In the span of one month, I finished three iterations of Touch: the live-action movie (2005), the animated compilation movies (1986-1987), and finally the manga. What a ride. I have a whirlwind of thoughts, mostly on Uesugi Kazuya, and I will try to make sense of them below.
Spoilers will be unmarked.
When I first watched the Touch movies, Kazuya was not much more than a twin: well-kept, studious, an ace pitcher and a foil to Tatsuya. In the manga, however, his increased interactions with Tatsuya and Minami fleshed out his character. It hinted at something underneath the facade of perfection. It hinted at something that instantly endears me to a story–juicy angst. His arc is easily my favourite part of the manga.
The central love triangle in Touch is famous: Kazuya likes Minami, and the town treats them as a couple who will eventually marry. Yet, Minami likes his twin Tatsuya. Tatsuya, for his part, tries his hardest to deny this, and to keep out of Kazuya’s and Minami’s way.
The heartbreaking part is that Kazuya knows where Minami’s heart belongs.
He can be a paragon of perfection: top of the class in grades, a well-behaved kid, the ace pitcher on whom the entire school relies to pitch them to the National Championships. But none of that matters where his love is concerned. This is made painfully clear in the first arc, where Minami first kisses Tatsuya on the lips, then tells him that after Kazuya fulfills one of her dreams by taking her to the National Championships, she wants Tatsuya to fulfill her other, more ordinary dream.
Kazuya knows where Minami’s heart belongs, and he knows that no amount of perfection will change that.
As the first arc progresses, Kazuya’s mild-mannered facade cracks, hinting at a building desperation. On one occasion, he (half-)jokes to Tatsuya about betting on Minami as the prize for their poker game, before Minami slaps the cards out of their hands. On the eve of their final game before the Nationals, he brings Minami aside, and declares to her that if they win the next game he will ask her father for her hand in marriage (despite them being only 16!) and then demanding a kiss (fortunately he only goes for the forehead). The entire scene, from the moment Kazuya remarks that Minami is never at ease with him, is tense and uncomfortable.
To cap off the tragedy, Kazuya never gets any redemption or resolution, being killed off the next day to sow the seeds for his brother’s story. He is condemned to forever writhe in the agony of unresolved angst.
Eye candy or strong female character? It seems like the author is trying to have his cake and eat it too. On one hand, she has her own agency: doing her part in making her childhood dream come true by contributing to the baseball team as their manager, and then working hard to refine her own talents as a rhythmic gymnast, even winning the National Championships in gymnastics. On the other hand, the author draws voyeuristic shots up her skirt and of her changing. (Note: this unfortunately seems to be a common recurrence in Mix and Cross Game too).
What is the goal of the story after Kazuya’s death?
The live-action movie framed it as “Tatsuya trying to live up to Kazuya”, and worked for the most part. Their mother is against Tatsuya joining baseball because she thinks he should live his life. Tatsuya himself grapples with the responsibilities of the ace pitcher, quitting and rejoining, before finally accepting his role. However, given that he is shown to “channel” Kazuya in the final pitch, I’m not sure if he finally achieved peace by playing baseball on his own terms.
The compilation movies and the manga introduced a variety of characters and subplots, from the rivalry with Nitta to the (somewhat excessive) drama with the borderline abusive coach. The draw of this part was definitely the thrill inherent in sports, with the matches feeling high-stakes and each pitch and at-bat causing my eyes to be glued to the screen. Underneath it all is Tatsuya gradually becoming part of the team and stepping out of his brother’s shadow, but the process is so low-key that you can hardly call it a conflict. Overall, Adachi succeeded here by combining the drama of youth and the thrill inherent in sports.