Ichiro talks about ‘Captain’

"Back in elementary school, I was deeply moved by this story. It was all I thought about."

Interview and text by Yuta Ishida
Published in Playboy (Japan), Vol. 37, No. 34, September 17, 2002, Shueisha

When asked "which manga influenced you the most?", Ichiro answers without hesitating. He names a timeless masterpiece. The main characters are ordinary baseball-loving kids. That's right... it's that manga we all loved: 'Captain'

Ichiro wasn't always a superstar. Today he competes for the batting title in the big leagues, but he started out as a baseball-loving kid just like anybody else.

'Captain' is a classic baseball manga by the late manga artist Akio Chiba. It's a story about junior high school kids on an average baseball team. They work extremely hard toward their goal of competing with powerhouse baseball teams. 'Captain' is a long-form manga that depicts four captains of the baseball team at Sumiya Junior High School No. 2.

Ichiro: "I was in elementary school when I first heard about 'Captain.' To give you an idea of how influential it is...

I showed it to a friend, and soon after that he  joined the baseball team. The story moved me deeply. I first saw the part about Captain Taniguchi."

Takao Taniguchi, the main character, was a reserve player on the second team at baseball powerhouse Aoba Gakuin. But he transfers to Sumiya Junior High School No. 2 in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo. He joins the baseball team hoping to get playing time and enjoy the game. But Taniguchi shows up at the first practice wearing his old Aoba uniform, and his new teammates assume he was the starting third baseman on that championship team. Taniguchi tries to clear up the misunderstanding, but he fails. The whole school starts having unrealistically high expectations of him. But Taniguchi decides to keep practicing. He's determined to be as good as the starting players at Aoba. In his third year of junior high, he's playing third base and batting fourth. He's also named captain of the team.

Ichiro: "There's a scene where Taniguchi is now the captain and is leading the team through rigorous fielding drills. Since Taniguchi is the one hitting the ball, he's never on the receiving end of the drills. The other players start to get fed up. One of them says: "Let's protest." Naturally, Igarashi doesn't join them. He says something like: "Why would you do something like that? That's dumb." When the players go to Tanuguchi's home, his mother says he went to the shrine. The players say: "He probably went there to pray for a win against Aoba Gakuin," but Taniguchi actually went there to train, since he didn't have a chance to work on his fielding during team practice. He's at the shrine, drilling himself even harder than he trained his teammates. From afar, the teammates see him doing this. They start to feel foolish. One by one, they go home. Igarashi sees this and says to himself: "This is how a captain leads and motivates everyone." The way people are when no one is watching them - that has a strong influence on the team, even more than what they do on the field. I love this manga because it has many scenes that illustrate this. If I was in that situation, I wouldn't have joined the players in protest. I would have gone to check on them covertly, like Igarashi did. But I wouldn't have been talking to myself (laughs)."

Igarashi is a new member of the Sumiya baseball team. He is Ichiro's favorite player. Igarashi is short and looks like a monkey, but he astounds the older players on the team with his sharp hitting skills. However, Taniguchi isn't sure whether to play Igarashi. Sumiya has an unwritten rule that new members can't play in games until the fall [the second half of the school year in Japan], to give them time to grow accustomed to playing junior high ball. The situation is compounded by the fact that Igarashi doesn't hold back with his opinions, and the older players don't like his attitude.

Ichiro: "All of the characters are unique and each one is intriguing, but I think the one who's most like me is Igarashi. His face looks like mine, and the way he is cheeky towards upperclassmen, that's just like me (laughs). I was in a similar situation. In elementary school, players couldn't appear in games until 3rd grade. But I faked my name and played in games as a 1st grader. If I used my real name, I would be caught, so I used an older student's name and appeared in games."

On his path to major league stardom, Ichiro trained extremely hard, just like Taniguchi. That's a big part of why Ichiro relates to 'Captain' so strongly.
Ichiro was a schoolboy who loved 'Captain.' How is he different today? And how is he the same?

Ichiro: "Junior high was the first time I met a real manager. Before that, I had this impression that managers of school teams just want to mold every kid into their own personal ideal. So back then, I refused to listen. But now, I first listen to what people have to say. Then I decide what makes sense for me and what doesn't. So I've changed a lot in that way. How am I the same? Well, if someone tells me to do something and I don't agree with the reasoning, I still rebel. I'll go right up against them. After all, I'm just like Igarashi (laughs)."

(Encoding may need to be changed to Japanese (Shift_JIS))

No comments:

Post a Comment