During the burning summer months there’s only one thing a person can do, sit in an air-conditioned room. But, if you never go out how can you have a hot summer romance?
When I look at all the different genres in the manga industry, the sports genre has a fascinating bent to it. Where the action genre might use a grandiose adventure, the mystery genre an engrossing puzzle, or the romance genre a captivating drama to lure readers in, the sports genre tends to utilize very simple premises. These are generally teams winning national tournaments or an athlete becoming the best in his or her given sport. This approach was most likely popularized by the 1966 baseball series Kyojin no Hoshi. While I don’t want to delve too deeply into that series, it was certainly one of the first instances of a manga character devoting his life to a sport. Thus, the evolution of drama in the sports genre became less about the character relationships and dynamics—though one could argue without strong characters in Kyojin no Hoshi the series would have failed—but rather the training and how each game or match was played. Slam Dunk was by far one of the best series in the genre to demonstrate this and I’ve already written extensively about that series. Yet, Slam Dunk was also an outlier in terms of the sport that was presented when it comes to the sports genre.
There’s nothing wrong with being an outlier, after all variety is a wonderful thing. However, baseball is one of the most written about sports within the manga medium. I attribute this to the popularity of baseball in Japan, but also because the sport boasts one of the largest summer events in Japan: the summer Japanese High School Baseball Championship at the Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Osaka. Both the popularity of baseball and the Championships make the sport very easy to write about. But again, I feel the drama in a sports series is born not from the characters but from the different games. While this certainly makes a series interesting in its own right, I find character relationships and dynamics far more griping. In 1981, though, Mitsuru Adachi influenced the sports genre in an almost indescribable manner with his series Touch (タッチ). What made the series remarkable for its time were the ingenious relationships and dynamics between the principal characters in the different story arcs. It was not only mired in the traditions of the Japanese High School Baseball Championship, particularly the idea of dedicating your youth to a sport, but also in the romance it presented. This was also compounded by one of the most shocking plot twists within the medium. While I admit this was one of the best series ever written, I can’t help but find the series difficult to write about. This is because of how similar the style, tropes, and progression of the series was to Mitsuru Adachi’s later major works. Granted, this was the first time he used those tropes to their fullest potential, but unfortunately his writing hasn’t changed much in thirty years.
I feel it’s important to address Mitsuru Adachi’s writing style before examining his seminal work, Touch. I admit he’s one of best authors to blend the sports genre with character drama, most notably romance. However, when examining his major works—these would be Touch, H2, Cross Game, and Mix—he became increasingly predictable in the stories he was presenting. There’s actually nothing wrong with this, after all why fix a formula when it works so well? Regrettably, this makes writing about each individual piece rather difficult. In fact, one could substitute a piece about Mix with Touch, if only because Mitsuru Adachi returned to Meisei High School in Mix. True, there are differences in the narrative he presented in each series, but one can’t help but see the similarities in each work. They range from the tropes, styles, themes, progression, and, at times, plot points. The most obvious of these is a focus on high school baseball and romance. I have no animosity towards reusing these themes, after all baseball is a major stable of Japanese culture—I would even argue more so than American culture—and who doesn’t enjoy a wonderful romance? If it were just of matter of reusing these two themes, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with his writing.
Yet, when delving into Mitsuru Adachi’s writing style even further, an overlap in his major works can be seen. Much of this concerns the progression of the stories, though we can find some stylistic and plot similarities as well. To elaborate on the progression, each of his series has three major story arcs surrounding each high school grade level, with some minor variations. However, as a means of becoming familiar with the main characters, Adachi often incorporates the characters’ final year of junior high school into the first story arc. I feel the reason for this clear division is so that the main characters progress towards their goal of playing in the Japanese High School Baseball Championships can be shown. Thus, the first story arc generally revolves around the characters more or less developing their team, the second finding their rival school, and then the third overcoming the odds to advance to the Championships. Again, I have no qualms with this progression, but because the author hardly deviates from this pattern, reading his baseball-centered series can be tiring.
