All right, we have another cancelled Jump title so lets jump right into it. You can make the case that there has not been a truly definitive Baseball title yet. Tennis has Prince of Tennis, Football has Eyeshield 21, Soccer has Whistle, Basketball has two separate options in Slam Dunk or Kuroko’s Basketball, (Either will suffice) Volleyball has Haikyu, etc. For Baseball the top one would likely be Cross Game which was good to be sure but you can picture Baseball going even higher up. This one had a lot of potential and unfortunately it just didn’t last long enough. From the cancelled Jump titles I’ve read so far this would have to be one of the best so it’s a shame that it ended.
The series follows a kid named Azu who has always wanted to make it on the Baseball team. Unfortunately though he is rather scrawny and doesn’t really have the physique needed for the game. He trains his whole life and even leads his team to victory during tryouts but the coach explains that his team needs power and skill, not brains. It would appear that all is lost but that’s when Ryudo appears and asks Azu if he wants to be on a team with him. A girl named Karin shows up and says her school is even coming up with a team known as the 9 Dragons and they can use that to be the greatest in the world. Azu is reluctant but this may be the only way to achieve his dream. Can he dare hope for success?
Of course they’re going to need some more players since any Baseball team needs 9 players. Pretty much the whole series is spent on gathering these players. That seems to be part of why it was cancelled since it was moving slowly but it’s a shame since I actually liked the approach. I’ll go into my steps on how this series could have avoided being cancelled but I’m not really going to oppose the structure because I understand why you would want to have a slow burner approach.
There are two ways to doing this, 1 is to have the whole team already assembled and we learn about them as the series goes on and the other is to slowly build each one from the ground up. Ironically all of the big sport titles use option 1 while mostly it’s the action titles like Samurai 8 and One Piece that use the later option. Perhaps people feel like it doesn’t work for sports but the author was really putting a lot of care into each one of these characters until the end where you could see him starting to rush.
As far as Azu goes, I have to say that I was not a fan. My main gripe with him is how he’s reluctant to join the team with Karin and Ryudo. Why? His whole goal in life was to be on a Baseball team so it’s quite annoying to see him suddenly be hesitant and think that it’s not worth it. Who cares if they aren’t the best, at least it is a team right? Azu spends a lot of time grumbling in the opening chapters before actually getting on board. By that time he’s better but I just really didn’t like that as an intro for him.
I’ll give him props for working out and training nonstop to be Baseball ready at least. Even with that he can’t keep up with the others but dedication is certainly important. Then you have Ryudo and it’s no surprise that he’s more up my alley. Ryudo is an ace pitcher who is supremely confident and doesn’t let the odds get to him. When he has a goal he just completes it and always goes with the flow. He was all for starting this team right away and never looked back.
While Azu is the main character, you can also see Ryudo getting all of the screen time if the series had continued. At least it would be more like a Toriko dynamic going on here. Ryudo stays strong for the entire run and continues to grow even stronger. This is not a guy that you want to underestimate at any cost.
Then you have Karin who is effectively the coach of the team. It’s nice to see that she is also very dedicated to getting this team formed and all set up. She has more gusto than Azu and while she doesn’t play Baseball, she does try to learn so she can support the team a little better. Her backstory involving why she wants to form this team is emotional and all in all she’s just an inspiring character. I think she’ll do well as the coach.
The first member we meet is a guy named Tsurugi. He’s going to be the batter of the team but he retired to help his father mind the shop. Fortunately his skills have not deteriorated over time. He has a good rivalry going with Ryudo and is a really important member of the team. After all, you absolutely need to score Home Runs at the end of the day in order to win. The Runs won’t come by themselves.
Aside from Ryudo he’s my favorite member of the team. He balances well with the rest of the team. Then next you have Tsubaki who plays shortstop. This guy is supremely confident in his abilities and the only reason he isn’t already signed on to one of the established team is his attitude. The guy really ends up disagreeing with the refs and coaches to the point where he’s always being taken out of the ball game. The problem is that Tsubaki believes he is absolutely the best player ever and is always telling the others to worship him.
It’s an interesting enough gimmick but ultimately I wouldn’t say he’s as likable as the others. I do like confidence but when it’s overblown like this I feel like it loses a bit of its steam. He’ll certainly be a great asset to the Nine Dragons though since you know that the main characters will be able to handle him. Nobody’s going to stop their climb to the top.
Next up is Kido and he’s the final member to get his own story and full character arc. This guy’s a solid all around player who has never really stood out because he always played alongside a true all star. As a result every team passed him up and even Kido doesn’t think he’s all that good. Fortunately the heroes grab him and convince the guy to give their team a shot. I could see this guy being difficult to give a solid role in the future but all around characters definitely have their perks.
There isn’t a whole lot to Kido beyond just being a nice guy but sometimes that’s really the only trait that you need right? So at this point we’re around halfway through the series or maybe over it so I guess someone told the author to speed things along. Right now we’re at 5 members and we still need 4 more. Well, two guys show up out of nowhere and ask to be on the team. You’ve got Taiga who is the self proclaimed rival of Tsurugi. The guy doesn’t remember Taiga but that’s fine. Taiga seems confident but doesn’t really get a chance to do anything in the series.
