Touch: Champion without number
It only takes a second of looking at the style to know that this is an anime from a Mitsuru Adachi manga. And the content, matching drama a touch of romance on a solid basis of sport, simply serves to confirm that fact. Mind you, this is a famous and much loved series, so it's well worth looking closer.
The first thing to remember is that this is a `human' story, thus starships and super-powers simply don't enter into it. Instead we follow two brothers as they enter high school. One of the things they have in common is that they are both active participants in sport. So that perhaps the prime consideration is which sports club to join. The younger brothers already joined the baseball club and urges the other to do so as well. Meanwhile the girl they've both liked since their youth has also joined a club, but won't say which.
The older brother is about to join the baseball club, when he overhears the announcement of the girl as manager of the baseball club. It's also mentioned, in a `jockish' way, that she's the `steady' partner of their newest recruit. Whether this is formal, or simply a recognition of their deep friendship, he considers it reason enough to stay out of their way. And thus he finds himself signed up, largely without him realizing, as a member of the boxing club. And when this uneasy triangle, of people who deeply care for one another's feelings, seems to potentially be reaching a decision, an event happens which breaks the balance of the triangle in a dramatic and destructive way.
The synopsis is pretty useless for two reasons (in addition to my poor writing skills). The first being that I don't want to give too many spoilers. However the main one is that this sort of thing is almost impossible to summarize. The actual story is all in the details and the little, ambiguous, actions of the players. Any attempt to compress it simply ends up sounding simple and empty. So let me state, definitely, that the actual progress of the anime is pretty impressive and entertaining.
The thing to remember is that, while often called a romance anime or a love triangle this is written by a male. As a result it's more about affection and misunderstanding. There's no florid declarations of love to be found. It's all about three humans trying to guess what is in one anothers hearts and minds. It's very, very ambiguous. Both of the brothers think the other has the lead, yet would not act so as to hurt the other. Likewise both of them actually deeply loves the female. For her part, while she might love one more than the other (there are some subtle clues to this) she also loves both of them and truly doesn't want to lose a friend in the process.
Indeed at times it is so subtle and indefinite that you wish one of them would just break the triangle. That one of them would say something out loud, or she would make a decision. And, while the little events and interactions go on, there's lots of baseball and boxing to watch. And the two sports are actually quite carefully picked as well. On the one hand boxing represents self-sacrifice in a physical way. Partly because he's not actually that good at it. Whereas baseball, with the unbalanced importance of the pitcher and its popularity in Japan, is the path to rewarded achievement and recognition.
That said I still think sport is pretty boring. So it is a tribute to this anime's skill that it kept me interested for the 90 minutes or so it runs for. It must also be mentioned that this is one of three movies which are `summaries' of a 101 episode TV series. As such it is an interesting question how well they represent the TV series, but I suspect there was an awful lot more sport to watch in the full version. Still, even with being summaries the story in this movie, especially the quite potent conclusion, stand up quite well as an independent experience. Mind you, a degree of patience and a liking for this sort of material will be required to enjoy it.
The animation is interesting. While an older series it's actually been done in the style of the authors manga. It's a fairly individual style which is quite simple in its structure, and with a great re-use of character appearances, but at the same time it's rather attractive and expressive. And the good thing is that, being a subtle but mature style, it has actually aged really well. This title still looks good and really suits the story. The voices are solid although the dialogue is fairly reserved and straight. The music is good but is careful to support the mood of the moment without standing out too much.
While I believe this was an impressively popular title in Japan it doesn't seem to be that common amongst western fandom. In any case none of my regular sources has a review for this title.