Ookiku Furikabutte: Big Windup!

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Here is a story about a boy who kind of finds his place in the world through his baseball teammates. This is a tale about an underdog team learning to work with one another to create an unstoppable force in the high school leagues. I can not stress enough what I liked most about this anime is the amount of effort put into creating such a supportive atmosphere in every episode (for season one at least). Our main character; Mihashi, transfers from a big league Junior High School to a unknown school his mother went to because he felt useless to his old team; in Mihashi’s defense, his old Mihoshi teammates were bullies and they’d probably make anyone doubt themselves after three years. As we go through the first season we see Mihashi’s new teammates make an active effort to help him gain some type of confidence and win their games. This was a really good start for A-1’s first production release.

Growing as a Team: Character Development and Voice Acting

In this season it’s the first year the team is together; Momoe; their coach, rents a field and cottage type place to work on the boys teamwork. She pulls Abe; the catcher, and Mihashi aside to the field to work on their teamwork in a different way; in this show they make it a point that the relationship between the catcher and pitcher is very important. If it’s ever off then the team starts to become offset and then starts a chain reaction of losses. After the 2 on 1 session with the coach we see Mihashi become attached and subservient to Abe; Abe, although reluctant at first and thanks to Momoe; makes Mihashi’s confidence boost a priority. The big push for the teams development as a whole came from playing against Mihahi’s old school… In episode three we see a glimpse of how he was treated by his previous teammates; the guy who corners Mihashi is his old catcher. The guy really does hate Mihashi’s guts; he threatens to break Mihashi’s arm and thankfully Abe shows up to detour this violence.

 

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I think a big reason why Nishiura becomes such a good team is because of this moment between Abe and Mihashi. Both had their own baggage from previous teams and neither understood each other. What this team needed was a core drive, and with it being to help Mihashi with his confidence; it helped develop each member individually and together just by showing how they interacted; how each boy was going to put his best foot forward to help a disheartened teammate. The warmth the boys showed Mihashi on the field when he was up to pitch was really nice to see; as the story progresses towards the end, you get to see how those small gestures helped Mihashi become a little more confident in himself. What I loved the most about this underdog team is that the warmth didn’t just stop at Mihashi, they all gave it to each other as well.

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As for the voice acting goes; I prefer the dubbed over subbed. When I watched Big Windup! in Japanese it made me hate Mihashi more than feel sorry for him; the voice actor was way too whiny for my taste. The english voice acting for the others boys was spot on; I got a sense of their age and maturity better. It may have helped that Funimation reworked this anime in 2011, which means you’d get to hear some well established regulars voice acting.

Music that does it’s Job: Music, Opening, and Ending.

I didn’t have a problem with the music in this show; the soundtrack does it’s job well. The songs helped convey the mood and helped make the baseball games feel real. For me personally there was nothing special about the openings or the endings; I didn’t like that scenes from the show were used in the openings and the endings didn’t pump me up for the next episode. Heck, the music during each episode grabbed my attention more than Dramatic by BaseBall Bear and Medaka no Mita Niji by Takada Kozue. Again the music did its job; the opening and ending songs felt like they filled a space, a good enough space. I apologize to those who loved the songs.

3 Strikes You’re Out!: Directing

A-1 does such an amazing job (most of the time) directing action shots; it’s impressive to see from the very beginning they knew how to move a camera. When it came time for the baseball games, I felt like I was watching a real one. It would be easy to span out a long shot of the baseball flying towards a player, them catching it, and then it being thrown to the next person. No, the director didn’t allow such cheap shots to be taken; Tsutomu Mizushima liked to have the camera move with the ball and the background expressing the remaining movement.

 

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The technique for the ball was also used for the players. Once someone hit the ball or especially when the runners were on the bases; you could feel the intensity of the situation. A lot of the times when we saw the runners, they were going between bases; either because the pitcher was about to attempt for an out or someone on their team made an amazing hit and the bases were free game. The amount of action in those scenes took a lot of framework, more than I think they could manage at the time. I still think though; with this minor set back the director was able to convey the action and suspense of real baseball games pretty darn well.

 

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Beauty in the Basics: Animation and Artstyle

I’m not going to lie to you; I really hated Mihashi’s character; the design itself wasn’t bad but the bird like facial expressions were a turn off for me. The artstyle in general definitely took some getting used to because I’ve been watching anime 10 years after this was made. Mihashi aside, I enjoyed the character designs. I felt like A-1 took basic character designing to a new level. I could tell the players apart; a lot of the hairstyles repeated but that was made up for in facial features. Big Windup also felt kind of classic to me; the animators stuck with brush strokes for the backgrounds and subtle but bold outlines for the characters. As you can tell I like to take screenshots of the anime/show/movie I’m reviewing; when I went back to review which shots I wanted to use for this review I found something a bit troubling… I could see the the movement lines.

