For Goro Honda – now Goro Shigeno – leaving his friends in Mifune was a difficult experience. Not that there’s much time to dwell on the past – no sooner has he moved schools when another team demands his exceptional baseball skills! This time, Goro joins Hakata South, a little league team that hasn’t won a major competition in years and has a coach with a bad attitude. What’s more, although Goro quickly establishes himself as the ace with positive results, this triggers some bad feeling amongst his peers. Add to that his severely damaged shoulder and worrying developments in his adoptive family, and it looks like Goro’s troubles are far from behind him.
StoryThree minutes into Gekijouban Major, sweet-natured Komori Daisuke offers a desperate prayer from the dugout: ‘Honda’s going to get a hit. He’s singlehandedly shut down Yokohama Little, the number one team in Japan, so far. I’m sure he’ll get a hit and help us win the game.’ Komori is an analogue, a fictional worshipper mirroring the hopes of long-suffering fans desperate for the movie (which is set after Season One but was released after Season Four) to reinvigorate the series. Will the legendary son of Honda do it again? Will he shower us with the latter rain of fastballs and gyro-whatsits? Well, check your expectations at the door, ye quivering brethren, for the movie offers the same old bag of ideas. Opening with a retelling of Mifune’s heroic victory over Yokohama Little, Gekijouban Major instantly puts its fans into a familiar and comfortable place. In all fairness, the retelling comes with a revamped first-class score and such high quality animation, that it serves as a delightful nostalgic tribute to Season One’s success. What’s more, all the games in the movie continue to deliver high-octane thrills and breathtaking levels of tension. With organic progression from one inning to the next and loving detail incorporated into the baseball environments, Gekijouban Major is clearly at its most comfortable during the sporting battles. The rest of the content, however, is a mediocre account of quarrels within Goro’s new team, Hideki Shigeno’s tumultuous career, and the occasional catch-up subplot involving old characters such as Toshiya and Komori. Compared to the series, the drama here takes a knock, often falling back to cliché dilemmas and all-too-easy resolutions. The most original element is the overarching theme of paternal responsibility. Shigeno and a newcomer, Tetsuya Koga, deliver a believable and sympathetic tale as fathers trying to live up to their sons’ idealistic faith in them. Nonetheless, superficial and incidental, the back stories generally exist to fill the space between games rather than add depth.AnimationThe movie may be a paler shade of the series, but its animation finally delivers the kind of polished visuals this franchise deserves. Gekijouban Major looks no better than a well-funded TV series (see One Outs, for example) and is stylistically limited compared to other features of 2008/2009. Nonetheless, the improved animation only works to its advantage. The backgrounds are infinitely more detailed, particularly distant shots of the city landscape. However, the highlight of the improved animation is Goro’s movements; with adoration pumped into ever brush stroke, the animators ensure his game play looks more delightful and realistic than ever before.SoundCheesy guitar riffs and rock chants have been a staple of the series, but with Gekijouban Major’s bigger budget, fans can now enjoy a larger-than-life aural impression of the stadium atmosphere. Games make a stronger impact not least because of the rich tableau of sounds complementing them. Heroic drum rolls, heavenly strings, and jubilant trumpets describe the highs and lows of every inning, carrying the viewer on a spiritually satisfying journey.CharactersThe fact that old unimportant characters can pop up in the movie, recite well-worn sentiments, and still send a thrill of delight coursing through a fan’s bosom (‘ZOMG it’s Mr Ando!’), attests to the series’ enduring success. In keeping with this tradition, the characters generally feel competently handled, although the shorter running time does lead to problems. The recurring cast remain the way we left them in Season One – passionate and noble thanks to Goro’s influence – but their appearance is purely ceremonial. The new characters are just as trivial but also suffer for having no prior history. There are too many pointless additions we will never see again and too little time to care about them. Koga’s daughter, for instance, serves no purpose except to cheer and gush sugoi from the sidelines as Goro delivers the homeruns. As an afterthought, Gekijouban Major also introduces Max and Arthur, two American opponents whose job is to make things tough for Goro’s team in the final game. They have stupefying skills, wear arrogant smirks and – the rumour goes – are unbeatable. They’re also terribly unmemorable. Speaking of Goro, while he remains precocious, confident, and compelling as ever, there’s little in the script to challenge his performance or develop new facets in his personality. As such, he occasionally feels like he’s going through the motions rather than facing a gripping new stage in his life.OverallAnyone hoping Gekijouban Major brings deliverance to the series, which fell from grace in Season Four, will find disappointment instead. It not so much raises Lazarus from the dead as keeps him ticking on life support until someone develops a miracle cure. With insipid drama diluting the rousing baseball sequences, Gekijouban Major has all the fun bits but none of the gravitas. I recommend this only to fans hungry for more of Goro’s glamour.
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