of my life to you if it will make you stop crying!

The sweat, the tears, the possibility of blood and other injury, burgeoning romances between players (okay, so maybe that’s simply wishful thinking on my part); baseball provides an easy setting for drama, especially in Japanese cartoons, comics, live-action television and movies.  One of the more interesting baseball concepts in Japan, and one that isn’t applied to baseball in the same way in the United States, is the idea of the battery.

Strictly speaking, “battery” in baseball refers to the pitcher and catcher as a collective unit.  The term is used to measure how effective a specific pitcher/catcher team is in their attempt to outwit the batters of the opposing team.  In Japan, this term has evolved a bit further to the point where the term “battery” has been used to reference the relationship between the pitcher and catcher, as well as their effectiveness.  In other words, a true battery will have such a close relationship that they understand each other instinctively, and this knowledge will culminate in an unstoppable force on the baseball field.  Since the Japanese idea of the battery is a bit of a romantic one it’s also another fantastic dramatic element that’s present in many baseball manga and anime.

A silent, emotionally-charged apology.

Nowhere is this romantic idea of the battery more exemplified (and exploited) than in the manga and anime series Ookiku Furikabutte.  In the very beginning of the series, arrogant and bossy catcher Takaya Abe promises anxious and all-around sad sack pitcher Ren Mihashi that he will never fall ill, never be injured, for all three of his high school years.  He also insists that Mihashi pitch exactly as he says.  Shaking off Abe’s signs is expressly forbidden, not that the idea occurs to Mihashi for a while since he’s quite lacking in the confidence department.  Since no one at his previous school had bothered to nurture Mihashi’s inhuman amount of pitch control, Mihashi blithely follows Abe’s signs in order to not lose his “friendship.”

Inevitably Abe is injured.  Instead of turning into a breaking point for this battery, it strengthens their trust instead.  Mihashi realizes that it’s inherently selfish to force all of the decision making onto the other half of a partnership, and Abe realizes how meaningless their previous partnership had been in light of his unwillingness to trust and his blatant manipulation of Mihashi.  They finally come to far more equal terms as a battery through their following interactions off the field, which in turn strengthens their friendship (and provides romantic fodder for fans like myself).

Akiko helps Koume stretch.

Another series to focus on the battery relationship (and provide relationship fodder for fanboys and fangirls alike) is Taisho Yakyuu Musume, where a group of plucky young women decide to form a baseball team in order to challenge a group of young men in a stereotypically male setting.  The decision to form the baseball team is a reactionary attempt to confront the future husband of Akiko Ogasawara, and ends up being a learning experience for everyone involved, albeit an adorable one.  A battery is described to Akiko, the pitcher, and Koume Suzukawa, the catcher, as a relationship similar to that between a husband and wife.  In fact, in order to ensure that the girls begin to trust each other, their coach Anna Curtland tells them that they need to act like a married couple, which leads to a humorous sleepover at Koume’s house.

Towards the end of the series, the girls battle the boys on the baseball field and manage to earn their respect through the amount of hard work and training that they’ve put into learning the sport of baseball.  At the heart of the team’s development is the relationship between Koume and Akiko as they learn to trust in their own baseball instincts as well as their partner’s judgment.  The result?  A feel-good and entertaining series.

"Kou was pitching, Akaishi was catching, and Aoba was in center field...in a full Koshien stadium."

Another baseball series, Cross Game, manages to leave its audience feeling good thanks in large part to the masterful command it has over its viewers’ emotions.  A great deal of this is due to its excellent character development, including the relationship between pitcher Kou Kitamura and catcher Osamu Akaishi.  They begin as childhood friends, and romantic rivals, when the object of both of their affections, Wakaba, suddenly dies.  The night before her death, she had a dream: Kou was pitching, Akaishi was catching, and her sister, Aoba, was playing center field in the all important countrywide high school baseball championship: Koshien.

As they both attempt to hold on to Wakaba’s memory, the game of baseball brings them closer together as friends (mainly due to Akaishi forcing Kou’s hand at first).  Akaishi is a true catcher’s catcher: a natural statistician and strategist whose own development as a catcher, and nurturing of Kou as a pitcher, helps eventually lead the team to the Koshien tournament, partially fulfilling Wakaba’s dream.  Although he was hardly speaking of himself, Akaishi is absolutely right in the above quote; Wakaba does know how to pick ’em, including her choice for a winning battery.

