(BLOGATHON ’16!) International Baseball Culture: Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch”, Part 1, which ironically doesn’t have much baseball in it

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

In International Baseball Culture, I look at baseball-related entertainment from outside the USA that isn’t bizarre, but is interesting, perhaps learning some new things along the way!

In 2005, the Japanese television station TV Asahi held a special on the 100 most popular anime (animation) in history, as voted on by Japanese viewers. While many of the most popular programs were fantasy, adventure or science fiction, such as the Gundam series of giant robot programs (at number two) or Dragon Ball (at number three), the top ten also had a baseball anime: Touch, which was seventh.

What is Touch? Well, to put it in simple terms, it’s a tale of two stories: the baseball one and the off-the-field one. It’s about three teenagers (twin boys and their girl-next-door neighbor) who navigate high-school, relationships and their pitfalls while trying to bring their school glory on the diamond as they try to reach Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball tournament, which is like March Madness and a Friday night in Texas combined.

Needless to say, it struck a nerve with Japanese audiences, and the 2005 program’s polling was not that out of the ordinary: A follow-up list that included votes from after the TV Asahi special was aired also had Touch in the top ten, at number nine. Nor was this a recent phenomena, either: during it’s original run in the 1980s, it was, according to some sources, the most watched anime in the history of Japan. Ever.

The series was, in itself, adapted from a manga (comic) of the same name, written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi, that saw it’s volumes sell over an estimated 100 million copies. Just to put that in perspective, in 2010 the population of Japan was around 128 million. Of course, that doesn’t mean over three out of four Japanese people owned at least one copy of a volume of Touch… but it does mean that those who did liked it very much, buying every volume.

From what I’ve read about the series, it’s not hard to see why it would have such broad appeal, as it apparently has something for everyone. It has baseball action (and also some detours into boxing and other sports) for the boys, romance for the girls, and drama and comedy for everyone. And apparently all of those things are done well enough where even people who normally can’t stand stuff like that seem to like it- I’ve come across several reviews that include lines like “I don’t even like baseball but I was enthralled by the game episodes” or “the romance plot is actually realistic and well-handled.”

And yet, despite the fact that Touch is one of the most successful anime and manga in the history of Japan, it has never seen official release in the United States, and it’s unlikely that it will anytime soon, either (the anime and manga import market is mainly focused on recent releases, and what old ones that do happen are usually Sci-Fi or Fantasy). However, there is apparently a unspoken agreement between the Japanese entertainment industry and it’s English-speaking fans that they won’t sue anybody who translates and distributes translated versions of the show/book, so long as they stop doing it if an actual agreement to distribute them in the USA is made, so I was able to find copies of both the anime and manga online.

But anyway: a baseball-centric story that is one of the most popular and well-regarded anime/manga in Japanese history, and it’s almost completely unknown to American audiences? What better way to start International Baseball Culture? (after the jump)

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