Let me just start by saying I really appreciate the distinction between western titles, which seek to be catchy and evocative, and eastern titles, which seek to tell you exactly what it is you’re about to consume. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but variety is the spice of life, and I love it.
And so, as you may have guessed, this story is almost exactly what it says on the box. A high school girl named Minami decides to become the manager of her high school baseball team when her best friend Yuki, who was the manager, is forced into the hospital by a chronic illness. In honor of her friend, Minami decides that she will support the team to reach Koshien Stadium. Koshien is where the national high school baseball tournament is played every year, and it’s nearly sacred to Japanese High School baseball enthusiasts. Players who reach it for the first time but lose are known to grab a fistful of dirt to take home with them to remind them of being there and to compete harder next time.
Minami arrives at the team’s first practice of the season to discover everything in disarray. Half the team is missing; even among those who are present, not all are participating; and even among those who are participating, many of them are plainly awful. The coach is also absent.
This seems like a good point to clarify that in Japanese high school baseball, a “manager” is a fellow student, usually female, who supports the team by taking care of equipment, bringing snacks to practices, etc. Generally speaking, they function more as clubhouse staff than taking any kind of leadership role. The closest they get to any sort of actual baseball action or what we in the US would think of as a managerial role is that the manager will often be responsible for keeping the scorecard during the games.
Minami tries to get everyone there to focus, but the players simply aren’t interested. In a last bid to get their attention, she bets them that she can get a hit off of the team’s best pitcher. Instead, she strikes out.
Frustrated and upset, she goes to a local bookstore looking for a book to help her become a better manager. She finds a well-meaning store clerk/Drucker disciple, doesn’t explain the difference between the two types of managers, and ends up walking out of there with Drucker’s book. From there, it’s a pretty typical loser-team-becomes-good story. Honestly, I expected more hijinks to come from the Drucker misunderstanding. However, she immediately realizes that the book is aimed at a different kind of management and decides to implement it for the baseball team, anyway.
Highlights of the rest include discovering that Yuki was only the team manager because Minami used to play baseball when she was younger and was very good at it which gave Yuki a thrill of excitement. We learn that Minami hates baseball now because she decided she wanted to get to Koshien as a player, but the boys on her team made fun of her and told her girls couldn’t do that. Yuki dies from her disease shortly before the team can play the final game in the tournament that would allow them to qualify to go to the national tournament at Koshien, which almost causes the team to fracture but ultimately brings them closer together.
Though the movie was not as silly as I expected it to be, the absolute highlight of the film is the book store clerk. Minami goes back to the book store later because she’s frustrated that she can’t figure out who the “customer” for the team is. He does a whole song and dance routine complete with a projector for visual aids to help her figure it out, and it’s terrific. Also, despite the movie not doing much in the way of character development and the fact that I honestly couldn’t keep track of anyone’s names except for Minami and Yuki, the emotions of the final game really struck home for me. They made me feel the rollercoaster of emotions that come with rooting for a baseball team that might or might not win.
It’s not the best movie that’s ever existed, but it absolutely does its job of providing some laughs, tears, and other entertainment for a couple of hours. If you can find a way to watch the movie - and it’s not easy, at least here in the west - I can think of many worse ways to spend a couple of hours if I was looking for a baseball-related fix during this slow off-season.