Added on top of this, similar plot points, as well as recognizable stylistic choices, are prevalent in his works. As I stated above, the second story arc tends to revolve around the main characters becoming aware of the team they have to beat in order to advance to the Championships. Although this adds tension to the final story arc, the problem here is the characters don’t have to overcome the entire team, but rather just one player, the fourth, or cleanup, hitter. I understand the reasoning behind this, the ultimate matchup between an unbeatable pitcher and the ultimate slugger, but in the end this is uninspired writing. While I haven’t played baseball in years, I feel there’s dramatic variety in different matchups. For example, in Touch there was an interesting discussion between the protagonist, Tatsuya “Tacchan” Uesugi, and the pitcher for the Seinan High School baseball team, Isamu Nishimura, about the role of a pitcher. What made this interesting compared to the standard pitcher verses cleanup hitter dynamic, aside from the variety, were the differences in pitching philosophies and how Isamu and another character displayed this. In a certain sense, I found this aspect of Touch refreshing by comparison to Adachi’s other works.
As for the stylistic choices, I am not referring to the author’s artistic style. This is something that’s difficult for manga authors to change and I rather enjoy Mitsuru Adachi’s art style. What I mean by stylistic choices is actually the humor and paneling he utilizes. While less prominent in Touch, there were still instances of his fourth-wall-breaking humor. Although I enjoy fourth-wall-breaking humor, for the drama he creates in his works it can be distracting. As for the paneling, this is one aspect of Adachi’s writing that works well with the narratives he creates, especially during the baseball games. He’s very effective at creating different speeds through his paneling and because of this it can feel as though time has come to a standstill in one volume or sped up in another. I’ll elaborate on this later in the article, but suffice it to say aside from Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, aspiring manga authors who want to write in the sports genre should study how Mitsuru Adachi was able to maximize pacing, both slow and fast, through his paneling style.
Reading the above statements makes it seem as though Touch isn’t all that unique among the series written by Mitsuru Adachi. However, this isn’t the case. In fact, Touch was the first time he implemented many of these tropes, styles, and plot points. Thus, in a sense the series pioneered his current writing style. Yet, this isn’t the only reason why the series is beloved by so many people. Although I feel many people enjoy the series for the characters, as do I, surprisingly I found them rather bland at times. Nevertheless, where the author excelled was the relationships and dynamics he created for the characters. True, there’s a lot to unpack with the characters, yet the most remarkable was the relationship between the three primary characters, Tatsuya, his twin brother Kazuya “Kacchan,” and their neighbor, childhood friend, and romantic interest, Minami Asakura and in the third story arc between Tatsuya and the substitute coach for his baseball team, Eijirō Kashiwaba. Both relationships provided readers with different types of drama, but more importantly they brought out the best drama in the series.
Examining the relationship between the brothers and Minami, it was predicated on a number of factors, including but not limited to the dynamic between the brothers, the dynamic and relationship between the brothers and Minami, and a promise Kazuya made to Minami. Addressing each individually, the dynamics between the brothers was possibly the most interesting of the three mentioned above. While I can’t speak for all siblings as I myself have never had the pleasure of having a sibling, one would assume Tatsuya and Kazuya would compete in many facets of their lives. This certainly would have made the series interesting in its own right. However, the brothers not only had a good relationship with each other, but there was a sense Tatsuya, the older of the two, often differed from Kazuya. Differed not in the sense he let his brother make all the decisions, but when it came to competitions and Minami, Tatsuya would let Kazuya have the spotlight. It may seem odd Tatsuya would do this, but in looking at his personality and that of Kazuya, it seemed sensible.
A good example of this came early in the fourth volume of Touch. It revolved around a flashback of Tatsuya, Kazuya, and Minami when they were children, but it exemplified the nature of Tatsuya and Kazuya’s relationship. In the flashback, Minami set up a target in their backyards and had the brothers throw a ball at it and the winner received a kiss from Minami. What was fascinating about this scene was how an insecure, jealous, and competitive nature arose in Kazuya towards his brother. This display was certainly one instance in which the complicated relationship and dynamics between the brothers could be gleaned. However, I felt Tatsuya’s deferral came about not just because of the history of the three characters, but also because he recognized Kazuya would go to great lengths to achieve what he wanted, whereas Tatsuya preferred milling about.
