Battery isn’t a great show. In fact, I think saying Battery is a good show might be stretching it a little, because out of the all the anime I watched last season, Battery was by far the easiest to gloss over. Every time I watched Battery, I flashed back to myself in elementary school during an innocuous birthday party, feeling disappointed after receiving a baseball chapter book. Of course it was kind of rude of me to feel that way, it was a present after all, but I had what I liked and it definitely wasn’t sports books. What I’m trying to say is that I probably would have hated Battery as a kid! Its plot is a series of moralistic vignettes told through the lens of a sport I don’t care about (I was soccer kid, what can I say), and the fact that this anime is an adaptation of a series of children’s novels is clear in almost every aspect of the story. From the emotionally unstable middle school protagonist Takumi, to the slow and lackadaisical pace, Battery is a Mike Lupica book in animated form.
So why did I like it? Well, if I had to pick one major reason, it would be the director Tomomi Mochizuki. Now Mochizuki is not exactly the most well known anime director, his directorial debut is the often overlooked Ghibli TV effort Ocean Waves, and looking across his long career it’s easy to cherry pick his weakest efforts. I mean once you direct a show like Pupa, no one is going to look at you the same way again; but saying he’s the director of Rainy Cocoa and leaving it at that would be doing a major disservice to this man’s skill. Tomomi Mochizuki is an anime veteran through and through. He was hired as a young up and comer at studio Ghibli near the beginning of his career, and that, along with his work directing underground classics such as Princess Nine and Twin Spica, showcases a level of talent well beyond your average no name director.
I feel like Mochizuki’s style is best illustrated in his masterwork House of Five Leaves, which he both wrote and directed for the Noitamina block in 2010. Now House of Five Leaves’ major strengths aren’t easy to spot on the surface. Sure, the source material played a huge role in what made the show so compelling, but the way Mochizuki adapted it is what made it work on screen. The pacing was tight and focused, exposition was light, and in favor of telling the audience major plot points, the story was shown through character’s actions or detailed flashbacks. None of this is exactly groundbreaking stuff, but that is exactly what makes Mochizuki such an underappreciated artist. His strengths are small, structural, and not the same as the flashy stylism of Shinichiro Watanabe or Rie Matsumoto.
And it’s these same strengths that turn Battery’s mediocre kid’s material into a show that I had fun watching. Because unlike a lot of anime out there, Battery knows when to be restrained. When I first watched Battery’s opening episode, I was immediately struck by its sense of minimalism and reliance on small gestures. Instead of having Takumi shout at his Mom about she doesn’t understand him, we see him clench his fist while his brother Seiha reaches over to comfort him. This moment is not only incredibly effective at communicating Takumi’s relationships with his individual family members, but it’s also is striking in a way you don’t often find in most anime. That alone was enough to sell me on the show, and there are plenty more like it scattered throughout its runtime.
I also generally appreciate the show’s low key focus. Most sports anime are all about big matches and flashy spectacle, whereas Battery is all about the adolescent struggles of its main cast. There isn’t a single full match of baseball in the entire show, and while that will definitely be a turnoff for many fans of the genre, I found it to be a breath of fresh air. Of course it helps Takumi’s core arc is very interesting. He’s unlikable for sure, but he’s also an accurate representation of an uptight tween. He clearly has tunnel vision for his sport, and watching him slowly let go and crack a smile with his friends is a compelling sight to see. Go makes for a good foil, and both characters are paralleled well by Kadowaki and Mikazugi’s tumultuous relationship.
That being said, this show may be a little too relaxed. At eleven episodes Battery’s simple story not only feels lethargic, but downright tedious. There isn’t a lot of progress made in each episode, and while this occasionally leads to some nice spotlighting scenes and quiet moments of contemplation, for the most part it left me checking the clock. I don’t care about Kaionji’s conversation with Coach Tomura, and I certainly don’t need to see it dragged out for a good 3 minutes of screentime.
Luckily, these moments are pretty well executed visually. Like I said before, Tomomi Mochizuki is a great director, and the animation and backgrounds are easy on the eyes. The clear highlights here are the opening and ending sequences, which really showcase Takako Shimura’s wonderful designs and watercolor sensibilities. It would have been nice if the rest of the series had been animated in her style, but I understand that never every series can look that good, especially ones based off a series of children’s novels.
Speaking of Takako Shimura’s designs, I think they make a good segway for me to talk about one of the more controversial elements of this show: it’s fujoshi pandering. Now personally I think it’s really stupid to complain about this kind of stuff. Decrying a show just because it has some cute guys and homoerotic subtext is ridiculous, and may cause people to ignore a show with exceptional elements. However, I do think that the fanservice here is a bit out of place. I mean, these characters are supposed to be in middle school, so having them be these guys with high school builds and voices is rather strange.
On the other hand though, I think the gay subtext here adds a nice layer to the show’s storytelling. Looking at Mikazugi as a gay guy in denial adds an interesting dimension to his nagging hatred of Kadowaki, and paints their whole relationship in a much more sympathetic light (not healthier mind you, but at least you can understand where Mikazugi’s coming from). Instead of Mikazugi just being a jerk who doesn’t like Kadowaki because he’s hard to work with, he’s a questioning kid denying his true feelings. It probably helps that some of this subtext was likely in the original novels. The author Atsuko Asano did write No. 6 after all, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the source material tackled these themes.
Still, even with these good points, I can’t particularly say Battery is a show worth watching. The core ideas here are compelling, if a bit underwhelming, and I enjoyed my time with it; but ultimately Battery is a victim of its structure. The director may be a master of quiet and excellent productions, but even his guiding hand can’t fix a story as drawn out as this one. Maybe if this thing was a few episodes shorter it would have packed more of a punch, but as it stands, the show is clearly stretched too thin. Subtlety is a powerful thing, but it still needs some bite to work.