Moshidora – Win One for the Drucker
Moshidora is an unusual show with an unusual premiere: released over the course of two weeks, an episode every weekday, this mini-series was actually supposed to be released toward the end of the winter season, before the earthquake and tsunami delayed it for a month. Telling the story of a reluctant manager of a high school baseball team, it covers the year where she turns the team around and leads them to triumph in their prefecture’s summer tournament.
We’ve yet to cover a sports anime here at anitotaku, and arguably we haven’t even with this review. Despite its protestations, Moshidora has surprisingly little to do with baseball, and the games themselves feel like afterthoughts compared to how shows like Big Windup and Cross Game present them. If the author was just looking to maximize the appeal to a Japanese audience, baseball was the right sport to pick, but the plot could be cut and pasted into most team sports with little difficulty. The love of this show isn’t for the sport, but for management. And the show, bravely or foolishly, does little to hide that.
Protagonist Minami Kawashima doesn’t have much love for baseball either, not since her dream of becoming a professional ball player collided with cruel biological realities. Once puberty hits and the boys she had easily bested suddenly can outperform her, she’s crushed and forsakes the sport entirely. Her best friend Yuuki Miyata, by contrast, so fell in love with baseball watching Minami play that she became the manager for baseball club on campus.
When Yuuki, always sickly, is hospitalized yet again, Minami volunteers to manage the team in her absence, purely out of devotion to her beloved friend. Not knowing the first thing about her role, she heads off to a book store, where a miscommunication with staff leads her to purchase Peter Drucker’s Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Only after the fact does she realize that she bought a book on business management.
Thus, Minami tries to reinvigorate her team using business models designed to motivate staff and increase market share. In the process, she turns her role as a manager (which traditionally is more a combination of den mother, personal assistant, and grunt labor force) into something with far more reach and clout.
It helps that the team’s problems (of which there are several) all relate back to communication issues, problems of motivation, and an uncertainty of purpose—all problems, in short, which business management exists to solve. It’s said that when all you have is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails; here, almost all the problems are nails, which means the hammer of Drucker’s Management is just what Minami needs to solve them.
Different watchers might differ on how contrived this comes off as, but at least the team’s issues come across as real ones: a prima donna pitcher who falls apart once his endurance is past the limit, but won’t admit it, a shortstop who seizes up under pressure, and a team which only shows up for practice about half the time. At fault for all this is a coach who doesn’t know how to relate to or motivate his players; despite plenty of knowledge of the sport, his communication ability is nil.
That leadership vacuum is what Minami steps in to fill, as she figures out what the players want, and how to motivate them. She clears up misunderstandings between the coach and the players, reorganizes the training schedule to encourage participation, and recruits new members who share in her vision of winning the prefecture tournament and going on to the national tournament at Koshien.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t make for drama. Holding interviews with baseball club members to gauge how to motivate them might be a necessary step in rebuilding the team, but it’s not good TV. To overcome this, the show tries other way to ratchet up dramatic tension; nearly all of them are failures. The games themselves aren’t given enough attention to serve as nail-biting events; it takes longer than ten minutes to properly present the tension of a baseball game, and most games don’t even get that long.
I’m a bit skeptical about the author’s general knowledge of baseball, too. About halfway through the series, the coach decides to implement a “revolutionary” game plan of having the pitcher throw only strikes (relying on more aggressive fielding to cover for the hits and taking pressure off the pitcher as a result), but that—along with the coach’s decision to not use sacrifice bunts—feel more like an expression of personal preference than a coherent strategy. But Drucker’s model calls for innovation, thus the team must do something new.
Other sources of dramatic tension include the shortstop’s slow struggle to regain his confidence, but he’s too whiny (and incompetent) to generate much sympathy. Most other interpersonal conflicts fall just as flat. Whether due to the brevity of the series or a lack of interest from the original author, most of the characters are too one-dimensional to be all that interesting.
The closest the show gets to overcoming this is in the relationship between Yuuki and Minami. Yuuki is ultimately a bit too much of a cypher to leave a lasting impression, and spends the entire show confined to a hospital bed. But how everyone else treats her, from Minami to the rest of the baseball club, shows how beloved she is all by all of them.
Naturally, when Yuuki dies on the eve of the championship game, finally losing her long struggle with illness, Minami and the rest of the team are heartbroken. Minami in particular needs to rethink her entire reason for managing the team, as her motivation was integrally linked with her desire to see Yuuki happy, and not for a love of the game.
Of course, in the final game, this issue resolves neatly, the lingering issues within the team are resolved, and the team wins and moves on the the nationals. As unusual as Moshidora’s take on baseball might be, it’s not seeking to escape the cliches of the genre. Nor is it interesting in producing a real conflict—like every other challenge Minami faces, it’s resolved within the length of an episode. After all, how else can the show demonstrate how effective Drucker’s management techniques are except by showing how easy it is to overcome problems by using them?
While produced by high profile studio Production I.G., the show is staffed with b-listers or rookies, with little love shown in the production. At times, it feels like the main point for the animated series is to serve as an ad for the book it is based on, or the live action movie that will come out in Japan this weekend. Or, since the book is already a bestseller in Japan, it might be an attempt to bring the thinking of Peter Drucker to the otaku demographic.
Whatever the case, Moshidora is a show that has clearly put its message before providing entertainment. Given the show begins and ends with an admonition that managers should have companies provide products people want, and not products managers think they should want, this is a remarkable bit of irony. The result is a show that feels more like a vanity project than a show of lasting value. I’d recommend it to those with far too much free time on their hands, but not to anyone else.