This was where the promise Kazuya made to Minami factored into the complex nature of the relationship between the three characters. Unsurprisingly for an Adachi series, the promise was Kazuya would take Minami to the Japanese High School Baseball Championships and not in the sense they would watch a game at the stadium together. Rather, the two would attend the same high school and he would take their baseball team, and by proxy Minami, to the Championships. As I stated above, Tatsuya had a sense Kazuya would go to great lengths to achieve what he wanted and this was the ultimate representation of it because Kazuya was not only going to take Minami to the Championships to fulfill a childhood promise, but also to make her happy and prove his worth to her. As such, we saw Kazuya living out his dreams while Tatsuya stood idly by and hoped Minami would appreciate him for the nice person he was. That’s not to say Tatsuya wasn’t doing anything to advance a romantic relationship with Minami, but rather he saw how Kazuya wanted to be with her more than he did.
The sixth volume of Touch demonstrated this when the three characters were playing poker before the semifinal game of the Prefecture qualifying match for the Championships. The premise of the scene was well crafted considering, while the characters weren’t actually gambling, Tatsuya purposely lost to his brother in the final round. Even if this act were to relieve any pressure Kazuya might have been feeling, it was understandable why Kazuya was upset—what’s the purpose of competing if you know there’s no chance of losing? The remarkable thing about this scene was how the following lines of dialog and action showed the complexity of the relationship and dynamics between the three characters. It came from how Kazuya proposed that Minami be the prize for the final round of poker between Tatsuya and Kazuya. While Minami intervened in the match, it was interesting how Kazuya was glad she did because he was worried he might lose. This informed readers how serious Kazuya was about beating his brother to a romantic relationship with Minami. Yet, the next couple of lines between Tatsuya and Minami also gave readers a better sense of the complex nature of their relationship as Tatsuya said Kazuya was serious about winning Minami and Minami asked if they had continued their game, would Tatsuya have purposely lost again. Although these nine pages did a wonderful job of summarizing the relationship between the three characters, seeing it play out in the first seven volumes of Touch beforehand made this scene particularly rewarding.
Before continuing, there’s a large elephant in the room that must be addressed. While it may seem sacrilegious to discuss, we have to examine the death of Kazuya, as it was one of the major events in Touch. This not only was, and still remains, some of the best writing in manga history, it drastically altered the relationship between Tatsuya and Minami. Addressing how well it was written first, it not only involved how the seventh volume progressed, but also the tension it created as each chapter went by. This was the genius of Adachi at work, as we have to examine the volume in smaller sections to fully appreciate what was going on. What he did in the first three chapters of the volume was create a new dynamic between Tatsuya, Kazuya, and Minami by having the brothers make a formal declaration they would be vying for Minami’s love. This was vastly different from the previous volumes, but the shift in their relationship brought the tension of the series to a head.
However, the next four chapters in the seventh volume changed the focus to the Prefecture finals Kazuya was pitching in. The intriguing aspect of this section of the volume was how it placed two competing plots against each other—the actual game and Tatsuya at a hospital and then walking to the stadium. This was where some of Adachi’s best paneling work could be seen. Where the pace of the game was fast and loud with dialog, cheering, and onomatopoeias, the pages with Tatsuya were slow and relatively absent of dialog. By doing this, the narrative tension in these chapters was excruciating, as there was hope the Meisei High School baseball team could win without Kazuya. However, the four chapters also provided enough information to readers to glean some tragedy had befallen Kazuya, but not enough to paint a clear picture of what happened exactly. Hence, when readers were shown the fate that had come to pass it was not only jarring, but also immensely emotional. In fact, the 127th page of the volume captured the somber moment of Tatsuya and Kazuya’s parents through the shading in the second panel and their faces in the fourth and fifth panels. This page would have been less effective had the buildup to the event been handled in a different way and so it was a true testament to Adachi’s writing prowess.
The final few chapters of the seventh volume also had exceptional writing. Unlike the previous chapters, though, it kept the pacing of the middle four chapters and the dynamic change seen in the first three chapters. However, what made these chapters touching weren’t just the emotions, but seeing the characters deal with the loss of Kazuya in their own way. For instance, we saw Tatsuya blare one of Kazuya’s records despite Tatsuya’s dislike of classical music while he ruminated over their final words together. In turn, we saw Minami trying to keep her composure until she had a moment to herself. In fact, I would go so far as to say the five stages of grief were played out in two of the chapters through the use of dialog and clever paneling. What’s more, the appealing nature about the whole ordeal wasn’t just how emotionally charged Kazuya’s death was, but how earnestly the subject of death was approached.
