“Keep on Playing Ball”

May 6, 2008

From my notebook, when I was working in Wakayama, south of Osaka:

I’m fascinated by Touch, but not for its eternal brilliance. It just comes on television every day when I get home from work. This 80s baseball soap, a creaky classic, matches nicely with new commercials for Calorie Mate and Boss Coffee. In a way, the 80s were to anime what the 70s were to manga, mapping the territory for everyone to follow. Touch, with its love triangle, high school tensions, and pop songs, could be any tv show from the 80s. Given that kids still watch it, it could be every tv show since.

Since I’m usually cooking when it’s on, I can’t say how the love triangle’s progressing. In fact, I can’t even tell whether they’re showing the episodes in order. They all run together: school, practice and games, tiffs large and small, life-changing teen drama. Sometimes I feel that five different scenes shoot out of a blender every day—there’s your show. In the episode where Punchy’s two illegitimate kids show up (he’s the dog, mind), in between slow-motion shots of Minami doing gymnastics and the baseball coach’s bobbing head, there’s an old school montage of baseball practice. The kids run, hit some balls, and hit the field like nothing else exists. It goes into the night, but it could go on forever.

This montage lifts the practice above the story, where it becomes an emblem of sorts. Touch does have a story arc, with twin boys both in love with Minami, both on a team headed inexorably to Koshien Stadium for the championship. The outcome is inevitable, and not the reason anyone watches. Rather, we watch to see the same thing every week, to see just a little progress without making it end, like everything in our lives eventually does. I finish cooking, turn off the television and the next day go back to school. Repeat.

Why not, then, a 26-episode series in which the road is clearly defined but the progress never told? It could work quite well, even as a thirteen hour loop played forever and only watched five minutes at a time. We don’t recall the long days and adjustments after, say, our first confession of love. We recall the excruciating buildup before we spilled our hearts out of our chests, terrified they wouldn’t make it out there on their own. We recall life on the edge of the cliff, right before you lose balance, knowing you won’t be able to pull back but enjoying every unmeasured moment.

Previous post:

Next post: