Posted on 19 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

What’s with all the A-list seiyuu in Mix? The four main characters are voiced by some of the biggest names in the industry right now: Yuki Kaji, the Uchida siblings, and Kana Hanazawa as new character Haruka. I tend to dodge a lot of the shounen and harem series that feature Mr. Kaji, and the Uchidas haven’t made a big mark on my anime consciousness yet, but there’s no denying their popularity. HanaKana is a favorite of mine, though, and I’m a bit worried about how Mix is set to utilize her. Haruka is the show’s girl next door, and she seems totally aloof regarding the boys’ fixation on her. They all rush to chat her up on the first day of high school, and even after they’re beaten back by her childhood friend Nangou, she maintains a puzzled facial expression. The camera even creates opportunities for the Tachibana brothers to do some ogling, from a relatively tame upskirt shot to a fresh-out-of-the-bath pose when Touma walks in on her. The pleasant ring of Hanazawa-san’s voice is wasted on assurances that he “barely missed the show,” or not to worry because she’d already put on her panties.

Maybe none of this is really important, and I’m just reaching for things to talk about regarding this episode. It’s certainly light on baseball and heavy on juvenile romance, with Haruka’s appearance cementing a love square between herself and the mixed Tachibana kids. The title of this episode comes from a conversation between Otomi and Haruka, when the older girl asks whether Otomi is worried that she might steal one of the boys away. It’s a subtle but effective way of cutting right to the heart of the younger girl’s crush on her stepbrother, but it comes a bit too soon in their relationship. Sure, the kids’ parents are longtime friends, but Haruka has only just met the Tachibanas. Adachi’s characters are usually too mature for their age, but for a girl to banter with a new acquaintance about her incestuous feelings just a day after meeting her is preposterous. Did we skip a bunch of chapters from the manga here? It doesn’t help that their whole visit feels strange, from the convenient bath breakdown to the peppy guitar and recorder-led tune that overstays its welcome.

It’s not enough that the high school hormones are flowing in tropey fashion, either, as Otomi has to pull double duty as a romantic interest in a middle school story that felt superfluous. The next episode preview indicates that the new middle school girl has a baseball-playing brother, so maybe Mix will leverage this new love triangle in order to get back to the diamond soon. It’s funny, though – my favorite parts of Cross Game were always those spent away from the baseball field, and now I can’t wait for Mix to head back there. Everything to do with the new middle school characters felt like a distraction, though I can see where we’re headed. Some of the younger kids need to age up before the definitive Meisei comeback year, so the story is biding its time until then. I just wish that sense of playing the waiting game wasn’t so evident in the show’s pacing and choice of subject matter.

Posted on 11 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

Two weeks ago, I wondered how long Mix’s middle school arc would stretch, given that its ultimate destination was the Koushien tournament. Apparently the show had a similar question on its mind, as these two episodes pushed through an entire year’s worth of story. In fact, it was episode 6 that did the majority of the time skipping, with its focus on the changing seasons. I much preferred episode 5 for its comparative calmness and light foreshadowing, though it also concluded the first Tokyo Tournament with some haste. After making a late appearance on the mound, Nikaidou quickly lost the game for his team by giving up five runs in a single inning, and the show didn’t even mount an attempted comeback for the home team. This was all in service of the later reveal that Nikaidou was dealing with a potentially fatal heart condition, thus explaining his father’s doting behavior and his coach’s bullheadedness. The narrator provides even more context near the start of episode 6, detailing the friendship between the two men and the father’s past as a pitcher. Personally, I would have loved to witness a conversation between those two, rather than being fed a bunch of secondhand information about their relationship.

