THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
January 18, 2022 at 19:20 JST
Manga artist Shinji Mizushima, who parlayed his love of baseball into manga series that were beloved by fans and the players alike, died of pneumonia on Jan. 10. He was 82.
Mizushima is widely known for his long-running baseball manga series that included actual players in the action, including “Dokaben” and “Abu-san.”
He was born in Niigata Prefecture. After he finished junior high school, he started to work at a seafood wholesaler. At that time, he entered a manga competition for new artists and received a prize.
Mizushima scored a hit with his baseball manga series “Otoko Do Aho Koshien,” which began to be carried in a weekly magazine from 1970.
He released the baseball manga series “Yakyukyo no Uta” and “Dokaben” in 1972 and another new series, “Abu-san,” in 1973.
Such works opened up a new horizon in baseball manga, which capitalized on the huge popularity of the sport in Japan.
His most famous manga, “Dokaben,” depicts numerous distinctive characters, including the protagonist Taro Yamada, a slugger and a catcher with a strong throwing arm.
The story unfolds from the protagonist’s high school baseball team and later shifts to professional baseball. It became a long-running sequel as that popularly incorporated real professional players and protagonists in his other works as characters.
The final part of “Dokaben,” called the dream tournament series, was first released in a weekly magazine in 2012 and ended its run in 2018.
The talented manga artist had uncanny foresight in his works.
In “Dokaben,” a feared slugger was walked intentionally five consecutive times at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
Later, future Nippon Professional Baseball and major league star Hideki Matsui experienced the exact same treatment when he played there during his high school days.
When Mizushima looked back on a total of 205 volumes of the manga series and his 46 years in the undertaking, he commented on the comic, “The 46 years are a pretty long time, indeed, but I did not feel that way. I was enjoying drawing my works every day, surrounded by my characters.”
Another hugely popular work, “Abu-san,” depicts the story of Yasutake Kageura, nicknamed “Abu-san,” who is a hard-drinking pinch hitter.
In the story, Abu-san played as a member of the various Hawks teams as they were known over the years: the Nankai Hawks, Daiei Hawks and Softbank Hawks.
When Abu-san ended his 37-year baseball career in the story in October 2009, his retirement ceremony was actually held at Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka where the Softbank team plays its home games.
Mizushima finished “Abu-san,” which continued for 41 years, in 2014.
“Dokaben” and “Yakyukyo no Uta” were adapted to movies and animation.
In 2002, seven bronze statues of his characters from “Dokaben” and other works were installed on a street in Niigata, attracting huge popularity.
Mizushima received the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2005 and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in 2014 from the government.
In December 2020, he announced his retirement as a cartoonist.
He not only worked on his beloved manga characters, but lived his passion for the game by leading an amateur baseball team and playing the sport.
He built a deep relationship with leading figures associated with professional baseball.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, a former standout NPB and major league pitcher, was a fan of Mizushima’s manga and even appeared in it.
“I had been reading his manga ‘Dokaben’ since my school years, and I cannot forget the joy when I appeared in the manga as a character, even now,” he said.
Matsuzaka recommended that children and coaches read this manga.
ALSO A PIONEER IN WOMEN’S BASEBALL
Mizushima drew a manga depicting a female pitcher who entered the men-only world of professional baseball a half-century ago.
People associated with women’s baseball called him, “A pioneer in women’s baseball.”
His manga series “Yakyukyo no Uta,” which started in 1972, was the success story of female pitcher Yuki Mizuhara who broke the gender barrier in the men’s professional ranks.
Machiko Takahashi, 85, who has led the women’s baseball movement in Japan, said that she was “impressed” when she read the work.
Takahashi played in the women’s corporate baseball world in the 1950s. She also started an umpiring job in her 40s. Now, she still continues strong as a player and an umpire.
She has loved playing baseball since childhood, but her family members asked her, “Why does a girl play baseball?” She was seen as a troublesome girl.
She read the manga during adulthood and said, “I was greatly moved by his understanding of women’s baseball and choosing women’s baseball as a theme of his manga.”
When she heard of Mizushima’s death, she said, “I am truly sorry. But I cannot help but thank him.”
Mitsuharu Hamamoto, 65, representative director of the Japan High School Girls’ Baseball Federation, also enjoyed the manga when he was a student in school.
“The female protagonist was a rare character of a left-handed under-hand pitcher, so I thought this could be possible in the real world,” he said.
Women’s baseball teams, supported by some NPB clubs including the Yomiuri Giants, have been recently established.
Last year, the Japan High School Girls’ Baseball Championship’s final game was held in Koshien Stadium for the first time.
“Mizushima was a pioneer in women’s baseball and had foresight. When he drew the manga work, he has already imagined that female baseball players would do great in the future,” Hamamoto said. “I respect him from the bottom of my heart.”
Hamamoto became the head coach of the women’s baseball club of Heisei International University in Saitama Prefecture in 2007. When he started coaching there, the club had just four members. But the number of club members has now increased to 25.
(This article was compiled from reports by Atsushi Ohara, Kenro Kuroda, Kazuhiko Matsunaga and Shoichiro Inoue.)
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