Monday, October 11, 2010

Ôkiku furikabutte (2003-present)

Once in a while, I read manga. Once in a greater while, I blog about them. This is a violation of my usual practice with books read for pleasure, which is to blog every single last blooming one of them. Why the exception for the manga? Quite simple, really: I don't know where to stop. Like, do I blog every volume I read? Or do I wait until I've read all the volumes of a series? If I do the former, then I end up blogging in much more detail about far more manga than I'd really enjoy doing (and so I don't). If I do the latter then I basically never blog manga, because only rarely do I finish a whole title - either it's something that's still in progress (there are five or six I'm following right now), or I lose interest and never finish it (like the one I'm going to talk about in a few paragraphs, if I get around to it).

Same goes, incidentally, for TV series. Aside from their convenient mind-numbing properties, I've come to appreciate the fact that several series currently running, or recently completed, rise to the level of high filmic art, or are at least worth thinking and writing about; but aside from my experiment with Dollhouse (and not entirely because of it), there's nothing I feel like blogging every episode of, and when I finish something... Like, we just finished The Wire, and what could I possibly say about that in a blog post that would be worth reading?* It's the War and Peace of our day. End of story.

Anyway, so I don't blog most of the manga I read. I'd like to change that, though, because I like manga, and I enjoy thinking about them and, therefore, writing about them.

I recently read the first three and a half volumes of an ongoing series, and gave up halfway through the fourth. I highly doubt I'll pick it back up again, so that must mean it's ripe for the blogging...

Ôkiku furikabutte おおきく振りかぶって, by Higuchi Asa ひぐちアサ. It's been running in Gekkan [Monthly] Afternoon 月刊アフタヌーン since 2003. It's a baseball comic.

The furikaburu is to brandish or swing, like a sword, which meant that, since I don't know much about Japanese baseball, I figured the title would translate to "Swing Big" or "Swing for the Bleachers." But evidently in a baseball context it refers to the pitcher's wind-up. So: "Big Wind-Up"? "Do a Nomo?" I dunno. (And that last one really dates me.)

Obviously, I'm the wrong audience for a baseball comic.

Actually that's really true: baseball comix fall under the generalized heading of sports comix, or more precisely, spokon スポコン comix: "sports tenacity," as the Italian seems to have it, "sports guts," or "sports balls." "Balls and balls" comix, really. The idea being that these comix focus as much on the emotional intangibles of athletic prowess as on the measurable skills: you gotta have heart.

I'm allergic to this genre. I'm a perfect storm of reasons not to like balls'n'balls comix: utterly hopeless at sports since the day I was born, stuck in sports-obsessed American public schools where dumb jocks ruled the halls, viscerally repelled by the fusion of sports and nationalism, sports and moralism, sports and politics, sports and fucks everything up (yes, I bear psychic scars from high school, and compensate for them in adulthood with purple prose). Oddly enough, I'm able to enjoy the spectacle, the human physical and emotional display, of sports, sometimes, selectively, and when I don't have anything better to do (I always watch the Olympics, for example). But I have a hard time sympathizing with jocks, and with a lot of the emotional discourses that surround them. In Japanese terms, Kôshien doesn't make me misty-eyed, it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

All that said, I did read three and a half volumes of the Big Hurl. Mostly because it came highly recommended from friends and loved ones, who I'll try not to judge too harshly because of it. And, to be honest, I liked it a lot more than I should have. I went into it wanting to like it, and it really wasn't until sometime in the second volume that I remembered why I hate balls'n'balls stories. (The cloying sentimentality, the glorification of bullies, the quasi-militarist fetish for order.)

So the surprise isn't that, in the end, this turned out to be a sterling example of its genre; the surprise is that it kept me reading so long. What did? Well, two things.

First, the way it explores the mental calculations that pitcher and catcher perform both on the batter and on each other with every pitch - it shows these in detail, frame after frame. Most of the first and part of the second volume (so what, a year or so of serialization time?) are taken up with a single game. And while that sounds boring, it's actually riveting. If I ever watch baseball again, I'll never watch it the same way again.

Second, the psychology of the two main characters, the pitcher Mihashi and his catcher Abe. Mihashi is a psychological basket case, having been bullied in junior high school (the story begins when he's a high school freshman - tenth grader, that is) by other members of his team. On the mound he's an absolute phenom, but he needs constant soothing and handholding and emotional support, mainly from his catcher, who takes it upon himself to be Mihashi's best friend. Abe has his own reasons, of course, not at all altruistic, but since his interests coincide with the team's and Mihashi's, all's cool, at least as far as I read. ...I thought this incredible vulnerability was the strength of the book, and to me it felt fresh, although those who know more about the genre than I do have suggested to me that, while it's particularly well done here, still as a motif it's not unusual. The idea of the catcher having to be the pitcher's "wife" (in the sense of propping up his fragile ego) is a common one, evidently. And in fact I could start to see, by Volume 4, signs that this interesting set-up was going to go in some pretty uninteresting I put it down.

The end.

*I realize you could ask that about most of my posts!

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