Thankfully, the narrator wasn’t as involved during the rest of these episodes. Perhaps my favorite part of either one, and the one involving that “light foreshadowing” I mentioned above, dealt with Nishimura’s fixation on the Tachibana brothers. He went so far as to visit their house and coax them into visiting the high school where his dad coaches baseball. As the boys biked to their destination, Nishimura named another team – Kenjyou High, formerly Sumi Tech – that served as the opponent in Touch’s Koushien final. Since they’ve been introduced at this early stage, both schools are likely to appear as obstacles in Meisei’s modern day path to glory. There was also a flashback from Nishimura’s father, who was reminded of someone named “Uesugi” after watching Touma pitch. You might expect Uesugi to be some unbeatable ace, given the prodigy to whom he’s compared, but he actually gave up a walk with the bases loaded in that flashback, losing the game for Meisei. Could this be a clue that Touma will experience a similar loss in the future? If Adachi ever wanted to mix things up, dealing the protagonists a loss on a grand stage would be the way to go.

Visiting another high school was an effective way to follow up Touma’s interest in leaving Meisei, but that lack of attachment was probably due to the snubbing he received from his old coach. After playing for a new one during his final year of middle school, the only thing that held Touma back from a deep playoff run was a sliding door that he slammed on his own fingers. Yes, this is the actual excuse that the show used to skip its ninth grade baseball season. The show manages the transition with some grace by introducing two new characters meant to carry us into the high school era: Goro and Haruka Oyama, a father and daughter pair who move to Tokyo in preparation for dad’s new job as the coach of Meisei High’s baseball team. Souichiro meets Haruka by chance on moving day and stares after her, obviously smitten. His eventual pursuit of the girl next door may be complicated by his stepdad’s existing friendship with Goro, however. That friendship was formed at Meisei 30 years ago, which is where most prior events in this series seem to have taken place. I’ve got to say, this style of connecting most characters and plot points to a shared past isn’t in keeping with the naturally-evolving web I was expecting. I do like Mix, and I’ll probably like it even more once we get into high school territory, but I’m ready for it to take another couple steps out from under Touch’s shadow.

Posted on 30 April 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

How long is this prologue going to last, I wonder? Not that I’m complaining – Mix is probably my favorite spring series so far, even if it’s not the boldest or best-looking of the bunch. My current assumption is that the bulk of the story will be spent chasing the Koushien dream, but with Meisei’s middle school having qualified for the Tokyo Tournament, that goal seems a long way off. And the main characters are only in their second year, so we’re likely to get a full season with Touma as a starting pitcher before he even enters high school. This is all sort of worrisome, as Mix has just 80 chapters under its belt, and 9 have gone into these first four episodes. I’d hate for a series like this one, which takes its time in peeling back the layers of its cast, to run out of material too quickly. But perhaps I’m thinking too long term, as before the story can move forward, Nikaidou’s stranglehold on the title of starting pitcher will have to be loosened.

Something is clearly up with Nikaidou, despite his winning streak. The Tachibana brothers are quick to make light of his pitching ability, but this is owed more to their prodigious talent than anything else. Souichiro’s head isn’t so high in the sky, though, that he can’t sense when his battery mate is having an off day. At a practice shortly after their victory in the prelim finals, Sou remarks to his brother that there’s even less juice behind Nikaidou’s pitches than normal. This doesn’t set off any alarm bells for the boys, but it should for the viewers at home. Coupled with his early departures from practice and his absence from the early innings of the team’s current game, it’s clear that Nikaidou is hurt. In fact, he may be dealing with a lasting illness, which would totally recontextualize the preferential treatment he’s been given thus far. His obnoxious father and nepotistic coach may simply want him to experience as much playing time as possible, before his sickness advances too far.

