Episode 70: “The Sensational Debut of Mizunokouji Ton!”
Original airdate: June 1, 1983
Corresponding manga chapters: “Life is a Ball”, volume 3, chapter 6 (Viz release)/volume 5, chapter 4 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 40; “The Campus Baseball War”, volume 14, chapter 6 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 141
Major character introduced: Tobimaro Mizunokouji
Summary: It’s a clear summer day, and the Tomobiki High baseball team is practicing. The principal and Onsen-Mark watch with enthusiasm, saying that they may not wash out of the first round of the tournament this year. Ataru runs past, chasing a girl whose hair changes from black to red between shots. And from the hillside, a starry-eyed boy in worn traditional dress and carrying a quiver of bats on his back looks down from amidst the rippling grass.
As he’s musing that baseball just isn’t baseball without physical risk, he gets his wish by going down with a baseball to the face. The team runs over to check on him; he turns out to be fine, but swallows the ball whole rather than give it back. They begin pummeling him to get it back, and Mendou, walking past, does his Urashima Taro impression by running over to make them leave him alone. With a shock, Mendou and the boy recognize each other as “Ton-chan” and “Shuu-chan”.
A hush falls, a wind rises, and Mendou asks when the boy got back from the mountains. The boy says just now, and regurgitates the baseball, holds it out and tells Mendou that the time for their match has come. Mendou stands his ground and accepts, and the boy swears on the ball that they’ll settle things once and for all, but mangles his words beyond recognition. The baseball team demands their ball, back, and the boy swallows it again and runs away, while they chase him. Mendou identifies the boy as Mizunokouji Tobimaro.
The baseball team has Tobimaro up a tree, where he swears not to give the ball back, tosses it in the ground, and misses it on the way down. Ataru catches it and kicks the ladder out from under Tobimaro, leaving him scrambling. That’s when someone else comes by and recognizes him.
It’s Ryoko Mendou, who asks what Tobimaro is doing up there. He replies that it’s none of her beeswax, but regrets it when she and her kuroko start to leave with the ladder. She tells them to put it back where it was, which turns out to be the ground; she attests that he would never take help from a girl.
Mendou is surprised to see his sister run up to him and ask him to let Tobimaro win their next game. Mendou refuses, and Ataru isn’t much help in convincing him. Ataru asks why she’s protecting someone like him anyway, and she gets very shifty.
Ataru and Mendou both freak, and are about to inflict GBH on Tobimaro until she finishes the sentence.
She flashes back to their childhood, where she enjoyed being with him, in a very Lucy van Pelt sort of way. Tobimaro announces that he hates women, reiterates his challenge to Mendou, and walks off into the sunset, as Mendou tells his sister to let him go. Ataru asks who this guy is, anyway, and Mendou says that even though he looks scruffy, he’s actually heir to the Mizunokouji sporting goods fortune. Tobimaro and Mendou are destined rivals, one being the scion of samurai, the other of bureaucrats. Things go all sepia as they flash back to a baseball game in their youth, Ton pitching and Shuu batting. Ton pitched the ball just as Shuu swung and released the bat, each one hitting the other clean in the face.
Mendou insists that he won, since a bat is more dangerous than a ball, but Tobimaro swore revenge, going to the mountains with a personal trainer to dedicate himself to extreme baseball training. (“I didn’t fight bears!”) As the AnimEigo notes indicate, this section is a parody of Kyojin no Hoshi (“Star of the Giants”), the classic baseball anime/manga.
Ataru remarks that his skills must have improved, but Mendou tells the rest of the story, where a gaunt Tobimaro and his trainer fight over a single fish. The score is now eleven ties and eleven games, no resolution in sight. Ataru and Lum sneak off while Mendou is declaiming, and elsewhere Tobimaro looks forward to the game.
That Saturday, Mendou’s team drills the players on what they practiced that year, which consists of the names of elements of the game (oddly, the subs say “home plate” while they’re clearly saying “home base” in English). They then go to celebrate in an unusual way.
Ataru overhears this, and when Mendou wanders into the classroom vowing not to lose by default, he’s greeted by the class standing under a banner reading “Mendou Supporters Club”. Ataru says that they’ll be happy to help; Mendou is touched, and eventually gets the hint when Ataru and Megane repeatedly say that they don’t want anything, which turns out to be a month’s worth of Beefbowl. When he agrees, Megane rallies the troops, and Lum says that she wants to play too. Ataru agrees, just as a kuroko summons him to meet with Ryoko.
Out in the courtyard, she explains that Tobimaro lost his team as well, and she doesn’t want him to lose by default. Ataru realizes that this would mean Beefbowl without effort, and begs a prior commitment, so Ryoko bids him up to two months of Beefbowl, with pickles and Miso soup. Ataru nobly agrees (with a slightly-too-long pan in on his face).