When I think about death in a manga, I can’t help but remember the adage, “They’re not dead until you see a body.” As funny as the saying is, anime and manga fans have been conditioned to think of death as a nonissue within the medium. While more of a trope in the action genre, when a character dies in a series little time is spent ruminating about it. Granted, there are instances when it can’t be avoided, as was the case with Jiraiya in Naruto. Yet, I feel there are cases we’ve come to expect dead characters will be brought back to life through some loophole in the narrative. This has spoiled us as readers because it implies death has no bearing on fictional characters or the narrative the author is presenting. American director and screenwriter Max Landis has spoken about this in regards to American comics, particularly the Superman story arc “The Death and Return of Superman,” and I feel it rings true with manga as well. In this regard, the mere fact Touch made it explicitly clear Kazuya was dead was bold for the medium. Of course, because the series was grounded in reality, the idea of death couldn’t be toyed with in the same way as other fictional series. More importantly, though, the death of Kazuya exemplified how death could alter the narrative, relationships, and character dynamics of a story.
The fascinating thing about the death of Kazuya was certainly how well it was written, but it also affected how Touch took on a vastly different tone after the seventh volume. While I found the eighth to fourteenth volumes more or less the setup for the final story arc of the series, there were some notable aspects that need to be addressed. The first was how Tatsuya took Kazuya’s mantle upon himself. This wasn’t just the mantle of taking Minami to the Championships, but also Kazuya’s undivided love for Minami. Although this created a number of interesting conflicts between Tatsuya and the catcher for the Meisei High School baseball team, Kōtarō Matsudaira, during the early volumes of the second story arc, I felt it was best seen in the thirteenth volume when Meisei played Sumi Technical High School in a practice game.
What was engrossing about this game arose from how it demonstrated the different pressures weighing down on Tatsuya. Consider, Tatsuya couldn’t advance his team past the second round of the Prefecture qualifying match that year, leaving him with only one more chance to fulfill the promise Kazuya made to Minami. I feel this would be an immense amount of pressure for anyone, but in Tatsuya’s case he understood what this meant to Kazuya and Minami. Thus, this was Tatsuya’s chance to test his pitching prowess against one of the top ranked high school baseball teams. In fact, when one of Tatsuya’s classmates was speaking to Isamu, the pitcher for Seinan High School, we glimpsed the pressure Tatsuya was facing. If that weren’t enough, though, we also saw an admirer and teammate of Tatsuya’s, Takeshi Yoshida, begin to overtake and threaten Tatsuya’s position as the star pitcher for their team. What was interesting about this aspect of the game was to this point it seemed Tatsuya was the de facto successor to Kazuya. Hence, no matter what the outcome, all the pressure would have been levied on Tatsuya to live up to Kazuya’s dream. But, with Takeshi slowly creeping up on Tatsuya, we saw the irritation well up in Tatsuya. The first panel on the fifty-eight page of the thirteenth volume exemplified this with Tatsuya saying, “If you get mad at every error, you’re unfit to pitch.”
The practice game between Meisei and Sumi Technical was certainly the highlight of the second story arc. Of course, there were other sections of this arc that had their merits within the series as a whole, such as Minami joining the Meisei High School rhythmic gymnastics team while still managing the baseball team. Not to delve too deeply into subject, what was fascinating about this was how it not only separated Minami from Tatsuya, but also gave Minami a goal only she could achieve: participating in the Inter High School Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament. This was possibly the biggest factor that altered Minami and Tatsuya’s relationship, aside from the death of Kazuya. Yet, having the two characters spend time apart from each other allowed them to grow in many ways. It’s difficult to explain, however the 172nd page of the ninth volume presented the concept in an ingenious way. To put it simply, Tatsuya envisioned both Minami and himself as caterpillars, but Minami had matured into a beautiful butterfly and left him behind. This was a great metaphor for their relationship and displayed the fact the characters were beginning to find their place in the world without Kazuya.
