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Major: The Ball of Friendship

June 25, 2012

I really enjoyed the first season of Major and so now we’ve finally continued on with Goro’s journey. Though this film actually didn’t come out after the first season, it takes place in between seasons one and two so we’ve decided to watch things in chronological order as best we can. That also means this isn’t a movie for jumping into the series, it makes no introductions.

Also, while there is a specific baseball that starts Goto thinking about his past at the beginning of the movie, calling it The Ball of Friendship is just odd. This movie doesn’t really have anything to do with making friends and being there for each other. Friendship doesn’t get Goro through in the climactic last game.

The ending of the first series was a whirlwind of changes at the end. The first season ends with the huge bombshells that are dropped on everyone in Goro’s penultimate year of elementary school. When the second season begins they have jumped ahead to junior high and there are even more significant changes that took place. This movie bridges the gap by explaining how many of those changes came to be from the first season to the second. In a way this is the secret history of Major: The Little League Years.

But as Narutaki said there is not pity for anyone who is not a Major fan. Heck the movie starts in the middle of Goro’s professional career. There is just a little refresher material at the beginning to bring you back up to speed after the intro but it is only there to jog the memory of people who already watched the first season. But other than that your on your own. This movie was made for the hardcore to see what happened in that missing gap. It is more a gaiden than anything else. But a vital one in reflection.

Just a quick note: The movie starts with a lot of awkward English to the point where you might assume you got an old dub. The story just starts in America with native English speakers who are clearly not voice actors. They jump back to Japanese quickly enough but I know it threw Narutaki and I for a loop at first.

You can take the boy out of the little league team but you can’t take the little league out of the boy. Just because Goro moves and has a major injury does not mean that he is going to stop playing baseball. It just means that he will join a new team and find a way of ticking a whole slew of new people. But one brother and sister seem particularity upset that he has joined the team. At the same time Goro’s injured shoulder will heal as long as he does not abuse it pitching. But when has Goro ever listens to what other people have told him?

When last we saw Goro, he was moving away from his first little league team because his new dad, Shigeno, was traded to the Marine Stars baseball team. It was a bittersweet season.

Now that the family have settled in, Goro goes off in search of a new team. He wins companions the only way Goro knows how, by berating them and/or showing off and then they eventually come around. This team is actually quite good already, so he isn’t really making them into a team as he did before, but he brings added determination to the players either they want to win because they like Goro or they want to prove they can win because they hate the guy!

We speed through a whole lot of games to get up to the championship which has the added twist of American players. This probably cements in Goro’s mind why he must making it in the American leagues even more.

This is movie is shockingly considered a side story, I can’t really reveal why it is so shocking but trust me very important things happen in this movie that affect Goro for the rest of his journey.

The best way to put it is this movie is as if the training on Dagobah in the Empire Strikes Back was only mentioned in passing by Luke when he gets to Cloud City. As if his lessons and revelations on the swampy planet were not worth going into a tremendous amount of detail about. But then a little while later someone realized that maybe that  story might be worth telling so they went back and made a special about Luke training with Yoda.

They have a tricky balancing act to pull off with this story. You have to make a team that is memorable enough for the audience to care about BUT not too important or else it makes no sense why they never appear that much in later arcs. It is sort of the normal filler arc conundrum times three. Also while Major loves killing of characters you can’t just have the whole team die in a bus accident sans Goro (It is not like Gen Urobuchi is writing this). The movie does a decent job making the characters stand out without making them too vital. That does mean that the one romantic interest is destined to go no where but I don’t think they play that card too hard to begin with.

The first member of the team you meet is Seiya Kinoshita who tries to join the team the same time as Goro. He is a milquetoast pitcher that Goro notices has some hidden potential. I saw him as the Toshiya Sato of this arc. They are both the shy boys who are pushed by Goro to do better. There are also Masato and Megumi Koga. They are both baseball fanatics who really hate Goro beyond the normal conflicts people have with him. The conflict of course has to do with baseball but it is connected to an unexpected character in Goro’s life. It is worth mentioning that Masato has the strange marks on his face that makes it look like he has painted on whiskers for a Halloween cat costume 365 days of the year. The rest of the team has mostly vanished from my memory but it is a single movie so they don’t have too much time to have everyone stand out so they have to focus on those three.

At the same time while a good team for the protagonist is important a rival team worth playing is even more important. And the movie bring out the biggest gun you can fire in a Japanese baseball series: Players from America! Arthur and Max were scouted to play in Japan and make up the dreaded pitcher and batter combo that anime loves as well. Arthur and Max have an interesting dynamic and their story is almost a companion piece to the main story. I was amused when they get their very own “power of friendship” turnaround as well. Hack the “Ball of Friendship” part might be more about them then Goro. But some of the best sports shows come down to battle of two teams that have you partially rooting for both sides.

Goro is actually a really boring pitcher, at least at this stage. It is much more interesting seeing him hit or help in the field or even assist the other members of the team with learn things than it is to watch him throw fastball after fastball. I’d really like to see him be more of a batter, like his father ends up being after his pitching career ends. Goro is interesting because he can adapt to many positions, so maybe that is something to come.

Some familiar faces (hey robo coach!) appear briefly, but we don’t really get to see what everyone from the first season is up to. The movie just winks at you about them. I found this a little sad as I came to like the Mifune Dolphins. I’ll be curious to see how much they appear in later seasons.

The rest of the cast feels a bit throwaway, more of a device for Goro to have this story than Goro meeting these people and going on journey with them. In this way it definitely feels like a side story, an important one that is totally canon but will these characters ever be relevant again? I’m not so sure.

I did enjoy that while Goro’s tale is going on we also see somewhat of a parallel story with his step-father’s career. The way they both enter a slump together and in turn pull each other out of said slump is a genuine delight. I think that Goro’s baseball is always better when it is reinforced by a bit of adult drama as well.

I do have to agree with Narutaki. Goro is probably the least interesting when he is pitching. I know Japan has an obsession with fastball pitchers. You see this in Princess Nine, Cross Game, and other baseball anime. But if you are going to focus on the pitcher then have them have a bigger repertoire than just fastballs. Usually the pitchers on the other side has more than that. So should the protagonist. At least we get to see other people be the ace for awhile in this movie which helps a lot. Goro is more fun when he is playing other positions especially when he is more of a batter.

I’m happy to say that no one died in this movie, but that doesn’t mean it is all happiness and rainbows. I’ve learned by now that Major likes to throw in at least on tragedy per arc (and more if they can)!

I have to say as far as side movies go this is probably one of the narratively critical you will get while still being a side story. The question comes down to when you should watch it if you are watching Major. You have two choices. You can watch it in-between seasons 1 and 2, like us. The big event in this movie won’t be spoiled but you do get some minor spoilers for the 4th season. You could alternatively watch the movie after the 4th season but the major event will no longer be as shocking. It is up to you which you want to have the most impact. But either way it is a story worth watching for any fan of the Major series.

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