When it comes down to it, the common element in each of these fictional batteries is trust, framed by the growth of a friendship.  It’s interesting to note how the development of these relationships within their respective series become key elements of overall character development and add that much more to the enjoyment of the series, similar to the development of a romantic relationship between two leads.

Recommended Reading: 

Charles over at Beneath the Tangles has few very interesting guest posts by R86 that approach Oofuri from a Christian point of view.  This one is my personal favorite.

22 Comments

Filed under Editorials

22 responses to ““Act like a married couple.” The Romance of the Baseball Battery in Anime and Manga.

  1. A Day Without Me

    You may find Princess Nine up your alley, although it has been long enough since I saw it that I cannot accurately vouch for its quality.

    In response to something you tweeted the other night about the decline in the belief in the importance of a “battery” in American baseball, I would tend to agree, as it only seems to become truly important in specific cases, such as with Tim Wakefield and Doug Mirabelli several years back. Surely some catchers are considered to be “good” for younger pitchers cutting their teeth in the majors, but it is rare to see a pitcher and a catcher specifically considered as a set.

    As regards the romanticism of it… even before watching Oofuri, I was a loser around dreaming up how I was gonna write a romance novel featuring a pitcher and catcher in the vein of the novel The Dreyfus Affair. Oh, how this potential storyline saw me off to sleep many nights as a teenager…

    • I am kicking myself repeatedly and very hard for not thinking of Tim Wakefield and Doug Mirabelli considering that they were a battery for 4-5 years on my own team that I follow religiously. Sigh.

      You’re absolutely right that the occurrence of an older catcher working with a young pitcher is a far more common concept in Major League Baseball than a battery; at the beginning of the season I watched as older catcher Matt Treanor was acquired by Kansas City from Texas to work out young pitchers like Luke Hocheavar (that is, until Treanor was injured). This type of relationship has a bit of a romanticism about it as well, I suppose with the “older brother” type helping out a newbie…hehe.

      As for Princess Nine, you’re not the first person to recommend it to me and I trust both their and your opinion, so I should probably get around to watching it one of these days. Also, if you ever write that story…I’ll probably read it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Knee House

    While the importance of teaming together a specific battery (such as Greg Maddux & Eddie Perez) may have seemingly disappeared, it seems to me that since the 1980s MLB teams have put more stress on the job of the catcher to work & know his pitching staff. During at least the ’60s & ’70s it seems that there were always a few catchers known more for their bat than their glove–Gene Tenace, Duke Sims, Dick Dietz, etc–but, and this could be my imagination, it appears that these low contact, patient sluggers w\ mediocre defense are facing an uphill battle in the ’90s & ’00s.

    One example of this may be seen, I think, in the playing time of Mike Napoli, a talented hitter, who, even in healthy seasons, is heavily platooned w\ catchers better known for the defense & connection w\ their pitchers, such as Jeff Mathis in LA & Yorvit Torrealba in TEX.

    Another example is the Kenji Johjima situation in Seattle a few years ago. A few Mariners starters spoke up about their displeasure w\ their handling vis a vis Johjima–particularly after his ’08 contract extension–stating their preference for Rob Johnson, who in his short time Seattle built a reputation as a pitcher’s catcher (despite, IMO, his poor defense).

    But I think you’re right that the storyline between the battery isn’t as present in professional baseball, which may be an artifact of season length & the number of pitchers. All the above examples are scholastic settings involving a pitcher who handles the majority of his team’s pitching chores. As someone with little knowledge of Yakyuu (I need to re-read Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, among others), I’m curious about it’s reflection in the NPB (although I must admit I don’t feel that confident about my comment on the history of the battery in North America . . . ).

    I feel bad that I can’t get over the visuals of both Touch & Cross Game to get around to watching them. Also Day’s mention of Princess Game reminds me that I need to get around to watching that. . . .

    It’s also a tailor made relationship within which a narrative may be born, such as Abe & Mihashi and Koume & Akiko.

    • Knee House

      Oops forgot about that comment at the end. . . .

      To flesh out, I agree that the battery is perfect narrative fodder for baseball-centric stories due to their constant contact & the vital importance of their chemistry & communication, and those were perfect examples! I think I was going to say something like that. . . .

