Shows about girls sports teams are rarely made in the West, and of those that are produced, few receive any recognition. Women in sports shows often participate as cheerleaders, romantic interests, and occasionally as a token athlete surrounded by men, but almost never as part of a team of women. When movies or shows about girls teams do get made, they often focus more on the “girl” part than the “team” part, a distinction most shows about boys don’t need to address.
J.C. Staff’s 2009 show Taishō Yakyuu Musume could’ve easily fallen into the small but messy world of girls sports dramas, but despite its seinen limitations, the show portrays a mature, responsible, and heartwarming look at girls trying to cross into the male-dominated baseball world. Set in the Taishō period, the series presents characters grappling with the westernization of Tokyo culture and the pre-war nationalism that would dominate the country. After being told by her baseball-playing fiancee that a woman’s place is in the house, Akiko recruits her friend Koume to organize a baseball team at their posh girls’ academy, despite neither of them knowing anything about the game.
Taishō Yakyuu Musume blossoms through its formulaic characters, who individually don’t distinguish themselves from their respective archetypes in other shows appealing to the same demographic. But as an ensemble, they work beautifully in presenting the joys and struggles of managing a baseball team. In one episode, the lovestruck Kyokou dedicates herself to impressing the cocky Tomoe as a subservient fan but finally, earns her respect by sacrificing her body to catch a fly ball. In another, Kochou finds a place as the leadoff hitter on the team after failing as an alternate on the school’s track team, finally convincing herself that she is indeed fast and worthy of athlete status. Most of the side characters find fulfillment despite initial struggles, and this gives Taishō Yakyuu Musume a balance that most girls sports shows and movies fail to find. It celebrates these athletes without patronizing them or making them superhuman.
The show’s biggest flaw is its brevity: at only twelve episodes long, it doesn’t develop more than two characters to a satisfying conclusion. Using the cute-but-bland Koume as the main character distracts from Akiko, a more complex character with a more volatile perspective. But despite a weird arc that finds Koume acting in a motion picture and an even more bizarre arc that dresses the girls as vigilante superheroes, each story engages the viewer with an adorable sheen and a fantastic pace. While it might not interest hardcore baseball fans, Taishou Yakyuu Musume is a perfect introduction for any girl interested in baseball, and unlike many other girl-power shows, it empowers its heroes to an attainable position.