Baseball manga pioneer Shinji Mizushima dies at 82

Manga artist Shinji Mizushima, who turned his love of baseball into manga series beloved by fans and gamers, died of pneumonia on January 10. He was 82 years old.

Mizushima is widely known for its long-running baseball manga series which featured real players in action, including “Dokaben” and “Abu-san”.

He was born in Niigata Prefecture. After finishing college, he started working at a seafood wholesaler. Around this time, he entered a manga contest for new artists and received a prize.

Mizushima scored a hit with his baseball manga series “Otoko Do Aho Koshien”, which started running 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 broke new ground in baseball manga, which capitalized on the sport’s enormous popularity in Japan.

His most famous manga, “Dokaben”, depicts many distinctive characters, including protagonist Taro Yamada, a puncher and catcher with a powerful throwing arm.

The story takes place on the protagonist’s high school baseball team and later switches to professional baseball. It became a long-running sequel as it incorporated real professional gamers and protagonists into its other works as characters.

The last part of “Dokaben”, called the dream tournament series, was first published in a weekly magazine in 2012 and ended in 2018.

The talented manga artist had amazing foresight in his works.

In “Dokaben”, a dreaded puncher was intentionally walked five times in a row at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Later, future Nippon Professional Baseball and major league star Hideki Matsui received 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 business, he commented on the comic, “46 years is quite a long time, indeed, but I didn’t felt that. I took pleasure in 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 heavy-drinking 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 historic 37-year baseball career in October 2009, his retirement ceremony actually took place at the Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka where the Softbank team plays its home games.

Mizushima completed “Abu-san”, which ran for 41 years, in 2014.

“Dokaben” and “Yakyukyo no Uta” have been adapted for film and animation.

In 2002, seven bronze statues of his “Dokaben” characters and other works were installed on a street in Niigata, attracting huge popularity.

Mizushima was awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2005 and the Order of the Rising Sun, Golden 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 has built a deep relationship with figures associated with professional baseball.

Former NPB and major league standout pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was a fan of the Mizushima manga and even appeared in it.

“I had been reading his ‘Dokaben’ manga since my school days, and I can’t forget the joy when I appeared in the manga as a character even now,” he said.

Matsuzaka recommended children and coaches to read this manga.

ALSO A PIONEER OF WOMEN’S BASEBALL

Mizushima drew a manga depicting a female pitcher who entered the men’s world of professional baseball half a century ago.

People associated with women’s baseball called her “a pioneer of women’s baseball.”

His “Yakyukyo no Uta” manga series, which began in 1972, was the success story of pitcher Yuki Mizuhara who broke the gender barrier in the male professional ranks.

Machiko Takahashi, 85, who led the women’s baseball movement in Japan, said she was “impressed” when she read the book.

Takahashi played in women’s corporate baseball in the 1950s. She also began work as an umpire in her 40s. Now she is still going strong as a player and referee.

She loves to play baseball since childhood, but her family members asked her, “Why does a girl play baseball?” She was considered a troublesome girl.

She read the manga as an adult and said, “I was very moved by her understanding of women’s baseball and choosing women’s baseball as the subject of her manga.”

When she learned of Mizushima’s death, she said, “I’m so sorry. But I can’t help thanking him.

Mitsuharu Hamamoto, 65, the representative director of the Japan High School Girls’ Baseball Federation, also enjoyed manga when he was a student at the school.

“The female protagonist was a rare left-handed pitcher character, so I thought it might be possible in the real world,” he said.

Women’s baseball teams, supported by some NPB clubs, including the Yomiuri Giants, have recently been established.

Last year, the final game of the Japanese High School Girls’ Baseball Championship was held at Koshien Stadium for the first time.

“Mizushima was a pioneer in women’s baseball and had foresight. When he drew the manga, he already imagined that female baseball players would do very well in the future,” Hamamoto said. “I respect him from the bottom of my heart.”

Hamamoto became the head coach of Heisei International University Women’s Baseball Club in Saitama Prefecture in 2007. When he started coaching there, the club had only four members. But the membership of the club has now risen to 25.

(This article was compiled from reports by Atsushi Ohara, Kenro Kuroda, Kazuhiko Matsunaga, and Shoichiro Inoue.)

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