    • I think you’re right in that the focus has shifted from the catcher being responsible for one ace pitcher (which ties in with the idea of the battery) to the catcher being responsible for an entire pitching staff. This is probably due to, as you say, season length and the number of pitchers. When you have a 5-man rotation, all of which are not expected to pitch complete games (unless you’re the Phillies, sheesh) plus a bullpen to finish up those later innings, the focus is on building a cohesive unit as a pitching staff, not necessarily forming that same bond between one pitcher and one catcher (unless, as Day points out above, you’re a knuckleballer and catching your pitches is going to take a special kind of catcher).

      This is more than likely due to the increasing speed at which pitchers have come to pitch at consistently and the increased power of hitters. Over in Japan, pitchers are expected to pitch complete games, although I still think that overall the concept of the battery is far more prevalent when speaking of Koshien and the national tournament. There, ace pitchers are expected to pitch complete games, often back to back, which allows for the forming of a more complete bond between the ace pitcher and starting catcher as you see in so many anime and manga. This relationship is also reinforced by fact that they are always assigned numbers one and two respectively.

      Thank you for talking baseball with us! Don’t ever change.

  3. Mad Chemist

    This is a very interesting post. I never understood the concept of the battery before reading this, and and doing so certainly adds new meaning to a number of scenes in Cross Game and why Kou and Akaishi would often verbalize Wakaba’s dream. It kind of felt like I was missing out on some subtext regarding the catcher’s role when I watched the series.

    • Thank you!

      Kou and Akaishi’s relationship is absolutely fantastic in Cross Game, and I loved watching the development of it, beginning when Akaishi switches positions from pitcher to catcher (which suits him far better) because of Wakaba’s dream, and continues with his (sometimes forceful) encouragement of Kou as a pitcher.

      The catcher’s role is a whole other matter, but it definitely ties in to both Akaishi’s personality and the idea of a battery. Often, catchers are expected not only to take care of their pitcher, but to care for the entire team as well. All of the on-field orders begin with the catcher, and therefore it’s the catcher’s role to know the ins and outs of not only his own players, but of the opposing team’s as well. A good catcher can anticipate nearly every outcome, and hopefully can communicate effectively enough to help the team react in time. Akaishi is perfect for this as he is very observant, not only in baseball but in human relationships as well. He is someone that people look up to and don’t mind taking orders from.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  4. Ah, yes. I like Japan’s connotation of battery, and I think in some American baseball films the battery does intend on that kind of intimate chemistry. For The Love Of The Game is one off the top of my head where Costner and John C. Reilly (love that guy) are a pitcher-catcher duo and seem to have a good connection, also maybe Major League, which coincidentally Shinmaru, EmperorJ, and I watched for sccsav hehe. It’s interesting as I believe the viewer is meant to perceive the battery in positive light, but the context generated in American screenwriting does not usually offer a romanticized lens surrounding the battery. I’d venture to say a solid writer could summarize the relationship from one of these films and spin it without stretching so that it does feel more Japanese, but it’s questionable. Could be a good exercise ^ ^

    • Knee House

      Ah, American corollaries to the romanticization of the battery in Japanese fiction. Another example, perhaps the quintessential example, is Bull Durham, w\ Kevin Costner & Tim Robbins. The grizzled minor league catcher whose Dream has disappeared with age tutoring the young, talented phenom flamethrower in desperate need of instruction. Nice thought & examples, Ry.

      • Aha, I wanted to mention that one as well, but it’s been a really long time since I had watched it (maybe the best example actually). I’ve only seen these films through my parents who loved baseball movies for some reason, although you couldn’t get either to watch a MLB game. ^ ^

        • Knee House

          Huh, I wonder what it was about baseball movies that attracted their interest?

          I was just reminded of another film focused on the relationship of its team’s battery, whose name escaped me earlier, the 1973 film Bang the Drum Slowly, starring Robert De Niro. It focuses on the relationship between its ace pitcher & catcher De Niro, who has never lived up to his potential. De Niro’s character is diagnosed w\ terminal cancer & the film follows the developing relationship between pitcher & catcher as they cope w\ news & attempt to live out De Niro’s wish to live normally.

          Thanks again Emily for this post on baseball batteries, a subject I’ve given too little thought, and Ryan for reminding me of some classic baseball films!