 

Of course the viewer doesn’t see this but I still find it sloppy. I’m not sure if this was the product of poor technology, the year it was, or if budgeting prevented a clean transition from frame to frame; whatever the issues is here I have to knock a few points off. Some of the examples I had to show for amazing camera work were compromised due to the poor quality; not from the pixelation but the frame rate was God awful sometimes. I know that a lot of animations’ charm is being able to seamlessly string “moving” images together and I’m not saying this anime had bad frame rates in every shot; this was mainly a problem I noticed in the action scenes. Even though I stand by my words from before; “the camera work was amazing”, I feel the need to share this. Moving forward in my journey with A-1 pictures, hopefully I’ll get to see the improvements they’ve made on a small and large scale.

Final Verdict!

Big Windup was a fun sports anime, it made me laugh quite a bit; definitely a nice change of pace from AnoHana. The animation and directing during the baseball games was absolutely stunning and I’d watch season two just to see the Nishiura boys play again; however I won’t rate it any higher because I was deeply annoyed by Mihashi. Dear Lord did he cry about everything and I personally don’t sympathize with perpetual cryers, although I did empathize with his inner turmoils and was happy that his teammates were there to curve his insecurities. With everything in mind my score for this anime is a solid 7.

 

AnoHana; The Flower We Saw that Day

You’re in for some laughs, a lot of bittersweet moments, and buckets of tears. Not just from the characters but from you as well; you’re going to cry a lot, bring a friend if you need to. AnoHana tackles the effects of death and loss; how each person may mourn differently and that it doesn’t have to always be so sad. The five high schoolers the story follows are all uniquely traumatized by their dear friend dying at a young age. She comes back and reveals herself to the groups’ old leader; her spirit won’t rest until her wish is granted. We go through a lot of trials and errors with the gang figuring out how to help their lost friend; it’s truly a bittersweet story that I think was worth the hours of crying.

Warning: Definitive rant about the OP

First, I want to gush about the opening really quick…. (Just kidding this won’t be quick at all). The very first sequence let’s us in on a little secret; there’s something up with the gray-haired girl. One moment they’re all together as small children, the next they’ve grown up and in her place is a flower; interestingly enough the shot of the now adolescent children kind of reveal to us their personalities and how they feel about each other. Now let’s fast forward a little bit (past Menma’s scene); when the spirits of their former selves are running through their lives, it seems to bring a sense of panic or sadness to most of the characters; Yukiatsu continues to drink his beverage until a rocket launches into the sky; the rocket launching has got to be my favorite scene of the entire show, it had so many meanings and as you watched each episode more meanings were added. Plus the brief break in the song to hear like a sound of a shooting star disappearing… I can’t even express how happy it made me. Anyways… As a second-hand viewer you could argue it was the spirit of Menma that catches his attention, however in the anime he doesn’t even entertain the idea she might be back until much later in the show. After the rocket we start to see the old gang come together; the same shot from the beginning foreshadows again by bringing a now adolescent version of Menma in and shows each of their reactions to her now known presence. I really, like really love A-1’s use of colors in the still frames; like the middle graduation causes the eyes to go straight to the characters faces then take in their body language… For me personally, it really set the tone for how the story was going to be; how many tissues I would need and if I needed to watch this at night with no one around. The last few frames were very touching to me, we see the whole gang in their old treehouse with the illusion of their childhood selves and Menma just watching them; her body language told us she was pleased with what she was seeing. Then she turns around with a very satisfied look, the background turns gray, all her friends disappear, and she vanishes leaving a flower; signaling the bittersweet ending. Just an amazing animation sequence and song that would give a new or old viewer a bit of joy… Until they started watching the show itself and learn pretty fast that you’ll be crying… A lot. Have I stated that already?

Yukiatsu and Poppo: Character Development and Voice Acting

I truly loved watching the main cast learn and grow before my eyes, it made for a very compelling story. For me to properly talk about the character development I want to focus on Yukiatsu and Poppo; their personalities traits were extremely contrasting of each other, however in the end I learned to care about both in different ways. Poppo was  smaller than the rest of the gang but grew up to be the biggest; he seemed to always be in a good mood and didn’t let much get him down. Poppo had always looked up to Yadomi; I really liked that his older self still looked up to Yadomi but still considered what he himself, thought what Yadomi said was true. Yukiatsu on the other hand starts out as an insensitive jerk. He’s got good looks, athletic, and does stupid well in school; everything opposite of Poppo. When it came to Yadomi; even as kids Yukiatsu did not care for him much, probably due to jealousy. The writers did a good job of allowing some of the dialogue to express the true emotions characters had towards each other. They never had to outwardly say “I hate you because” or “I think you’re this”. The amount of animosity and pain you saw on Yuki’s face whenever he’d confront Yadomi about Menma helped me read further into what was really going on. In the beginning due to Yukiatsu’s trivial personality, I didn’t really want to side with him. He’d always try to undermine Yadomi and his efforts to help grant Menma’s wish. The guy goes so far to cross dress as Menma, run through the forest near the gang’s treehouse, and almost convince everyone that they were seeing her ghost.Tsurumi; one of the “super peace busters” member, was really close to Yukiatsu. If it weren’t for her Anaru, Poppo, and even Yadomi probably would have ended up believing Yuki’s version of Menma was real. Even before and after Poppo witnessed all of the madness between Yadomi informing him he could see Menma, and Yukiatsu running through the forest dressed up like Menma… Poppo asked himself what he believed and went with Yadomi; Yadomi could really see Menma and Yukiatsu was going through a rough time with what happened. Our lovable Poppo starts out as this open-minded, loving character and it’s not until close to the end we find out he has his own demons. We could piece together Poppo’s lack of character development (or personality development) was because of his own pain. There was no animosity in his heart, just extreme guilt. It’s common for some people to cope with their pain by telling jokes, always laughing, and generally giving off positive vibes to deflect from their true feelings. I thought this was a major plot point that made me rethink the entire beginning and middle of the show; how much of what we saw of Poppo was “real”? Yukiatsu was a major d-bag and a little nutty but it didn’t take long to understand where he was coming from. He was in love with Menma; he was jealous that Yadomi was the only one who saw Menma; he hated himself for what had happened to Menma. In the end both characters attitudes towards the situation paralleled, they both accepted Menma was back for a wish to be granted and they both wanted to do whatever it took to grant that wish. The differences in opinions and obvious differences in coping wouldn’t have been believable without the amazing voice acting. I never caught onto Poppo’s inner turmoil, I always felt how angry Yukiatsu was. Major props to the writers and voice actors.