The final story arc of Touch was the most appealing, though. Granted, I wrote heavily about the relationship between Tatsuya, Kazuya, and Minami, as this was certainly the most memorable aspect of the series. However, the final arc was an amalgamation of Tatsuya realizing Kazuya’s dream, but it was also a great character drama and a wonderful demonstration of the Japanese idea of dedicating one’s youth to a single goal. The first two ideas meshed well together, but I feel an explanation about the Japanese ideals of dedication needs to be addressed first, especially in regards to the Japanese High School Baseball Championships. However, in order to fully understand this we must examine the connotations behind the Japanese word for youth: seishun.
At its core, seishun means nothing more than youth, but as the Japanese language has evolved, when older people see those in their mid-teens dedicating themselves to some task the phrase, “seishun da ne,” “that’s youth” or “they’re living it up” instantly comes to mind. It’s a fascinating concept and one that’s not seen in English. In regards to the Championships, though, the sight of losing teams taking some of Hanshin Koshien Stadium’s dirt home is a perfect visualization of the concept of seishun. The players devote such a large portion of their youth for the chance to play in the Championships. Thus, the act of taking a small part of the stadium home with them after their team loses is a small reward. But, what’s remarkable about this act is it not only signals the end of the senior players’ high school careers, but serves as a memento for the team and a vow to return to play in the stadium again.
The concept of seishun is seen in a different light in the final arc of Touch, though. While I said Kazuya’s dream and the character drama meshed well together, without the underlying idea of seishun this arc wouldn’t have had a firm foundation to stand on. Examining the concept with Kazuya’s dream, this is seishun at its core—remember Kazuya dedicated his life to taking Minami to the Championships. Yet, compounded on top of this were three things: Tatsuya taking Kazuya’s mantle so Tatsuya could fulfill Kazuya’s promise to Minami, the memory of Kazuya, and the final story arc being Tatsuya’s last opportunity to do so. If this doesn’t scream dedicating one’s youth to a goal, I’m not sure what does. However, there was one more layer that made this arc fundamentally about the concept of seishun. This was the grueling training the team endured under their substitute coach, Eijirō Kashiwaba. I say this because while a large portion of seishun constitutes dedication to an endeavor, the concept also implies a great deal of labor will be expended in the pursuit of the given goal. Therefore, when reading through the final arc of Touch, one can’t help but feel the passion of the players and their hopes of achieving their dreams. Although it can be argued an adult can still experience the ideals of seishun, in the case of this series it was attributed to the players.
While the concept of seishun had the effect of giving the series direction, it was how Eijirō embodied a villain that gave the arc purpose. There were two reasons for this. The first was he had his own agenda that worked against the hopes and dreams of the Meisei High School baseball team, specifically Tatsuya’s. This was fascinating because it created an interesting dynamic between Tatsuya and Eijirō from the beginning of the arc. To focus on this in more detail we must explore Eijirō’s character. Like Tatsuya, when Eijirō was younger he, too, was a member of the Meisei High School baseball team and chasing after his older brother’s dream —I’m sure we can all guess it was playing in the Championships. Yet, unlike Tatsuya, Eijirō was expelled from the baseball team for having a history of delinquency. Unfortunately for Eijirō, he was never able to forgive the team and vowed petty vengeance on them by making the current team lose in an embarrassing way. Thus, when placed side-by-side with Tatsuya’s goals it created tension throughout the arc that was difficult to pull away from. This came in the scenes where the team was practicing, but also during the Prefecture qualifying games.
For example, there were two particular scenes in the sixteenth volume where Eijirō overworked Tatsuya with methods that were rather unorthodox and very close to torturous. What were remarkable about the two scenes weren’t just the methods Eijirō used, but also how the clash between Eijirō and Tatsuya’s respective objectives was clearly delineated on the 133rd and 134th pages of the volume. In one moment, Tatsuya had collapsed from the exhaustion of his workout, to which Eijirō smiled. Then in the next moment, Tatsuya began his the workout again, wiping the same smile off Eijirō’s face. In this one moment we saw how desperate the two were to achieve their respective goals, thus showing neither would yield under any circumstances. The second instance was similar, but it was presented from Minami’s perspective. Yet, the picture painted was that of desperation for both Tatsuya and Eijirō. These two scenes unquestionably set the tone of the arc and definitely created the proper mood for the rest of the series.