      • One can also find a great example of the grizzled minor league catcher tutoring the young flamethrower in one of the later seasons of “Major.” It is a real baseball anime lover’s anime as it is some 150 episodes long and covers the protagonist Shigeno Gorou’s life from infancy into his late 20s, but it’s a great ride if you have the time.

        I also want to thank ajthefourth for the kind words about my “Oofuri” essays at Charles’s blog. I am new to this whole writing-about-anime thing and he has been generous in accepting some (actually, so far, all) of my essays for use at his blog. “Major” was in fact the subject of my first essay for Charles. Ironically, I am just about the least athletic person you’ll ever meet, but I am a nut for these baseball anime series.

        “Oofuri” in particular, though, touched me somewhere deep. I am still in the process of figuring out why. I will be delirious if a third season ever materializes!

        • Here’s where I’ll admit that I have always wanted to get in to Major, and yet the idea seems so daunting to me because of the sheer length of the series. Perhaps I’ll still give it a go one of these days. I’d also love to somehow be able to watch and/or read Star of the Giants, which many consider to be the first commercially successful baseball manga (and subsequent anime).

          Thank you for writing those essays. I’ll try to be a better reader and instead of lurking write a comment or two if that third season that we both want so desperately ever does appear! Thanks again!

    • Ooh, those are all fantastic examples, Ryan, especially The Love of the Game. Thank you!

      I’m definitely glad you brought this up because it further illustrates a point that Tiboreau brought up and I elaborated on a bit in my comment to him above: the idea that baseball has become more about the team effort than the battery pairing.

      In most baseball movies, including the ones that you described, a lot more effort goes into telling a team’s story, or the life story of a particular famous player, than showing a successful battery relationship. It ties in to what we discussed above about the focus having shifted from a single pair to a team, which is why, as you say, American movies don’t offer as romantic of a lens when it comes to the battery.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  5. 2DT

    Ever read the book Mon (or The Gate), by Natsume Soseki? The relationship between Sosuke and Oyone is often held up as an exemplar of Japanese love: Unspoken, intuitive, almost primal in how tightly bound they are. At least since the Meiji period, speaking one’s feelings aloud as we might be used to was seen as a bit gauche.

    Related to your subject, it helps that baseball is almost more Japan’s national sport than the US, these days. :) Even though there’s only one batter who runs the bases at any time, the game emphasizes teamwork in a way that arguably suits the culture very well.

    • I haven’t, but now I have a new book to seek out and devour! ^ ^

      It is interesting to note how Japan has both embraced baseball and the idea of the team as a collective unit as well. In comparing the sport between the two countries, Japanese baseball is far better at reinforcing this concept of teamwork, especially when you compare a Japanese manager “arguing” a call with an umpire to the raging fits that we see out of some of our managers over here.

      Then again, it’s always highly entertaining (for me anyway) to watch such displays. Thanks for the comment and the recommendation!

  6. Yi

    The dynamic between Koume and Akiko is one of the best things about Taisho Yakyuu Musume. I think even for someone who knows nothing about baseball, it’s clear that there is a special relationship exists between those two. And cultivating that was integral to the team’s success.

    I used to think catcher is the most useless player in baseball, but this post sure taught me differently. Haha. ^ ^

    • The catcher’s role probably isn’t as important now as it used to be, but more often than not, it’s still the catcher who is calling the pitches, especially with fresh from the minor league pitchers, and this requires a basic knowledge of the other team’s hitters’ habits.

      Yeah, I love that Anna’s way of forcing them to cultivate their relationship was a sleepover, and telling them to act like a married couple. ^ ^ Thanks for the comment!

  7. Wow. Nothing of substance to add, except that I really like the three anime in the initial essay and have very much enjoyed that the commenters have brought so much real-world baseball knowledge (and baseball film critique) to the table.
    “Provides romantic fodder for fans like myself” – uhuh. Do you mean literary product, and will we be seeing any?

    • I have actually written “literary product” as you say within the Oofuri fandom; however, I will never point anyone in the specific right direction as to where to find it. If you do, congratulations! (Although I must admit that all of my fan works are fairly awful).

      Regarding the commenters: I know, right? It makes me particularly happy to find others who enjoy both anime and this fantastic game of baseball. Thanks for the comment!

  8. Pingback: Secret Santa: Taishou Yakyuu Musume «

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