article and header image by: ajthefourth
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.
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).
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.
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.