However, we can’t ignore the six games played during the final arc of Touch in regards to the narrative tension between Tatsuya and Eijirō. Focusing on all the games is a difficult task, yet they all had an underlying theme to them. Yes, that theme was the clash between Tatsuya and Eijirō, but where the drama during the team’s practice sessions came from Eijirō trying to demoralize the players, the games were focused on him undermining the team by using their weaknesses against them or hardly giving any instructions to them. Although the former was only seen in the first two games, the latter ran throughout the course of the six games. This was most apparent during the batting scenes as Eijirō commented on the strategies of the opposing pitchers as well as the batting of his players. This created different tension from what had been presented up to this point as it forced the players to rely on their individual wits rather than the entire team working together as a well-oiled machine.
The lack of instructions by Eijirō during the games is linked to why he made such an appealing villain as well. We must keep in mind there were very few characters who knew Eijirō wanted to crush the Meisei baseball team. Hence, what came from this were the players trusting Eijirō’s coaching style, despite calling him heartless. Considering the keystone of the Meisei High School baseball team was Tatsuya as the pitcher and Kōtarō as the cleanup batter, prior to Eijirō arriving the team had little hopes of advancing to the Championships. Yet, through the rough exercises and training regime created by Eijirō, the team could have been unstoppable with the right direction. Granted, even without Eijirō’s direction the team overpowered their opponents. As a result, there were scenes when the team gleefully presented themselves to Eijirō to be worked to death. The twenty-first volume demonstrated this quite well near the end of the seventh chapter in the volume.
Here we saw Eijirō notice the players were still full of energy after a no-hit no-run game, thus he suggested they do field practice. The team, ever so eager, rejoiced at the prospect and headed straight to the field. It was the exchange between Tatsuya and Eijirō that followed that made the scene memorable. I felt this conversation revealed an aspect of Eijirō that wasn’t previously explored in detail. This regarded how determined Eijirō was at ending the hopes and dreams of the Meisei High School baseball team, as he hesitated far too often. True, he had to act the part of a coach at the very least, but if he truly wanted to see the team fail he would have gone to greater lengths to have the team lose. This gave Eijirō a duality previously unseen in his character and gave readers a genuine reason to understand why the players for the Meisei High School baseball team placed their trust in him. These instances added to the conflict in the final arc, but also demonstrated the drama Adachi created for the series.
There is far more to discuss in regards to Mitsuru Adachi’s seminal work, such as how the characters Isamu Nishimura, Yuka Nitta, and Akio Nitta affected the relationship between Tatsuya and Minami, but I found them to be less important than the relationship between Tatsuya, Kazuya, and Minami in the early volumes and Tatsuya and Eijirō in the later volumes. That being said, Touch is easily one of the most influential series within the sports manga medium. The drama in each story arc was well conceived and difficult to quit reading. However, it was the death of Kazuya in the seventh volume that impacted both the narrative and the medium. While there are many examples of characters dying in manga prior to Touch—look at all the characters in The Rose of Versailles—how death was explored and presented in this series was rather jarring. Very few anime and manga series have been able to replicate the emotions to the degree Mitsuru Adachi did and it’s a testament to his writing. Yet, through Touch we gleaned the tropes the author has incorporated into his other major works. I am willing to overlook the repetitive nature of his narrative style with this series as it was the first of its kind, but that repetition was difficult to ignore when examining this series.
This doesn’t mean one can’t derive enjoyment from reading Touch. Granted, there were a few dated aspects of the series since, after all, it was published in the 1980s. But, many of these cultural and period gaps can be overlooked quite easily. Unsurprisingly, Touch is also a perfect summer read, as it embodies one of the greatest Japanese summer traditions, the summer Japanese High School Baseball Championship at the Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Osaka. Thus, those who want to understand the appeal of Japanese high school baseball will find this series appealing. Even if you aren’t a fan of baseball, it can be noted Touch only used the sport as a backdrop to the amazing drama presented in the manga. Therefore, anyone can enjoy the series on different levels. To be completely honest, though, no respectable fan of the medium should pass this series up and I’m ashamed it took me so long to examine it in great detail, especially considering Touch is so easy to find. In fact, there have been multiple publications of it, including the original, anthology, pocketbook, and complete versions. However, I highly suggest the original prints if you can find them.