The Fat Lady Sings: Baseball Anime Strikes Out in America

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 11, 2010 in Animation |

The Big Windup

Recently many anime reviewers were letdown that FUNimation dropped Big Windup season two — but frankly I was surprised that they picked it up in the first place. At first one is tempted to shrug it off and say that anime fans aren’t into sports, but clearly the popularity of Prince of Tennis proves that wrong. So what’s the real reason? This may come as a shock but baseball as a sport is endangered in the United States, and sadly that’s because most of Gen Y just doesn’t care about it as a pastime.

The Maize Little League Maize, Kansas 1964

Above: A Little League team from 1964 — in mid-century mid-America pretty much every boy was into baseball. These days boys are into skateboards, extreme sports and anything that moves fast.

If you went back in time to mid-century America baseball wasn’t just a sport — it was THE sport, the national past time of a nation. Boys grew up collecting baseball cards and knowing every stat in a pre-internet era while families would go out to the ballpark like they would a movie. Somehow that changed over time: The stadiums got very expensive to go to, so families wouldn’t attend. The core audience for baseball is still there all these years later, but somehow baseball became uncool at some point.

The Lords of Dogtown

Above: The Lords of Dogtown is set in the 70s which represents the beginning of the end of kids being into baseball. Skateboarding is now as American as apple pie.

With Gen Y the boys are into extreme sports — or sports that move fast like basketball. Baseball is a very slow moving affair to a generation of guys who grew up after MTV stopped playing music videos. Also baseball is about team work with out of style concepts like “making a sacrifice” which just have no place in the modern world. And then you’ve got a generation of girls who once upon a time might have played softball, but have instead grown up with soccer as their coming of age bonding experience.

A League of Their Own from 1992

Above: A still from the 1992 film A League of Their Own — I’m not even sure of a film about baseball and the ladies would even get made today. This film harkens back to a time when even little girls loved baseball, but I don’t think a generation of soccer girls could relate.

So while one is tempted to say that geeky fanboys and fangurls just don’t dig sports isn’t the case — it’s that everyday kids don’t dream anymore of growing up to be baseball players. And thus you have a situation where if an anime title has a baseball theme on the front cover that fans won’t get past that when it comes to making a DVD purchase.

Most anime reviewers get their review copies for free, so even if they return them the cost of admission isn’t there. And even reviewers who don’t get official copies can watch a show illegally via downloading it. So for this core audience of reviewers the baseball might be a hesitation point, but it’s not a game ender. However for a civilian anime fan to plunk down good money they can’t have any doubts about a show because there’s just too much risk involved in a tight economy. If you buy Big Windup and realize that your disinterest in baseball made it a waste of time that becomes a lost opportunity to have purchased another show with a theme that’s a sure thing.

Tomorrow's Joe: a classic anime boxing series

Attack Number #1: A retro anime series on volleyball

Above: Sadly even when there wasn’t a recession amazing classic sports anime series never made it over to the American market — seen here are Tomorrow’s Joe (あしたのジョー) and Attack No. 1 (アタックNo.1) which was parodied in Lucky Star.

So I don’t think this is the death of sports anime in the United States in the long run: However I would bet that FUNimation or Viz would think twice about bringing a series over at this point. That may change one day when the economy improves and entertainment folks can gamble a bit more, but in a lean and mean market sports anime will be sitting on the sidelines.

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