#1 The unique setting
So many anime are set in Japanese high schools, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when Taisho Baseball Girls turned out to be set in one as well. What I didn’t anticipate is that it would be set in the year 1925.
The cast of young girls who attend their local school may seem initially familiar, but they inhabit a very different world than what we usually see in anime. Taisho does a great job of immersing the viewer in this period of history, where Japan is slowly modernizing and its ancient traditions and culture is clashing with westernization movements. A neat example is how students with progressive families are beginning to wear school uniforms that would be commonplace in modern anime, whereas other girls are wearing yukatas all day every day.
I very much enjoyed this setting. I love all the old-timey cars driving around, I love seeing all these old buildings and how the people dress, and I particularly like how we see these girls struggle with issues appropriate for their time.
#2 Girls fighting back
The premise of the show is that during a social event, 14-year-old Akiko Ogasawara ends up in conversation with a baseball player who lectures her about how women shouldn’t work, exercise, or even be educated. Angered, she gathers some classmates and suggest that they start up a baseball team themselves and defeat the local boys at their own game. The teachers are opposed and their parents would be livid if they found out, but they push on regardless, aided by the American exchange teacher Anna.
The idea of girls taking on a sport popularly considered to be “for boys only” and overcoming the critique and disapproval this earns them is an appealing and empowering one. It’s easy to root for these girls and admire their determination to go against the preconceptions of the time.
However, it’s also not a show that panders to women. The girls do start playing baseball against the wishes of almost everybody, but they are widely ridiculed and completely defeated on their first attempts. They are so far behind in strength, stamina, and skill at the game that Akiko’s hopes of getting back at the guy who insulted her, only ends up embarrassing her further and shattering the morale of their friends.
That they then pick themselves up again and use these defeats to encourage each other to train harder is a great direction for the story. You see the cast gradually improve through hard, unrelenting practice and some unorthodox ideas, like the team’s best batter prowling the streets at night, challenging pitchers from other teams to a “duel”.
#3 Baseball, of course
Unsurprisingly, actually playing baseball is a big part of Taisho Baseball Girls. I am not big on sports myself and haven’t had much luck with shounen takes on it. Thanks to its fun cast of characters and great depiction of the sport, Taisho became an exception here and watching it brought back pleasant memories of Bamboo Blade.
The show goes for a relatively realistic depiction of the sport mixed in with some lighthearted comedy. The directing work is sharp and exciting, while also managing to capture the emotions of the sport without going for exaggeration.
#4 The individual team members
With just 12 episode and 2 specials, Taisho doesn’t exactly have the time to give every one of it’s cast members the love and development they deserve, but it does do a great job of endearing these girls and making them stand out.
Akiko and Koume are the two leads in the team, pitcher and catcher respectively, and also occupy different ends of society despite their strong friendship. And, while Akiko is the one who came up with the idea of playing baseball, she often needs Koume’s perseverance to keep at it and overcome the team’s hardships. Koume herself, however, has to keep her fondness for baseball secret from her family and that becomes even harder when dear old dad randomly decides it’s time for her to get married.
The Tsukabae sisters are always bickering and very different from each other, yet somehow able to work together for the benefit of the team, Noe is an analytical and intelligent girl who devises ways for the team to improve by looking at everyone’s performance, Kochou is a fast sprinter at short distances who always failed to make it in the relay team, but finds renewed confidence after becoming a valued member of the baseball club. Every character has a fun story or some struggle to overcome, which helps tie the actual baseball matches together with strong character development.