70 Years of Baseball and Manga

With the growing popularity of baseball, many manga based on the sport became huge hits in Japan. We will look at the history from the postwar era to the present.

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Asa Higuchi "Ōkiku Furikabutte" [Big Windup!], volume 2, pp.136-137 ©Asa Higuchi / Kodansha

Kazuo Inoue, "Battokun" (1948)Original Source: Gakudōsha

 Ever since baseball was imported from the USA during the Meiji period, it has been the sport most widely loved by Japanese people. Even during their war with the USA, Japanese people refused to let go of this sport. After the war, Japan’s manga incorporated the increasingly popular sport as a subject, and the genre known as sports manga developed on a scale not seen elsewhere in the world.

The first hit work

 The first hit baseball manga was "Battokun [Bat-kun]" (Kazuo Inoue), which was serialized in "Manga Shōnen [Manga Boy]" starting in 1947. The book is said to have sold several hundred thousand copies. In a society that was still poor immediately after the war, the story’s protagonist, a middle school student, developed bonds of friendship with his teammates through baseball. The manga used the small panel layout of the time, and the skills for effectively depicting a nine-on-nine sport played on a wide playing field hadn’t been developed yet, but the story’s bright and cheerful atmosphere was suitable as the start of Japan’s sports manga. 

Hiroshi Kaizuka, "Kurikuri Tōshu" [Clean-Shaven Pitcher], volume 2, pp.192-193 (1969)Original Source: ©️Hiroshi Kaizuka, Courtesy of ebookjapan

The birth of the "makyū" (magic pitch)

 After baseball manga, another type of sports manga that gained immense popularity was judo manga. And the invention of the "makyū" is what made it possible to incorporate the one-on-one match pattern of judo manga, in which the protagonist and his rival apply their special techniques on each other, into baseball manga. This invention made it possible to condense baseball into a one-on-one match between a pitcher who threw magic pitches on the one hand and a batter armed with a special batting style on the other. Portraying the interaction between wacky magic pitches and special batting styles was a way to temporarily avoid the challenge of depicting a nine-on-nine match on a wide playing field.

Written by Kazuya Fukumoto, drawn by Tetsuya Chiba,"Chikai no Makyū" [The Promised Pitch], volume 2 (1981)Original Source: ©️Kazuya Fukumoto / Tetsuya Chiba

 As baseball manga rapidly developed, artists pursued the impact of magic pitches on the one hand and the reality of baseball itself on the other. This resulted in the appearance of attempts to logically explain magic pitches. In "Chikai no Makyū [The Promised Pitch]", the magic pitch temporarily stops in front of the protagonist batter, apparently due to its midair backspin, which was considered an at least superficially plausible theory at the time. 

Written by Ikki Kajiwara, drawn by Noboru Kawasaki, "Kyojin no Hoshi" [The Star of the Giants]", volume 17 (1971)Original Source: © Ikki Kajiwara, Noboru Kawasaki / Kodansha

The pinnacle of magic-pitch manga: "Kyojin no Hoshi [Star of the Giants]"

 In "Kyojin no Hoshi", the coexistence between the impact of the magic pitch and reality of the story in baseball terms reached its limit. As Mitsuru Hanagata—the rival of Hyūma Hoshi—spends four pages passionately describing the principles behind his rival’s disappearing magic pitch, his fervor ends up demonstrating the limits inherent in attempts to logically explain magic pitches.

Written by Ikki Kajiwara, drawn by Noboru Kawasaki, "Kyojin no Hoshi" [The Star of the Giants]", volume 10 (1969)Original Source: © Ikki Kajiwara, Noboru Kawasaki / Kodansha

 In spite of the above, "Kyojin no Hoshi" still stands at the pinnacle of all magic-pitch manga due to the overwhelming passion demonstrated by the writing abilities of the work’s author, Ikki Kajiwara, and the work’s artist, Noboru Kawasaki.

Written by Ikki Kajiwara, drawn by Noboru Kawasaki, "Kyojin no Hoshi" [The Star of the Giants]", volume 17 (1971)Original Source: © Ikki Kajiwara, Noboru Kawasaki / Kodansha

 "Kyojin no Hoshi" also fundamentally questions the nature of a protagonist who puts everything he has into matches hinging on magic pitches. The inner world of Hyūma Hoshi is vividly depicted as he ponders the futility of potentially ruining both his elbow and shoulder in an effort to develop a new magic pitch every single time he discards one that is hit by his rival, even as he forgets that he is a professional baseball player engaged in a nine-on-nine team-based game. After the serialization of "Kyojin no Hoshi" was finished, Shinji Mizushima’s "Yakyū-kyō no Uta [Poetry of Baseball Enthusiasts]", was started in the same publication, "Weekly Shōnen Magazine". In that story, the female pitcher Yūki Mizuhara’s magic pitch—the Dream Ball—is a breaking ball that is actually possible, and information warfare concerning whether the pitch actually exists upsets the batters she faces. In "Dokaben", which was started during the same year, Mizushima successfully depicted nine-on-nine play on the pages of a magazine, ushering in a new era of baseball manga.

Mitsuru Adachi, "Touch" (fully revised edition), volume 25, pp.18-19, 1986 / 2013Original Source: TOUCH ©︎1981 Mitsuru ADACHI / SHOGAKUKAN

The realism depicted by "Touch"

 Mitsuru Adachi’s smash hit "Touch" is based on a more realistic approach, in which high-school baseball players aiming to compete in the Koshien (National High School Baseball Championship) do more than just play baseball: they fall in love as well. The love triangle between the twin brothers Tatsuya and Kazuya on the one hand and the heroine Minami Asakura on the other, coupled with Kazuya’s death—the traumatic event with which the story opens—shows readers something quite natural: sports, an extraordinary part of daily life they can actually experience, are not all there is to life or the world in general. 

Mitsuru Adachi, "Touch" (fully revised edition), volume 25, pp.20-21, 1986 / 2013Original Source: TOUCH ©︎1981 Mitsuru ADACHI / SHOGAKUKAN

The manga’s depiction of the last pitch of the final prefectural match for the chance to compete in the Koshien even as the manga shows aspects of daily life that have nothing to do with the game clearly shows this work’s view of sports.

Asa Higuchi "Ōkiku Furikabutte" [Big Windup!], volume 1, pp.134-135 (2004)Original Source: ©Asa Higuchi / Kodansha

 The modern day

 In Asa Higuchi’s "Ōkiku Furikabutte [Big Windup!]", the unique fastball thrown by the pitcher Ren Mihashi—who has passion and dedication to pitching but struggles with the problem of low self-esteem—functions as a sort of magic pitch due to the leadership of the catcher Takaya Abe. This work, which meticulously depicts practice that incorporates the latest sports-science know-how, matches in which complex tactics unfold, and the communication between teammates and changing nature of their relationships, represents baseball manga in its current form.

Credits: Story

Text: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Edit: Nanami Kikuchi, Natsuko Fukushima+Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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