There are a handful of intriguing baseball moments here that don’t involve Meisei’s ace, such as the introduction of new rival Nishimura. He gets a freeze frame for his first appearance, signaling that he’ll be important down the line (an opponent lasting into the show’s high school years, perhaps). Nishimura takes an interest in Touma after watching him throw a bullet from third to first, which was one of the episode’s better moments from a production standpoint. I nearly felt first baseman Imakawa’s recoil through my screen, making Touma’s rocket arm a tangible trait rather than a subject of much conversation. Most of the non-athletic moments weren’t animated nearly as well, but they were a delight to watch anyway, as has been typical of Mix so far. My particular favorite was the teasing between Otomi and Touma, where she feigns surprise at his preparation for a big interim exam. The secret ingredient to this scene is that she enters the room twice: once to get homework help from Sou, and a second time after the reality of her stepbrother’s uncharacteristic studiousness kicks in. Their banter is kept light for now, but we’ll be in for some stepsibling romance down the line if this keeps up. Despite the taboo, that’s the element of the show that most piques my interest, so I hope none of it is omitted in the transition from page to screen.

Posted on 22 April 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

Star Crossed is one of the oldest anime blogs left on the English-speaking internet, so we’re bound to have a few devotees of Mitsuru Adachi, that master of classic storytelling, among our readership. If you fall into that category, you might wonder why someone who has never read or watched Touch, his seminal work, has chosen to cover its sequel. It’s partly because my brain isn’t big enough to write about Sarazanmai on a weekly basis, but a more relevant reason is my love for Cross Game, which made me into an amateur Adachi fan after 50 all-too-brief episodes. The man’s grasp of subtle conversation, boyish humor, and slow-building romance became an addiction that, with Mix’s airing, I’m happy to revisit. I’m likely to miss references to Touch here and there, but I’ll do my best to blog this new adaptation on an episodic basis.

The one thing that I can talk about with some authority at this stage is Mix’s OP, which is brilliant. Its sense of nostalgia is aided by every element of its design, from its use of bloom lighting to the technique of aging the characters as they turn in circles, connecting their past and present selves. I particularly love the middle section, where the screen cuts between the male and female characters’ equipment and uniforms. By putting the tools of their passion front and center, it’s as if Mix intends to celebrate humanity’s dedication to art and sport. Of course, this being a baseball series, the visuals cut to pure diamond action as the accompanying song swells, and what a song it is. Kenta Kataoka’s voice has a wistful quality about it for someone so young, which makes “Equal” by Sumika a perfect pick to introduce an Adachi series. Given this OP’s fantastic storyboarding and terrific song choice, it’s already my pick for best of 2019.

As for the body of the anime, it doesn’t have the same immediate appeal. If Cross Game’s first episode was a lightning bolt to the heart, Mix’s is a lazy spring day. These second and third episodes stuck with that slow and simple feeling, but given the effectiveness of the show’s character work, I’m just fine with that. Souichiro and Touma’s competitiveness is immediately believable – instead of the one-note rivalries held by other brothers in anime, they’ve got layers of mutual respect and suppressed resentment built into their relationship already. The scene where Sou commands Touma to go home and look after their younger sister, for example, is the total package. Though Touma is the more talented baseball player of the two, and not related to Otomi by blood, he still obeys his older stepbrother and heads back to the house. When we learn about the older sibling’s desire to be a pitcher near the end of episode 3, and that Touma “made him a catcher” due to his athletic genius, Souichiro’s bid for dominance in other parts of their relationship clicks straight into place.

It’s Sou’s stepdad who shares that revealing conversation with him, in one of my favorite moments from either of these two episodes. Both he and his second wife are doting parents, if a bit silly at times. Their charming personalities (as well as their kids’ speculation about how a goofball like Eisuke landed a woman like Mayumi) help us to process their blended family situation, which would otherwise have been left entirely to the female narrator. Knowing that she’s meant to be a character from Touch keeps her from feeling entirely out of place, but I’d still prefer to learn these things via dialogue. That’s my one and only complaint about the series thus far, though. The lack of emphasis on baseball is working to the anime’s benefit so far, and there are plenty of opportunities for us to learn about characters like Otomi, as in the wordless flashback to her days as a shy summer festival attendee. There’s plenty more I could write about what the show is doing right, but I’m running out of space. Next week’s post will be dedicated entirely to the episode in question, rather than my history with Adachi or the series’ OP, so I hope to start digging a little deeper into Mix in the near future.

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