Big Windup! goes into its second half with some big expectations. The first half of the show established a truly interesting array of characters (lead by Mihashi, the world's most spineless sports manga hero), and combined them with some truly great animation and artwork, artfully lead by director Tsutomu Mizushima, and some pulse-pounding baseball action. Despite being amusingly homoerotic at times (though not significantly moreso than most Shonen Jump fare these days), it's nonetheless some of the best sports anime Japan has made in recent years. So as volume two begins, we wonder, can the show possibly keep up this level of quality and excitement?
Well, no. Actually, the second half of the show, while still fun and watchable, falls down rather badly. The series comes down with a serious case of Shonen Tournament Syndrome, its pace slowing down to an absolute crawl. Nearly the entire 2-disc set, eleven episodes in all, are spent on a SINGLE BASEBALL GAME.
I can't help but love Big Windup!. It's the most compelling sports anime since Hajime no Ippo, combining an extreme underdog with a team of lesser underdogs; a nail-biting sports serial that can grab hold of even someone with no interest in sports and make their stomach churn in anticipation of an at-bat, a pitch, or a run. Its animation, despite occasional slips in quality, maintains a high standard for the most part. The music, though nothing special, made me smile with not-so-subtle references to Chariots of Fire and other well-known sports soundtracks. And yet, this volume was unquestionably frustrating to watch, for it has fallen quite far. The glacial pacing drags down the entire production, and the strain of the writers and storyboard artists to try to keep the momentum going is all too evident in these episodes.
The problems with this second half of Big Windup! are not enough to derail the show, but they add up to the point where the experience is way less satisfying than it should be. But such is the power of its characters and their truly vivid, fleshed out personalities; their charisma, their overall likability, that I still can't help but love the whole package. For all its faults, Big Windup! is still a must-watch. Its slightly overblown emphasis on male bonding will keep slash fans satisfied, while the rest of us can enjoy the deftly handled sports and the fun, quirky cast. This isn't the way I'd hoped the series would end, but I'm hoping that with any luck, it won't be.