So it turns out that I just got done looking up all the Japanese words I didn’t know in the first episode of Yowakutemo Katemasu (弱くても勝てます), and just today, we got English subtitles! Well, at least I don’t have to rely on my shaky knowledge of Japanese grammar to bring you the start of this fine new drama.

Yowakutemo Katemasu features Ninomiya Kazunari-kun as Tamo Aoshi, who ends up back at this old school as a temporary teacher. The private school is top-notch in terms of academics, but it’s a disgrace when it comes to Aoshi’s real passion – baseball:

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The cast is quite an illustrious assembly of young male actors to stock the hapless baseball team that Aoshi will become the manager of. Hongo Kanata-kun has worked with Ninomiya-kun before, in Gantz. Nakajima Yuto-kun is fresh off of a huge boost to his career in Hanzawa Naoki. Fukushi Sota-kun is the student-lead, and he’s best known from Kamen Rider. Last time I saw Yamazaki Kento-kun in a drama, it was Kuro no Onna Kyoshi. Aside from a brief guest appearance on Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou , I haven’t seen Sakurada Dori-kun recently, but his name pops up pretty frequently. Anyway, you get the picture. With such a cast, I guess the only question is how the plot will shape up.

The story begins with Aoshi working at a research lab, where the lead professor’s research has come under suspicion for plagiarism (or is it falsifying data?). As a result, the lab’s grant has been frozen and the place has to basically close its doors.

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So, Aoshi has to find something else to do, which is what leads him back to his alma mater. Once there, he walks by the baseball field and picks up a ball that is rolling toward him. He’s unwilling to toss it back, though, and instead walks to the team members to hand it to them.

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The baseball team seems to be short on members, and Aoshi’s trousers seem to be short on length, but that’s neither here nor there. The really interesting point of this scene is the fact that the baseball team’s red-clad coach’s assistant addresses him as “senpai” – clearly recognizing him as a former member of the team.

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That leaves him puzzled, but he plunges on to the principal’s office, where he notes it’s strange to see girls at the school. Apparently, it just went co-ed, so there are only a few of them.

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The principal actually asked for Aoshi’s help, and since Aoshi was free for a year, here he is. Aoshi says he’s prepared to do anything, but when the principal brings up becoming the manager of the baseball team, Aoshi closes the window on the idea.

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Aoshi introduces himself to the school and I have to believe that Ninomiya-kun took special delight in playing out this scene. Aoshi outright says that he’s only here because his lab closed down, and then tells the students that even if they get into Tokyo University (where he went, and the gold standard), they can end up unemployed in a flash. It goes on, but the beauty of the scene is not only in what he says, but the blatant way he says it.

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Arriving at his homeroom class, Aoshi finds Ebato (Yamazaki Kento) and Shirao (Nakajima Yuto) trying to convince Akaiwa (Fukushi Sota) to rejoin the baseball club. Ebato and Shirao want to prepare for a match against Dougaku, but Akaiwa contends that Dougaku trains ten times as much, so it’s hopeless. They don’t really have a good response to that.

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After writing his name on the board, Aoshi says he wants to keep things smooth for them this year, and that means dealing with problems as soon as they surface. The first problem he identifies is Akaiwa, whose unwillingness to rejoin the baseball club is creating such a fuss in the room because the captain of the club (Ebato), its star player (Shirao), and its coach’s assistant (Tarumi played by Arimura Kasumi) are all in the room. Aoshi wants to see this resolved, but he doesn’t specify how.

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He does, however, decide to take a closer look at the team, and in the process meets their hapless current manager, Masumoto (Arakawa Yoshiyoshi). Masumoto usually just leaves the students to their own devices and doesn’t seriously think of himself as a manager.

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The team has gained two members, but that still leaves them with only six. Aoshi brings up the fact that his students were talking about preparing for the match with Dougaku (Doutou Academy), but Masumoto says that the principal already decided to suspend the match based on the fact that the Joutoku team doesn’t have enough players.

Masumoto recalls that Aoshi is a former member of the team, so he assembles everyone to get Aoshi’s advice. Out of all things, Aoshi wonders why they’re so quiet during practice and in a hilariously embarrassing sequence, he teaches them how to say “don’t mind” when someone makes a mistake to be supportive. And to say “hai” when acknowledging something instead of just standing silent. It’s almost like he’s dealing with cavemen, and you can see it in the grimace on his face.

