Baseball, Communication, and Moe in Reverse

Nishura High Baseball Club, from Ookiku Furikabutte Big Windup

Ookiku Furikabutte, Big Windup or simply Oofuri…whatever you happen to call it, I love it.  I am a fan of sports anime in general, so I knew I’d probably enjoy it to some degree, but I ended up falling hard for this little show.  I am genuinely attached to those kids on the Nishiura High baseball team, and the fact that there is no third season (when there should clearly be a third season)  makes me quite sad.

This spoiler-free post is the result of my meditation on why I like Oofuri as much as I do, though, relax, the post is about the show and not me.   Certainly, I can’t list all the reasons I like it here, due to both space constraints and the fact that many are half-thoughts in the form of fanboyish, all-caps exclamations, but I want to highlight a couple of them I think are interesting enough to share.  Probably the biggest epiphany I had after I finished the second season is that, for me at least, Oofuri is moe in reverse.

Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Jason Mraz “No Stopping Us”

Abe, Mihashi, Tajima and Hanai from Ookiki Furikabutte, Big Windup

Not to get into a lengthy discussion about the intricacies of moe, but we know that a key element of the phenomenon is the feeling of a strong desire to protect.  We say that an anime fan is “moe for” character X because they want to insert themselves into the story and take care of this character.  I think it is reasonable that the average Oofuri viewer feels moe for the main protagonist, Ren Mihashi.  He begs to be taken care of.  Mihashi is a big ball of social anxiety who is largely clueless on how to interact with others.  Yet, he is simultaneously dependent upon others to a large degree.  Regulation of his diet, stretching, exercise, pitch count, and sleep are among the things he counts on his teammates (those same folks he has trouble interacting with) to remind him of/help him with.

And, the thing is, they actually do help him.  Sure, Abe can be grumpy and Tajima is not always as careful as he should be, but, on the whole, the team takes care of Mihashi in a very kind and patient manner.  In many ways, they become his extended family.  So, while other Oofuri fans are moe for Mihashi, I want to be him. Rather than inserting myself into the story to protect Mihashi, I kind of want to switch places with the guy.  I want to do this because he is just so taken care of.  It’s like moe, only in reverse.  Not only does the team attend to his baseball needs, but they also are extremely indulgent with his social anxiety.  They are always very thoughtful and considerate of Mihashi’s feelings.  The effort these kids expend in trying to understand/be understood by Mihashi, in service of looking after him, flirts with defying believability at times.  It is typically not the case that someone who has clinical anxiety will have a group of people in their life who is so understanding and accommodating of his/her neuroses.   As someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety (though nowhere near the degree of Miha–whoops!  talking about myself…guess I lied earlier), Mihashi’s support group is something I am jealous of.

It is through not only their relationships with Mihashi but also their relationships with one another that we observe each team member participating in a particularly remarkable activity.  The presence of this activity in Oofuri helps set it apart, in my mind, from other sports anime.  The activity?  I’m talking about genuine attempts at authentic communication, particularly concerning inner feelings of affection.  We see time and again throughout the series that the usual barriers to verbal communication do not exist among the Nishiura team.  The baseball field proves to be this special place that allows the boys to attempt to authentically communicate encouragement, togetherness and love to one another.  I use the word “attempt” deliberately because, as with all human beings, the communication between teammates in Oofuri is not always successful according to the naive definition of the term (which goes something like: signs allow for an isomorphic correspondence between my thought(s)and yours).

Nishiura High baseball team, having fun, from Ookiku Furikabutte Big Windup

But maybe that definition should be discarded?  Synonymy of meaning between two ideas is a notoriously difficult thing to prove, so it might be prudent to lower the bar just a little here.  Let’s instead say that successful communication is characterized by fluency in both verbal and/or nonverbal interactions.  Participants can frequently predict verbal and/or nonverbal reactions of one another.  One communicant can form a more-or-less reliable, coherent behavioral picture of his/her co-communicant.  This is what it means to get to know someone, and it doesn’t require us knowing what is going on inside each others’ heads.  If you think about it, this model represents the base level requirements that human beings meet to get around in the world (or even the baseball field).

Given the above, one could rightfully ask how the notion of authenticity figures into the model.  Well, the model is one for success, and communication can be successful without being authentic.  Consider an office environment.  Co-workers communicate with one another about projects, equipment, and gossip, but very little about their personal selves.  What is more, people may actively project a “false self” for expediency.  By contrast, members of the Nishira High baseball team express themselves about themselves (their true selves).  When Mihashi tells Abe that he won’t give up the mound, the ace pitcher is communicating something beyond there mere fact of where he wants to stand.  He is expressing a deep truth about himself, and Abe gets it.  He probably doesn’t have exactly the thought in his head that Mihashi does, but they aren’t beholden to that lofty standard.  Their communication is both successful and authentic.  Examples of this sort of thing occur all throughout the team.  I’m feeling vulnerableI do not value myself I am  proud of you I accept youI will fight beside you.  These are the kinds of authentic messages that the boys give and receive, often successfully.  Once again, I’m feeling a bit jealous.  That kind of environment is all too rare.  Maybe this is really why people love playing sports?

Earlier, I wrote that social anxiety makes it difficult for Mihashi to interact with his teammates.  If this is true, then how can I speak about authentic communication taking place within the team?  Again, authentic communication and successful communication are distinct kinds.  Mihashi often tries to express things about himself to his teammates, only to be sabotaged by his mental illness.  See any crazy face he makes.  I think the greater point, however, is that the team has fostered an environment in which its members are able to genuinely, authentically communicate with one another.  They can share their selves with each other without fear, and this fact helps Mihashi to feel like he can try to interact with them…even if he fails at times.  For someone with anxiety, this acceptance is invaluable.

So, I’m reverse-moe for Mihashi.  Oofuri lets me live vicariously (for just a bit) through someone who is a little bit like me but who is sheltered by a large group of friends.  These friends are also the sorts of people who create a healthy space to authentically express themselves.  I don’t think I’m alone in desiring all of this.  You don’t even have to have a mental illness to sometimes feel like you just want to rely on others and be a part of a group who will lift you up.  Given that, I think the wish fulfillment Oofuri provides is OK every now and then.

Baseball, Communication, and Moe in Reverse

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