Accompanying Taiga is a kid named Horaguchi who is the small & nimble member of the group. He is scared of everyone and everything though. He only trusts Taiga and otherwise he really just keeps to himself. I can see this guy getting annoying pretty fast but he also doesn’t have a chance to do much of anything. The final two spots are filled out by characters off screen who don’t get any real dialogue. Something tells me if the series ever returns with a sequel or something that they’ll be cut. Even their designs don’t feel like real designs and just background characters.
The series is able to introduce two villains before it ended. First up is Shiro who is the son of the principal from the top ranked school. The entire dynamic is ripped straight from Assassination Classroom. It’s a good dynamic though so I’m all for it. Shiro doesn’t get to do a whole lot yet but he has a brief scrimmage against Tsurugi and absolutely dominates the guy. It was a humbling moment for the team since they had seemed to be all but unbeatable prior to that. It just goes to show that there is always someone better. I think Shiro would definitely have ended up being one of the best characters in the series.
Finally you have Hibuse who calls himself the Star of the universe. So he’s another confident character but one who can back it up. Not only is he the star player on every sports team that he has ever been on but he wins the Baseball games almost single handily. If you know anything about Baseball you know that it’s a team sport so it’s hard to win on your own. The game is built in a way where that should pretty much be impossible and yet he pulls it off.
At first it may be easy to write him off as just another villain but what sealed the deal for me was when we learned that he was also the top strategist on the team. The guy acts all cocky to get his opponents to lower their guard and then he slams them. It was a really impressive performance and I actually ended up picking him as my favorite character in the series. He just dominates whenever he is on screen and I’d look forward to seeing him again in a rematch if the series were to continue.
So that’s the character roster for Nine Dragons. It’s a pretty solid cast and one benefit of the slow boil approach is that most of them already had well defined character personalities and a good amount of screen time. We also did get some Baseball action during the recruitment whether it was a 1 on 1 scrimmage or a full game.
The art is pretty solid and so you’re able to get drawn into the actual Baseball games right away. There are a lot of good speed lines and the author did his best to really give this the same intensity as something like Prince of Tennis. It nails down the concept of a Baseball game which is really good. If there weren’t so many breaks I’d be a much bigger fan of the sport myself and of course for a manga that would definitely not be an issue as we see here. The main pitch is even drawn like a Special Beam Cannon.
We do get a rather random time skip for those final two characters I mentioned but as I can see why it happened to move things along. I wouldn’t advise the series do this too often while it’s early on in the series though since you’ll miss a lot of big character moments. If there was pressure to do it though then that’s fine. As it is, it’s not like any of the characters changed in this instance. Perhaps it was purely because there was no tournament for a while and they didn’t want to waste time on a training arc. (That would definitely not have gone over well this early in the series)
The Baseball games are interesting and of course I’ve always enjoyed sport manga titles so I’m not really surprised. The writing is on point and this is really a title that had a lot of potential. Honestly this may be the one that I’m saddest to see get cancelled. It’s close with this and Candy Flurry since of course I love action as well but this would have really had a ton of potential if it could have been a full ongoing. All of the proper fundamentals were there.
So, how would I have kept this one from being cancelled? Well, this one is trickier than the rest. I think I would change the character perspective from Azu to Ryudo. Keep Azu as the main character of the first chapter similar to Manta in Shaman King but then have Ryudo take over when he shows up. He’s a much more dynamic main character and personally I prefer that character type over the analytical ones. Azu does well with his studying but as a lead he just isn’t as charismatic.
I also think there will be less ways to show off the planning and such as the game goes on while with the pitcher there is a whole lot you can do. Especially with the art direction here, making the pitches look more and more intense won’t be too hard. So definitely make him the lead and we’re in business. Again, you could change the slow burner approach to just having all of the characters there from the start and maybe introducing them via flashbacks but I wasn’t opposed to this tactic.
The other option is you could add some more stakes. Not sure you really need this in a sports title but maybe Ryudo’s parents were kidnapped and he has to win Koshien within 3 years or it’s game over for them. It may feel kind of forced but that would add immediate tension into the mix. It may be hard to do that without changing Ryudo’s character though since he probably wouldn’t be nearly as laidback anymore.
Ah well, ultimately the series just didn’t work out which is too bad. It really had quite a bit of potential. They can’t all be winner but at least this is a title that I’ll definitely remember. Who knows, maybe somehow it will return someday. Personally it’s hard to picture any of these coming back when they get cancelled so soon but you never know I suppose. In the meantime we’ll see if another Baseball title comes into play at some point or if that’s it for them for a long while.
Overall, If you like Baseball then you will definitely like this series. It’s a very basic, down to Earth story about a group of teens putting together a team to be the very best. There isn’t a whole lot of time for much else though so if you’re looking for a full season’s journey then this won’t be for you. Due to how quickly it got cancelled, the series also ends on a pretty direct cliffhanger so you will have to use your imagination to decide how it ends. Suffice to say, I have to put Shiro as the world champion for this year because it’s hard to see him being stopped.