A True Ace in the Dugout
I will admit that this show pretty much came out of nowhere for me. I was just surfing Nico Nico Douga and just happened to find an episode uploaded, 3 to be exact, and watched it out of pure curiosity. I happened to wind up watching the most famous scene in Ookiku Furikabutte, which is something you should see for yourself. Needless to say, I unintentionally laughed hard. I also mistook Mihashi for a girl because of his demeanor and voice. I actually started to pick up this show because I thought it would be a train wreck, and everyone loves to look, and maybe laugh, at train wrecks. Boy is my face red now. Ookiku Furikabutte turned out to be my surprise hit of the 2007 spring anime season, and one of my favorite anime from last year.
Story - The story focuses on Ren Mihashi, a young man with such low self-esteem he makes Shinji Ikari look like Kenshiro, him joining the Nishiura baseball team as their pitcher, and his development as a person. The story also focuses on the newly formed and inexperienced Nishiura team members and their development into a true team as the show goes on. The story is simple enough that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, but also entertaining enough to keep people glued to the screen.
Art - The animation quality is pretty good. The art was done by a relatively new animation studio called A-1 Pictures Inc. , and I have to say they did a good job. They animated it without any noticeable screw ups and the art style is very pleasing and cute. They even added the tiny details to distinguish characters because it can be, quite honestly, hard to keep track of who's who in the show when you first begin because the character design is a bit on the plain side.
Sound - The music is pretty good. The beginning 13 episodes of the show, with its more slice of life-ish tone, has calm music that fits the mood. The second half, which is more focused on the baseball, has suspenseful music and the cheer squad's songs are also very good and references some theme songs in anime, like the Lupin the Third theme or the Battle Ship Yamato theme. The voice actors did a fine job voicing the cast and truly brought the characters to life, especially Tsubasa Yonaga (VA for Mihashi). Yonaga has the perfect voice for Mihashi. Whether it's Mihashi's cry baby side, his nervous side, or his confident side, Yonaga manages to potray Mihashi masterfully.
Character - This is the real heart of Ookiku Furikabutte. The characters are some of the best developed I've seen in anime. By the end of the show, I felt like I had a sort of bond between each character, including the opposing teams. It's really something when you root for both Nishiura and the rival team to win, even if there can only be one victor. Obviously, the biggest character development occurs in Mihashi. At first, you may hate him (Read: 90% chance of hating his guts) for his crybaby and no self esteem attitude, even if he does explain why he is like that. But as the show goes on you see changes, big and small, in his character and then he truly becomes a lovable dope. Also, we can't forgot the other characters. From the well endowed Momoe, the coach of Nishiura with the amazing power to crush pomelos with her bare hands and be devilishly sly, to Abe, the catcher with a chip on his back,the wiles of a weasel, and nothing to lose; to Tajima, the vocal lovable clean up hitter and a genius in baseball but not much else. You will find someone you like in this anime. I 99.99999% guarantee it. Another charm is that no one character in Nishiura is overpowered. Mihashi has pretty much godly control of his pitches but they are painfully slow. Tajima may also be a clean up hitter, but his stature prevents him from batting home runs. All the members of Nishiura pretty much have to work together to win games and it shows.
Enjoyment - Ookiku Furikabutte is really just a fun watch. The first half charmed me with its slice of life comedy elements. The second half kept me on the edge of my seat at every minute because despite the team having an excellent bond with each other, they're still just normal players, especially considering the fact that they're a new team and only consists of first year high school students, while the rival team is an experienced team you wouldn't want to go up with, especially in the first round. Also for baseball fans, Higuchi Asa, the author of the manga, pretty much did her homework in Baseball 101 and Sports Psychology. This is one of the most realistic baseball anime series you will see. Even for those who don't know jack squat about baseball, like me, will be able to understand the baseball terms considering that they explain quite well. Heck, you might even be motivated by this anime to try out baseball.
Cons - For starters, most of you will be put off by beginning Mihashi at the get go. I know I was. He might irritate the living beejesus out of you, but he does get much better later on. Heck, he even became one of my favorite characters in the show by the end. Another thing is that the show is slow paced. If you're looking for fast paced action, the action anime section is about two floors up from here. Even for a sports show, it's slow. The slowness helps in the development of the characters though. Also, if you happen to hate every character in the show, which is very very unlikely, you will hate it.
+ Smooth animation
+ Good music
+ Endearing characters
+ A simple yet effective story
+ Quite funny at times
+ Very engaging
- Beginning Mihashi
- The slow pacing may bore you
Overall, a true hidden ace from the Spring 2007 anime season. Make sure to watch it! The subs for the show are a bit slow, but Central Anime is doing an OK job with it.