What They Say:
Most guys can’t wait for baseball to start, but not Mihashi. For this kid, the crack of the bat is the sound of failure. Every summer he gets caught in a pickle between wanting to stay on the mound and watching his pitches get blasted out of the park. But each spring brings a fresh start, and this year, Mihashi’s at a new school with teammates that don’t know how bad he used to be. Most importantly, he’s got Abe – a real superstar behind the plate. If Mihashi can learn to trust his new catcher, this could be the year he falls in love with the game all over again.
The audio presentation for this release is done in the fairly standard format of the original Japanese language being done in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English track gets the bump up to a 5.1 mix at 448kbps, even if the show doesn’t really have much to do with it. The show is mostly dialogue driven when you get down to it and the sounds of baseball itself isn’t all that strong, since it’s the running, hitting and catching, but it does it nicely enough and hits some good marks. It’s not meant to be an overly strong mix, but it really works nicely with the subtle moments and the overall atmosphere. The English mix doesn’t feel all that much different but it has a bit more clarity and sharpness to it. There isn’t a significant difference in directionality with the English mix from what we sampled, but it’s well done overall. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. FUNimation has done this set in their standard form with two discs to cover thirteen episodes in a seven/six format. The show has some really strong animation to it and the transfer really captures it well with hardly any significant problems to it. Outside of some minor noise in a few scenes with some solid colors, Big Windup really looks good here. The quality of the animation really shines through with smooth fluid motions and some very lush colors when it comes to the background designs. This is a very pleasing transfer overall and should make fans of the show very happy.
Big Windup diverges from the usual FUNimation half season set standard by following what they did with Kaze no Stigma. The release has the two DVDs inside a single sized clear keepcase where both discs are layered across each other on the right side. The front cover is bright with only a few colors to it as it show Mihashi throwing a pitch with a big blue sky behind him with only a few clouds. The logo is done in an expected font that works really nicely, especially with the shade of blue used. The back cover is given a good clean split as the right side has a blue stripe on which they push the runtime and disc count along with a nice shot of Mihashi. The left section has a good summary that deals with the premise of the show along with several shots from it that do a decent job of selling the cast. The remainder of the back has the standard production credits in small type and the technical grid. Because it’s a clear keepcase, the reverse side has some really good artwork of the core cast of the team as the camera looks upwards as they huddle. Everyone has varying expressions that show off their personalities quite well.
The menus for this release uses the same style as the back cover to nice effect as the white and blue sectionalizing works really well. The sketchwork of the baseball field is much more visible here with its blue lines and the character artwork stands out all the more. The logo with its colors and design is very appealing as well, which ties in nicely to the font for the menu navigation selections itself. Submenus, what few there are, load quickly and without problem. Navigation is a breeze and the discs don’t read the players’ language presets as they default to English with no subtitles selected.
The extras are all on the second disc, what little there are, as the only things included are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Asa Higuchi, Big Windup! is a twenty six episode series that revolves around freshman age high school baseball. Sports shows typically have not done well in the US but I continue to be excited by them when a company takes the chance on one because each time the quality is above what the previous shows were like. Big Windup! is a recent show, having aired in 2007, with some really solid animation by one of my favorite animation production studios, A-1 Pictures.
Big Windup! revolves around high school freshman Ren Mihashi who has come to Nishiura High School to get away from all the problems at his last school. Back there he was the grandson of the man who owned the school and was therefore accused of nepotism when it came to his position as the “ace” of the baseball team where he was the pitcher. After three straight years of losses that were tied up to him, he’s glad to be away from baseball and the school itself. Mihashi is the kind of young man though that hasn’t found his confidence so he’s generally a nervous wreck, always feeling like everything that goes wrong is his fault and that he’s going to be continually blamed for it. In a sense, he’s like that small dog that’s almost hyper but not quite that you wish would just settle down so everyone could have a good time together.
His arrival at Nishiura doesn’t go quite as planned though as before he knows it, he’s managed to get himself signed up on the baseball team. And not just any baseball team either, as Nishiura only had a softball team up until now so this one is made up entirely of freshmen. That gives it a very rough and unpolished feel, but without having seniors looking over them to guide them, they’re able to be molded in a different way than usual. A lot of this comes from the coach, a young woman named Momoe, who has quite the spunky attitude and a real knowledge of the game as well as a winning way of getting the kids to work with each other. Momoe has a kind of a cruel streak in her, but one that’s tempered and comes through her expressions more than anything else as she works to motivate the team.
The series naturally focuses heavily on the kids, and even then it really narrows it down to a few of them. Out of the main cast of characters, a few really stand out. The eventual named captain, Oda, is a really fun guy who isn’t exactly thrilled to be captain but takes it on and tries to do it right. Tajima is the team wunderkind with his hitting ability but also his enthusiasm in general for any position, especially if he’s told it’s difficult or it will involve something he really is interested in. The main focus is on the pitcher/catcher combination of Ren Mihashi and Takaya Abe. When Abe gets a real feel for what Mihashi can do, he realizes that Mihashi has basically been screwed over by his former team as they didn’t know how to use him. He’s got incredible skill, but lacks the confidence to use it properly and the right catcher to direct him.
This leads to an interesting exchange over this first half of the series as Abe has to learn himself what kind of catcher he wants to be, whether he’s going to control Mihashi the way he wants or whether the two can find a real working balance that will take them all the way to Koshien someday. For Abe, the real difficulty is in trying to get Mihashi to have the confidence he should have in himself based off of his rather uncommon abilities. Mihashi has been so beaten down by his former teammates that it’s difficult for him to accept. But as the two work together and the team has its first practice game against Mihashi’s former teammates, you can see everything slowly coming together. It is pretty much as you’d expect from a high school age sports show, but they do it quite well and they keep the focus almost exclusively on the boys themselves and their situation as a team. We get a few snippets elsewhere into some of their lives, mostly Mihashi during a visit to his house, but by and large the Big Windup! keeps things firmly planted in the game field itself.
There’s a lot to like about the show in general, but the animation for it really caught my attention. There have been a few shows done by A-1 Productions over here lately and this one really is striking in a way that I tend to find the VisualArts/Key shows to be. There’s a certain attention to detail that’s missing in many shows and the backgrounds are really quite beautiful when you take the time to let it all soak in. Combine this with some really strong character designs and character animation that’s very fluid during the big game scenes and you have an almost lush show in terms of animation in a sense. The practices, the games and some of the silly moments all have a really strong look to them where you can feel the attention given to it almost oozing off the screen. Rich colors, solid designs and a smoothness to the animation makes this show rise above the level of most standard sports shows in that area alone.
As has been seen in the past, sports shows can be real hit or miss depending on what kind of way they do it. Big Windup goes in the direction that I quite like as it looks to avoid a lot of things that flesh out the characters in terms of their family lives and school situations. What we do get here in the first thirteen episodes is a lot of material about baseball with freshman who are really starting to figure out how to work as a team. Each has their own particular skill or talent and they’re intent on training and practicing as much as possible. There’s a good amount of growth just in this half of the show with some of the characters, sometimes subtle, that it’s really surprising. Mihashi isn’t exactly what I’d expect in a lead character, but it’s more of an ensemble at this point and he provides the kind of milquetoast lead that’s an interesting change of pace. Just about everything was appealing about this show, from the character designs, their personalities and especially the animation and direction when it came to showing the game being played. There’s a proper respect and reverence given here to the game that really shows why the kids have such a passion for it. When that shows through, it’s even easier to connect with and to get caught up in their ambition and dreams. Definitely recommended for sports fans.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 18th, 2009
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.