It only took about 45 minutes after finding out that a show called Taisho Baseball Girls (Taishō Yakyū Musume) exists for me to start watching it. Taisho, baseball, and girls are all good things, though it really doesn’t take more than “Taisho” to hook me. For a historical refresher, the Taisho era (1912-1926) was that halcyon age people tend to forget about, wedged in between the much more tumultuous Meiji and Showa periods. The Taisho era, also called the Taisho Democracy, was a time of rapid change and a wholehearted embrace of Western ideas and culture. One of the most beloved and lasting Western imports is of course baseball. Though baseball was introduced in the Meiji era, professional Japanese baseball teams were not established until the 1920s. The 1920s is precisely where we find our baseball girls. I’m not going to review Taisho Baseball Girls because it would just be paragraphs of me raving, but I would like to briefly discuss why this show is such a hidden gem.
The anime tells the story of a group of girls in a Western style, Catholic private school who take it upon themselves to start a baseball club. The impetus for this is simple. A star player for the boys’ middle school team, who happens to be betrothed to one of our girls, makes the mistake of saying “a woman’s place is in the home.” This doesn’t sit well with Akiko, the well bred daughter of a business tycoon with the now out of style joseigo to match, so she decides to stick it to her fiance by beating him at his own game, literally.
That thing is baseball.
One of the immediately cool things about the show is the attention to historical accuracy. Even though it’s a fun sports anime, the writing, setting, and characters all impart a real sense of the Taisho culture and social climate. The show cares so much about history, that I often found myself pausing to read the subtitles and the onscreen historical notes at the same time. The culture of the girls’ school is on point. A prime example: it was during this time period that the seifuku was introduced as an option for female students. Not all Japanese families adopted the custom (or wanted to spend the money), though, so there is a mix of Western style uniforms and kimono among the girls. Even the material used in the fictional classrooms is well-researched, as evidenced by a scene where an English class is reading Little Women, which was indeed held up as a virtuous and appropriate book for young Japanese girls.
Blonde Sensei is here to show the girls some good ole’ fashioned American baseball
Historical accuracy also carries over to what’s not done. While it would be admittedly kind of awesome to watch a show about a group of girls who completely subvert society and gender expectations while also becoming undefeated baseball champions, that would be neither historically nor generally believable. While the baseball girls are resourceful and brave, they are also very much of their time. These characters are simply looking to win respect, be taken seriously, and build something with their friends. On the field, the girls put in a convincing amount of grueling practice and hard work to become a formidable team. Some of the characters have more natural athletic prowess than others, but this is never an anime about prodigies and easy wins. Though you definitely root for the girls to win, it’s realistic that the desire to beat a nationally ranked boys’ team was portrayed as a huge challenge. Off the field, the girls’ lives continue in a trajectory normal for this time period. Protagonist Koume, the daughter of parents who run a Western style restaurant, knows that going to a private school is a rare privilege and that she can’t rock the boat of her family’s hard and expectations work too much. Akiko is headstrong, but also accepts her role as an upper class young lady. This isn’t to say that the girls don’t confront struggles with their families and peers to be seen as legitimate baseball players, but these struggles are done with the setting and culture in mind.
The Taisho phenomenon of “class S” relationships, or quasi-romantic relationships that were not discouraged between school aged girls, is also present. Koume and Akiko seem to have an especially deep bond, relying on each other for support and exchanging emotional letters. This is later expanded upon when the baseball team advises the two girls, who are selected to be catcher and pitcher, to trust each other “like a married couple.” However, both girls are promised to be married to partners chosen by their parents, to which they know they can’t object. One of these engagements is actually quite sweet! In this era, girls were expected to “grow out” of same-sex love when they came of age. The problems that naturally arose from this standard are hinted at in the show with one character, the tomboyish Tomoe, who is implied to have more than “S” feelings for a teammate.
I’ve never been a big fan of sports anime (but Koda makes a good case for them), but the joy and touching story of Taiso Baseball Girls made it pretty much impossible not to like. Granted, I do come from a baseball loving family so it was nice to have that knowledge going into it. If you don’t, you’re in luck, because the show is also quite educational about America/Japan’s favorite past time. Like many of you, I enjoy a good dark and existential anime
sometimes most of the time, but if you’re looking to take a break and sink into something that’s fun, sweet, and full of girl power, Taisho Baseball Girls is sure to be a...home run. In sum: