Taishou Yakyuu Musume is pretty clearly a seinen work (by the publication the light novel ran in if nothing else) but its rather unusual time period of the Taishou era, a sort of transitory era between the Meiji and Shouwa (aka Hirohito) eras, sets it up to deal with historical issues not frequently directly tread by anime and its related indicia to my knowledge. This makes Taishou Yakyuu Musume an interesting period piece in a medium (or genre; I can never tell when it comes to anime) that does not normally tread historical ground unless it also involves samurai and/or ninja and/or people dying in large numbers. (I am positive that there are far more manga that do this, but historical manga of any kind, set within or without of Japan, seem to be a fairly rare beast, so feel free to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am, in this or in any other matter to be discussed henceforth in this post)
Since I’m pretty sure that the girls in Taishou Yakyuu Musume are not going to be shipping off in military uniform for war (if you want to see anime deal with that, I heartily suggest not watching Raimuiro Senkitan), the focus remains on the domestic culture of Japan, which in and of itself is a fascinating thing. After Commodore Perry and Millard Fillmore (President #13 and belongs to the Presidents With Great Names club) essentially beat Japan’s closed-door policy between 1852-55 with a big stick that would have made dear Teddy jealous, the influx of Western ideas captivated Japan as a whole and catapulted them straight from a feudal economy into the industrial age. This resulted in a rather hodgepodge cultural mix of Japanese and Western cultures and involved people dressing awkwardly like this:
The period of social upheaval lasted more or less from the restoration of power from the shogunate to the Emperor with the Meiji Restoration in 1867 to the end of World War II and the signing of the peace treaty between the US and Japan in 1945. It is a hotbed of military action (a major war with Russia and the invasion of China being the major bits), but also great cultural change: Japan increasingly created arguments in favor of “leaving Asia” and joining the West as an equal and not as a “backwards” country. Loosely boiled down, the “leaving Asia” arguments (the most famous one being Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Datsu-A Ron) claimed that Japan was better than the rest of East Asia and should “leave” it and its cultural traditions behind and embrace the growing current of Westernization occurring at the time. Hence the rise of the cultural conflict between traditional Japanese values and modern Westernized values (see above picture) that persists to this day.
You may be asking yourself “but what does all this boring history junk have to do with cute girls playing baseball in the Taishou era?” The answer is:
Along with the fashion and factories and other physical manifestations of “Western civilization” that came to Japan after Perry’s arrival came ideas of Western origin. Of particular note is that the early phases of the suffragette movement (think Senaca Falls) occur during this time, and Japan, too, begins to have the early flowerings of a feminist movement. The establishment of all-girl academies gave burgeoning young girls empowerment between obeisance to the family and obeisance to the husband; couple that with the introduction of the soon-to-be-ubiquitous sailor uniform and the eventual (and equally ubiquitous) male fascination with the empowered schoolgirl, or shoujobyou (“girl disease”) is somewhat inevitable, or at least understandable. However, this post is not about shoujobyou as most likely everyone reading this is quite familiar with the concept in a practical, if not necessarily theoretical, level, and therefore we can save this for later.
Taishou Yakyuu Musume‘s 1925 setting places it square in the middle of the popularity of Class S, a genre of literature primarily concerned with the relationships between young women. The exact nature of Class S is rather difficult to pin down, as I’ve yet to read an actual example (Nobuko Takuya was the most popular and influential Class S author, and I’ve yet to see even one of her short stories translated to English and I daren’t try my Japanese reading skills on them). The closest that seems to get to Class S in a modern context is Maria-sama ga Miteru, which features heavy use of the Class S style; indeed, complaints I’ve heard about Marimite about “thespian lesbians” seem to corroborate this, especially considering that Class S grew out of the Takarazuka Revue, an all-girl theater troupe reputed for performing (you know, in case you were wondering why all the boys in shoujo manga tend to look, well, really feminine).
To make the point rather blunt: the Takarazuka Revue and Class S (both of which are nearly coincident with one another) essentially serve as the birth of what would, after the Year 24 Group came about (Riyoko Ikeda, Moto Hagio, and Keiko Takemiya, to name a few), to be known in manga parlance as yuri. The fundamentals of yuri’s appeal to many–purity of feelings, a sense of tranquil nobility, and perhaps the occasional Platonic love/lust–stretch back to the early 20th century. (Astute readers will also note that the Roaring Twenties and the flappers are in full steam in places that are not Japan and are in fact America)
Class S relationships actually existed, of course; they were quite common and looked upon as simply another part of a girl becoming a woman. A first crush being another girl was considered a healthy, safe first taste of love and even something to be desired in a child–of course (this is Japan and this is the early 1900s), as long as it was both transitory and nonsexual. Some of the Class S relationships did extend beyond the adolescent phase, of course, and eventually, with the banning of Class S literature and the growth of the co-educational school, the Class S culture was driven somewhat underground, to resurface later in the 70s. Still, Class S and all that stems from it–however vast that might be–captures and idealizes (in some way) the feelings of these relationships.
What does this all really have to do with Taishou Yakyuu Musume? Well, not a lot right now, except that the first episode made me go “that’s so Class S” and subsequently want to (badly) write the above. Due to the time period I expect the nature of the series to tend more towards a Class S mentality than a modern one (sorry, no Candy Boy for you), although I don’t quite see it (yet) as a primarily yuri work. I also can’t really tell if it’s going to tend more towards the shoujo or the shoujobyou side of things. All I know is, as long as it retains the general feeling of the first episode, tending to whichever direction it pleases, I’ll probably be fine with it.