The boys of summer are here again, but this time we actually mean boys. The High School team at of Nishiura Academy are fighting for a championship in their first year, and no matter the outcome the anime itself is a real winner.
Story - 9/10
As a stand alone season of an anime this series would be an easy 10/10, but due to the series being broken up and I believe never actually completed (at least not here in the US with Season 2 never being imported so not sure how it all ends just yet) I had to dock them a few points.
As for this 25 episode series, it's broken up into two parts, 13 episodes of building the a back store, training the team and making their way to the summer series, and the next 12 episodes focusing on their first round game, playing out practically in real time.
The main focus on the first 13 episodes is Ren Mihashi, a young boy whose moved to a new city to both attend high school and escape the problems that came with pitching terribly for his old baseball team. Unfortunately for him the new school is in the midst of putting together their first hardball team, and this all freshman team is looking for an ace pitcher. Mihashi is now confronted with over coming his fear of ruining yet another baseball team, but this time he gets nothing but support from his teammates. Along with his rock solid battery mate Takaya Abe, Ren learns how to use his strengths to his advantage, this mentoring, along with the knowing he's got great hitters like Tajima and Hanai to back him up, is all Ren needs to get out there and show his old team he truly deserved the number one jersey.
The second half of the series focuses directly on the first game of the summer series. I like the daring choice they made to basically lock half of a series into a single baseball game, but they managed to skillfully insert plot lines and back story, while staying within those nine innings of a baseball game. Each at bat, defensive play or strikeout taught us about the players involved, at times much deeper than series that aren't constrained to the degree of Big Windup.
Animation - 8/10
Most of the animation for the series is pretty standard for what you get in this type of anime, which isn't a bad thing at all. Everything is nicely done and outside of a few replays of the band, they tend not to recycle clips over and over again. They made sure to keep bright colors for the spring/summer feel of the series and dulled them out nicely when it starts to rain, overall, while being similar to others, it was still outstanding work.
The one difference is with Mihashi, they took a style that I can first remember being used in Get Backers for a character who could almost be a rethinking of Mihashi. Whenever he gets scared or happy they stylize Mihashi's face, and like with Ginji in Get Backers, it adds so much comedy to the series, the expressions and actions of Mihashi had me bursting out laughing and rates right up there with some of the funniest anime moments.
Sound - 7/10
The sound is pretty much on par with your slice of like anime's, down to the cicada sounds to stress the summertime feel. On the field they did some great sound design, everything you'd expect to hear at a baseball game was there, the crack of the bat, cleats digging into the dirt and the occasional plane flying over head. Mixed in with those sounds were the battle sounds played by both teams cheer squads, they were very well done, but the few used were done to death by the time they finished a nine inning game.
The first opening in the series I thought to be on par with some of my favorite anime songs, it not only was a great song but it did a good job of getting into the feeling of what was to come. Unfortunately the second opening, along with the two closing songs, weren't as good and seemed to be picked randomly, they didn't fit with the series and were an easy skip on the DVD player.
The voice actors in the series are also spot on. They really fill the complete range of what a high school student could sound like. From dorky Mihashi, the more confident Abe, the squeaky and hyper Tajima, through the kid who's deep voice has matured earlier than others, the kid going through puberty and those who, well just sound normal.
Characters - 8/10
They did a great job creating characters that really feel like a group of first year high school kids, both within the Nishiura team and with their fans and rivals.
For the most part the students used throughout the games have pretty distinct looks, outside of the bench warmer on Nishiura who I can't remember even being established. They also put together decent back stories for each of the kids, but do to half the series being dominated by one game it did leave much to be desired. I would have like the game to maybe take 8-9 episodes and leave the other few for helping us get to know the players and their situations a bit better.
Mihashi, as I've noted to before, is almost an homage to the anime characters that have come before him, a bit Ginji, a bit Vash the Stampede and a bit Onizuka, he could be a younger version of them all….well I guess he could never be the rowdy gang member of Onizuka's youth but he's certainly the dork. There won't be an episode where Mihashi and his reactions won't have you laughing.
Abe is Mihashi's catcher and the straight man in what is a good comedy duo. The brains of the group, oh I forgot to mention Mihashi could also be related to the brainless morons Haru Haruko Haruhara or Excel Excel, he plans out each batter and is calm and collected when calling his game, except when Mihashi pushes him to epic outburst of screaming and head mushing.
The other characters that will grab your attention are the strong and beautiful female coach of the team, who's love of the game is the reason there is a team in the first place. Hamada, a childhood friend of Mihashi who leads the cheering squad, he's the guy who got Mihashi into baseball by giving him his first mitt, he's a character I would have loved to hear more about in the series as he was written to be everything you'd want in a good and decent guy. Finally there's a guy who will become almost anyone's favorite, Tajima. A hyperactive kid who could have played on the best teams in the country, but decided to stay close to his large family. His optimism and free spirit draw you in within seconds of him being on the screen.
Overall - 10/10
While this is a very, very, sports centric anime, it shouldn't be overlooked because of that. They wrote a great life story and just decided to have it play out within the season of a baseball team. The characters are top notch and could be put in almost any situation and come out with a great show. Even with the lack of great music, something that can drive a show when needed, I'd put this on my top anime list any day. Normally I put my overall score as an average of the other categories, but Big Windup, with its very few flaws, is still a 10 in my book, as it just clicks as a great show with potential to be watched over and over again.