Less of a rant: Music for the Opening and Ending sequence

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Art was taken from “Arikin” on Deviantart.com

This will not be about the animation sequences… I have sedated my desire to talk about the opening, an entire paragraph ranting and gushing is more than enough; I hope. “Aoi Shiori” has got to be the perfect song for this anime. I do not know for sure if this was written specifically for AnoHana but boy have they fooled me. The snippets used from the original song for the opening match everything that happens. No, the lyrics aren’t describing what is actually happening but it parallels the emotions of the characters. It’s not a sad song, it’s also not a happy song; the same reaction I have to AnoHana overall. “Secret Base” also brings it home that this show about old friends saying goodbye to a loved one. As sad as it maybe to lose someone you love and care for so deeply; it’s not the end of the world and there are good things about loss.

Granting Menma’s Wish: Directing and Editing

Figuring out and granting Menma’s wish was the main driver of the show; propelling the some of the major plot points forward every episode. Instead of trying to set up the story, gradually introduce us to the characters, and slowly reveal some of the conflicts; we got to see all of the main characters, how they interact with each other, Menma is someone they don’t like to talk about, no one can see the grown up version of Menma except for Yadomi, and their treehouse still exists; the director tackled all of these things in episode one. What really captivated me about this series; is how well Menma’s wish flowed through the story. The beginning episodes changed what Menma’s wish was pretty frequently; this never became an issue because the errors helped the characters develop and become close friends again. Once Menma’s wish was finally revealed; I didn’t see it coming. The director had me believing Menma just wanted her friends to be together again. I thought these were excellent moves on the directors part; keep the viewer guessing until they can’t anymore and make sure their emotionally invested every step of the way. My emotional involvement never changed because I could always feel connected to the characters; the camera was incredible at zooming in and out at the right times, fully capturing their emotions helping me empathize with their painful, exciting, or awkward moments. I felt a lot of the times I too wanted to go in and help them grant Menma’s wish.

Atmosphere and Expression: Animation and Art

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AnoHana had a way of getting the proper emotional response when the scene required it. I took the time to screenshot certain scenes from every episode that pulled some deep emotion out of me and studied what they might have all had in common. I came to the conclusion that the atmosphere and facial expressions from the cast drew the smile from my lips; tears from my eyes; and excitement in my heart. The animators used their color palette very sparingly; blues, purples, greens, yellows, reds, browns, and black. You can argue that’s the general color scheme of most things but it was how these colors were used that I’m talking about. Suspense filled moments; like the first and 10th episode had very vivid sunsets. In the first episode near the end Menma slips from the fence post; we can see the immediate stress Yadomi feels from this. He has a flashback that’s in a calm but somber color scheme of him being informed that Menma had passed away. We return back to the stressful situation with the deep yellows, oranges, and reds in the sky; the shot of the sky still surrounds Yadomi as he goes to dive for Menma’s safety. After he realizes she’s okay the scenes following have significantly less orange, yellow, and red in them; in fact it returns to a calm color scheme. The animation tactics used really made me forget I wasn’t watching a real person sometimes; that I was in the situation with them. Animating human emotions accurately has to be difficult. There are so many muscles in the human face that push and pull to create all of our facial expressions. Animated humans don’t have human facial proportions, so the way their expressions are created I’d think would have naturally fallen short to us subconsciously. AnoHana’s animation style used a lot of different head angles, different eye; pupil sizes, and exaggerated stress lines in the eyebrows to help convey the human emotion without throwing off usual anime proportions; I also noticed the amount of wide shots used to show the environment and body language of the characters. These shots gave tone and meaning to scenarios that did not require a face to express what was going on in a scene; hands down some of the best uses of colors and subtle line gestures I’ve seen.

Conclusion

AnoHana definitely deserves all the praise I’d heard about it;  10/10.
AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day- The Movie (Standard Edition) [Blu-ray]
Good Smile Anohana: Menma Nendoroid Action Figure
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day Anime Fabric Wall Scroll Poster (16 x 21) Inches