Spoilers for Major 2nd
MAJOR is a big deal in Japan. The original series, which was published by Shogakukan and serialized from 1994 to 2010, finished its run at 78 volumes and still managed to get a full adaptation across six two-cour seasons, two OVAs and one movie. This is no small feat, especially considering that such long-running series have become less and less common in the current anime industry. Given its success, one must wonder what the MAJOR franchise did to gain so much popularity. The answer is simple: it has almost everything a fan of sports anime is looking for, and Mitsuda Takuya knows how to keep his story interesting no matter how much time passes (for him or his characters). What was it missing, then? The answer to that is also simple: well-written female characters.
So, five years later and serialized by the same publisher, MAJOR 2ND came along, telling the story of Daigo, the son of original MAJOR protagonist Goro, and his friends. Although Daigo’s teammates and rivals are mainly male in the beginning of the series, as time goes on, the female cast becomes increasingly robust, to the point that Daigo’s middle school team is majoritively formed by girls. This is big for the sport anime genre as a whole, as it represents an important step towards gender equality and the media visibility of women in sports.
In the real world, women have been playing baseball for as long as men have. According to Debra A. Shattuck, Provost and Associate Professor of History at John Witherspoon College, however, women have been unable to establish their legitimacy as baseball players due to the lack of historical memory between generations of women players. Shattuck argues:
Contemporary media perpetuated this historical amnesia by touting each new women’s team or player as a ‘novelty.’ The letters, diaries, and reminiscences of women players from the nineteenth century onward indicate a similar belief that what they were doing was out of the ordinary and ‘new.’ […] Because each generation of women players were unable to establish strong links to previous generations, they were unable to alter the perception that they were usurpers of a masculine pastime, not legitimate participants in a gender-neutral sport [emphasis mine].
With each passing decade that women players were labeled ‘novelties,’ baseball’s reputation as a masculine sport became more deeply entrenched. Today’s female players battle the same prejudices their predecessors faced in the nineteenth century [emphasis mine]. Only when the historical memory of women baseball players is restored, and only when enough girls and women play the game so that media and spectators no longer consider them ‘novelties,’ will the mantra ‘baseball is for boys and softball is for girls’ become obsolete.
Baseball, both amateur and professional, is the most watched and played sport in Japan, and it has enjoyed this position for over 100 years. The two annual high school baseball tournaments in Koshien Stadium in particular consistently attract greater audiences and more attention than any other athletic event in all of Japan. Thus, baseball is also the sport that’s most often adapted to anime, and yet the girls are almost never there.
When we do get some baseball girls, the shows are often disappointing: Tamayomi with its awful production and impractical uniforms, Princess Nine with its final arc shift to focusing on romance, etc. This disparity is a direct reflection of Japanese society: In 2007, for example, there were over 4000 high-school baseball clubs for boys in Japan, but only five for girls. Girls aren’t even allowed to set foot on the ‘hallowed ground’ of Koshien Stadium.
Although a Japanese Women’s Baseball League was established in 2009 and the number of female players, female baseball clubs in high schools and universities, and club teams have steadily increased and spread nation-wide since then, the prejudice the girls are faced with is still strong. It’s estimated that more than 20,000 women and girls play baseball at some level in Japan today, so why are we not seeing them in anime?
Even now, female characters in popular sports anime are often relegated to the role of managers and/or love interests for the boys (see Ace of Diamond, Haikyuu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, etc). This was also true in the original MAJOR; and even Kaoru, who started off as Goro’s teammate, eventually switched to softball in high school… unintentionally perpetuating the stereotype that baseball is a sport made for men and that women should play its softer counterpart from the moment their physical differences become too apparent.
Although these physical differences don’t go away in MAJOR 2ND — they are actually discussed by the author later on —the series offers what we’ve all been longing for: girls at the center of the narrative, playing big roles, challenging the status quo and being taken seriously.
The first season of MAJOR 2ND starts with baby steps when it comes to the girls’ participation in the sport. Since the grade school arc is mostly focused on Daigo’s personal struggles and his relationship with Hikaru, the son of his father’s best friend and rival, we don’t see much of the girls, but there are three important characters here: Daigo’s teammate Sakura, his older sister Izumi, and rival team pitcher Michiru.
Sakura’s parents aren’t very fond of the idea of their daughter playing such a demanding sport at first and thus don’t allow her to join the team. However, after giving it some thought, Sakura decides that even if it goes against her parents’ wishes, she doesn’t want to give up on playing the sport that she loves—and from there she becomes a main character in season two. Michiru is another child of a MAJOR rival and the ace pitcher of Touto Boys, the strongest team in her grade.