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Still, you can tell he’s interested.

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Tarumi continues to throw curveballs at Aoshi, calling him Aoshi-kun.

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And that reminds him of someone else who always calls him Aoshi-kun:

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He hasn’t been to this store in twelve years – since he graduated – but its owner sure remembers him. She fawns over him as if he was a star.

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We didn’t even get a proper introduction before the baseball team flooded into the scene. This is the traditional place for the team to get its food after practice, and that hasn’t changed since Aoshi was a student.

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We eventually find out that the man hanging out at the restaurant is Akaiwa’s father, but that Akaiwa hasn’t been back home in a while. For some reason, Akaiwa is carrying his belongings with him and living wherever he can find a place to stay.

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Staying in an apartment rented out by the restaurant owner, Aoshi finds out that the owner is Tarumi Kaede (Yakushimaru Hiroko), student Tarumi’s mother. In fact, when Tarumi was little, Aoshi played catch with her – he didn’t recognize her because she’s grown up so much in the past twelve years, but she remembered him.

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Tarumi the younger reveals that Akaiwa is running away from baseball because last year, in the match with Dougaku, the opposing team deliberately aimed at his position, seeing that he was especially weak at fielding the ball. As a result, Joutoku couldn’t get a single out before the game had to be called. Tarumi the elder thinks that Aoshi is the right person to talk to Akaiwa because the two of them ran from baseball for similar reasons.

Aoshi takes this to heart remarkably quickly. The character is clearly a quick learner who knows when not to be stubborn.

So, early into the episode though it is, we have the outline of what needs to be answered. Can they get new members for the baseball team so that they can play Dougaku? How will they do in that match if they get it? And most importantly, can Aoshi bring Akaiwa back into the team?

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The first step is telling Akaiwa the story of what happened twelve years ago.

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It still affects him deeply.

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By the way, the entire scene between Aoshi and Akaiwa was brilliantly crafted and acted.

Aoshi meets high school baseball reporter Tone Riko (Aso Kumiko), who’s apparently supposed to be the female lead in this series.

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Tarumi and Ebato drag Aoshi to speak to her as if he was their manager (he still hasn’t accepted that role formally, but it’s only a matter of time), and he is as flippant with her as you might expect.

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She gets his attention, though, by saying she’s going to interview Dougaku right after this interview with him. He decides to tag along with her.

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In a very interesting way, Aoshi aims to cast a gauntlet down – challenging the Dougaku manager directly and making his feelings clear. Though it’s a completely futile gestures for Joutoku to play against Dougaku, and baseball is a waste of time for the academically-inclined students of Joutoku, Aoshi wants to win.

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And that’s the natural point to break off the synopsis. The remaining half of the episode is about how they deal with the conflicts that have already been laid down.

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But I would be remiss in not discussing their attempts to get two new members.

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The scene where they get Kamezawa Junichi (Hongo Kanata) was of particular note because of Hongo-kun’s extraordinarily eccentric performance, as well as the complementary one from Ninomiya-kun.

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I enjoyed Aoshi’s reasoning in the dash scene, as well.

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But I’ll definitely leave the rest of the details out for your enjoyment.

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This was an excellent first episode for this drama, and it was driven by some memorable scenes. There were slow bits, but the humorous and clever scenes left a lasting impression.

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The acting from Ninomiya-kun was top-notch, and Aoshi is already a very sophisticated character. While he’s reluctant to get back into baseball, it’s clear that he’s drawn to it and that leaving was one of his great regrets. He’s also very impulsive, which we see in his intro speech, the way he takes on the Akaiwa issue, and his decision to go over to Dougaku with Tone.

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But he wasn’t alone – the whole cast did a great job. Fukushi Sota-kun brings a sense of gravitas to the otherwise humorous team. Arimura-san was a delight, as her character has a lot of spark and I hope that she doesn’t lose that. The rest of the team mainly served to contribute color and humor, including some over-the-top moments (like with Tarumi’s stalker).

Plot-wise, I appreciated that they had more than one conflict going in this episode and the writers resolved things in a way that was consistent with the reality they set up at the start. They took their time with the scenes, but while the pace was moderate, it helped the verisimilitude.

I thought the ending was brilliant. It was a wonderful ending. I refuse to say anything more about it, though.

The real test will be to see what they do with the series going forward, and I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.