The day itself has come, and the crowd is gathered at the field, with Western-style cheerleaders on Mendou’s side and Noh-masked cheerleaders on Tobimaro’s. In the bullpen, Ataru explained that they should throw the game, and the payoff involved. In the dugout, Mendou once again vows not to lose, when suddenly Tobimaro pops out of nowhere to demand to know what a girl is doing sullying the purity of the baseball field. He unwisely goes to confront her with his bat in hand.
Tobimaro is the starting pitcher, and Ataru the first batter. Kakugari, the catcher, asks Ataru if they’re going easy to let Mendou win, but Ataru tells him that Mendou has to lose, without getting a chance to explain why. He lets the first pitch go by for a strike, and is soon out, to the enthusiasm of everyone but Mendou. Perm and Chibi strike out as well, and in the bleachers, completely surrounded by a square of black-clad kuroko, Ryoko urges Tobimaro on.
Mendou pitches next, and it soon becomes a no-score pitcher’s duel, with neither side scoring at all. In the bottom of the second, Tobimaro comes up to bat, and hits the ball a powerful hit that looks likely to knock it out of the park…until Lum flies up to catch it, and Ataru realizes with a sinking feeling that she’s not in on the plan.
At the top of the ninth, Mendou’s up to bat, and since he has to finish this somehow he promises everyone three month’s Beefbowl if they win, plus hamburger coupons for everyone. Mendou’s team is filled with a newfound enthusiasm to win. Ryoko announces that Tobimaro must win, and is suddenly surrounded by empty seats as the kuroko charge into action. Ataru hits the ball, but is prevented from the base run by the interposition of a giant flyswatter (and a mallet to the head for good measure). Megane runs through a mob of kuroko carrying ladders and dives for the plate, but a kuroko snatches it away, and as he chases after it another kuroko lassos him around the neck and he’s tagged out. Mendou’s up next, but there’s a bit of interference.
On the second pitch, the kuroko slide the plate and catcher sideways, and when Mendou hits it, Tobimaro catches it in his mouth and swallows it for an out. We cut to the bottom of the 30th inning, when most of the audience have left to catch the train, and it’s Tobimaro’s last at-bat before time is called. Their eyes meet across the field, their spirit blazes forth, and Mendou throws out the ball…or starts to, until the kuroko pitch in.
Tobimaro hits it (though it stays on the stick, and the kuroko carries it around the field) and rounds the bases, the kuroko knocking the fielders unconscious as he goes. Ataru follows him closely, the kuroko clearing a path with hockey sticks, and Lum chases after the ball. She grabs the ball and throws it (and the attached kuroko) to Ataru, and it’s headed toward a photo finish at home plate. Then the ground collapses beneath them.
The lights go out on the field, with nothing resolved.
Changes from the manga version: This story is a skillful mashup of two stories many volumes apart. In the first chapter, Tobimaro comes to the school, eats the ball, and challenges Mendou. Mendou gives their backstory. Lum joins the team and zaps Tobimaro. Mendou’s coach runs the team through their vocabulary drill. Mendou pitches and Tobimaro eats it, then coughs up a couple dozen more balls, since they were the only thing he had to eat in the mountains.
In the second story, Tobimaro arrives again, takes the ball from the team, climbs into the tree, and has his encounter with Ryoko. Ataru and Mendou have a game going with a cash bet, but it’s a no-score tie until Ryoko shows up and announces that she and Tobimaro are partners, which enrages Mendou and Ataru. They flash back to their childhood, and she declares that it’s time for them to resolve their dispute. The kuroko interfere in the game as shown above, and it ends with the pit trap at home plate.
Thoughts: As I noted above, this is a really well-done combination of two different chapters, with some good original material added (such as the team gorging themselves on pineapple). My guess is that they originally didn’t adapt Tobimaro’s first appearance because he didn’t appear for a long time (less time than Kurama was gone after her first appearance, admittedly), but when he turned up again, it made for a good summer story. The result is hilarious, and a great example of the animators taking funny material and taking it to the next level (and getting a surprisingly linear story out of it, although UY has a pretty high tolerance for weird plotting).
Tobimaro is an interesting character because he starts out with one schtick (as we see in this episode) and acquires a completely different one, once his sister appears. (I won’t spoil it, but it’s a lot funnier and has more legs than the baseball thing.)
As noted, there are a lot of parodies of classic sports manga in this episode. I realized in watching this that I know these tropes almost exclusively through parody, because very few straightforward, non-martial arts sports series have been brought to the US[*]. The Cross Game manga is the only one I can think of with a major release. (Eyeshield 21 and Prince of Tennis have more exaggerated tropes added.) I’ve seen a couple episodes of Touch fansubbed, but I’ve never seen important titles like Aim for the Ace…just plenty of parodies.
[*] I’m counting boxing series as martial arts for this purpose. There are plenty of martial arts titles, even a few realistic ones like Yawara (although I’m still annoyed about spending $120 to preorder the first boxed set only to have the retail price drop to $30, and to still not get the rest of the series).
Next episode: Mysterious strangers are following Shinobu!