Finally, Izumi plays baseball as well and often teaches Daigo and Sakura about baseball techniques. Izumi was the ace of every team she played on, including the one at Fuurin, Daigo’s future middle school. I think it’s important to stress that all these girls are treated with respect, each with their own motivation for playing baseball and with goals they want to achieve.
MAJOR 2ND 2nd Season
In the second season the author goes all out: we get a main team with three boys (including Daigo) and six girls. Mitsuda uses this balance to tackle the sexism the girls face several times throughout the season. The baseball club’s new male teammates, who immediately look down on them for being girls, are quickly proven wrong when they play a practice game. Daigo makes it clear that the girls had been keeping up with the same training regime as the boys the whole time and that a difference in gender didn’t equate to an obvious difference in skill.
Some of the girls were also previously members of the Yokohama Little, a powerhouse team in the series, and regular players at that. In other words, they would regularly play the field rather than spend games on the bench as tokens. In official matches, they are often looked down on in the beginning, but their opponents quickly learn to take them seriously after seeing how they play.
Despite making it clear that the girls are equals, the story doesn’t ignore issues with physical development, since they’re at the age where boys often start pulling ahead of the girls in terms of muscle development (13-15 years old). It’s very realistic in the sense that the girls sometimes feel discouraged by the difference in strength, and each girl deals with it differently.
There are girls who are determined to never lose to a boy, though they sometimes question their ability to do so; girls who are pretty much as strong as their male teammates but are scared of getting injured if they decide to push beyond what should be a “girl’s limit,” which has already happened in the past; girls who simply love baseball, but sometimes wish they could pursue traditionally feminine things like a boyfriend, dating, or dressing up instead of being covered in dirt as baseball players often are. There’s even one girl who started playing to lose weight but eventually fell in love with the sport.
It’s just so great to see that such a successful franchise took the time to develop all these girls, making sure that the cast remains diverse not only regarding their personalities and body types, but also their goals and conflicts. Even when one of the girls has a crush on one of the boys, like in the cases of Sakura and Daigo or Chiyo and Nishina, they are never reduced to love interests. Daigo is not the reason why Sakura plays baseball, and although her crush on Nishina is what brought Chiyo to the baseball club, he is not the reason why she chose to stay.
Although Fuurin wins official matches against all-boys teams, they also suffer a crushing defeat at the end of the season. It’s the very personification of the glass ceiling: the girls are capable of competing against the boys, but if they really want to go beyond that, they’ll have to push themselves further. That includes getting rid of their fears and getting a proper coach. The anime ends on a hopeful note of the girls continuing to pursue their dreams, with a third season likely to happen once there’s enough manga storyline to adapt.
To the Future
Baseball isn’t a contest of strength. As Jennifer Ring, professor of political science and former director of women’s studies at the University of Nevada, argues in her book A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball: “[the] description of baseball as war has always seemed far-fetched to me: a wish or a fantasy on the part of a baseball man who hopes that what he loves is the equivalent of history’s ultimate descriptor of masculinity.
In spite of its record of exclusive masculinity, baseball seems much less warlike than, for example, American football. It’s not a contact sport, its goal is not primarily to penetrate and possess an opponent’s territory, and in spite of American passion for power, those purist fans who really know baseball will tell you stories of great moments that involve finesse, speed, artistry, and subtle deftness.”
The girls may not have the same explosive power as the boys, but that doesn’t mean they can’t compete against them or enact exciting plays. It’s not like every teenage baseball player has a great physique or athletic skills when starting out, but boys are still allowed to play in tournaments, while even the best of female baseball players can’t — not at the high school level at least, since Japan’s High School Baseball Federation prohibits it “out of concern for the girls’ safety.” Girls are usually either forced to switch to softball in high school or give up on the game completely.
As Thomas Blackwood, professor of Sociology and Social Psychology at Tokyo International University, reminds us, there are some all-female high school baseball teams in Japan, but the difficulty of maintaining enough members means the number and location of teams change every year, and there had never been more than 19 teams registered with the National High School Girls’ Baseball Federation through 2002.
Although MAJOR 2ND’s future high school arc will likely shift its focus back to Daigo and Hikaru’s complicated relationship, the author can still make some interesting choices regarding the girls. Mitsuda has already shown us that watching the girls play can be just as exciting as watching the boys, and that someone’s gender should not be a reason to stop them from playing a sport that they love. Whether the author will keep pushing for more visibility towards girls in baseball in the future as Daigo’s story continues remains to be seen. With so many smart observations about the struggles these girls have faced, I’d hate to see their dreams get forgotten.