Manga artist Shinji Mizushima, who channeled his love of baseball into manga series beloved by fans and gamers alike, died of pneumonia on January 10. He was 82 years old.
Mizushima is widely known for its long-running baseball manga series that involved real players in the action, including “Dokaben” and “Abu-san.”
He was born in Niigata Prefecture. After finishing junior high school, he began working at a fish wholesaler. At that time he entered a manga competition for new artists and received a prize.
Mizushima achieved a hit with his baseball manga series Otoko Do Aho Koshien, which was published in a weekly magazine starting in 1970.
He published 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 for baseball manga, which capitalized on the sport’s tremendous popularity in Japan.
His most famous manga, Dokaben, features numerous distinctive characters, including the protagonist Taro Yamada, a brawler and catcher with a powerful throwing arm.
The story unfolds on the protagonist’s high school baseball team and later shifts to professional baseball. It became a long-running sequel as it popularly incorporated real-life professional gamers and protagonists as characters in its other works.
The last part of “Dokaben”, the dream tournament series, was first published in a weekly magazine in 2012 and ended in 2018.
The talented manga artist had an uncanny vision in his works.
In “Dokaben,” a feared thug was intentionally kicked 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 exactly the same treatment while playing there during his high school years.
Commenting on the comic, Mizushima, looking back at a total of 205 volumes in the manga series and his 46 years with the company, said, “While 46 years is quite a long time, I didn’t feel like it. I enjoyed drawing my work every day surrounded by my characters.”
Another hugely popular work, Abu-san, tells the story of Yasutake Kageura, nicknamed Abu-san, who is a hard-drinking bar thug.
In the story, Abu-san starred as a member of the various Hawks teams as they have been known over the years: Nankai Hawks, Daiei Hawks, and Softbank Hawks.
When Abu-san ended his 37-year history baseball career in October 2009, his farewell ceremony was actually held at the Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka, where the Softbank team plays its home games.
Mizushima finished “Abu-san,” which lasted 41 years, in 2014.
Dokaben and Yakyukyo no Uta have been adapted for film and animation.
In 2002, seven bronze statues of his characters from Dokaben and other works were placed on a street in Niigata and garnered widespread popularity.
Mizushima received the Purple Ribbon Medal in 2005 and the Order of the Rising Sun, Golden Rays with Rosette from the government in 2014.
In December 2020 he announced his retirement as a cartoonist.
Not only did he work on his beloved manga characters, but he lived his passion for the game by managing an amateur baseball team and playing the sport.
He developed a deep relationship with leading figures in professional baseball.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, a former NPB standout and major league pitcher, was a fan of Mizushima’s manga and even appeared in it.
“I’ve been reading his manga ‘Dokaben’ since I was in school and to this day I can’t forget the joy of appearing as a character in the manga,” he said.
Matsuzaka recommended kids and coaches to read this manga.
ALSO A PIONEER IN WOMEN’S BASEBALL
Mizushima drew a manga depicting a pitcher who entered the male world of professional baseball half a century ago.
People associated with women’s baseball called him “A pioneer in 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 men’s professional ranks.
Machiko Takahashi, 85, who has spearheaded the women’s baseball movement in Japan, said she was “impressed” when she read the work.
Takahashi played in the women’s baseball world in the 1950s. She also started a refereeing job in her 40s. Now she is still going strong as a player and referee.
She has loved to play baseball since she was a child, but her family members would ask her, “Why does a girl play baseball?” She was considered a problematic girl.
She read the manga in adulthood and said, “I was very moved by his understanding of women’s baseball and his choice of women’s baseball as the subject of his manga.”
Upon hearing of Mizushima’s death, she said, “I’m really sorry. But I can’t help but thank him.”
Mitsuharu Hamamoto, 65, deputy director of the Japan High School Girls’ Baseball Federation, also enjoyed the manga when he was a student.
“The female protagonist was a rare character of a left-handed underhand pitcher, so I thought that might be possible in the real world,” he said.
Recently, women’s baseball teams have been formed and are sponsored by some NPB clubs, including the Yomiuri Giants.
Last year, the final of the Japan High School Girls’ Baseball Championship was held at Koshien Stadium for the first time.
“Mizushima was a pioneer in women’s baseball and had vision. When he drew the manga work, he already envisioned that female baseball players would become 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 at Heisei International University in Saitama Prefecture in 2007. When he started training there, the club only had four members. The number of club members has now grown to 25.
(This article was compiled from reports by Atsushi Ohara, Kenro Kuroda, Kazuhiko Matsunaga, and Shoichiro Inoue.)