Imagine, if you will, a typical day out to see your favorite baseball team. I’m not playing favorites, here, just put yourself into that scene. Think of the smells, the sights, the sounds. Picture the green field, the scent of freshly cut grass blending with all manner of unhealthy treats. Think about the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the drunken reverie of countless fans.
For some, it’s a chance to relax and take in the game. For others, a place to bond with friends and family. For others, still, it’s a chance to go and get crunked with nobody judging them. Whatever the case, though, the sport draws in millions across the globe.
In Japan, the sport has evolved to all-new levels, bringing the crowd into the experience in ways that go far beyond the occasional sing-along to Take Me Out to the Ballgame. As Otaku Journalist Lauren Orsini noted in her Japan travelogue, the sheer energy of the fandom itself has become a part of the ballpark experience. Dozens of elaborate cheers and fight songs ring out through the stadium, and teams like the historic Hanshin Tigers have special traditions for the seventh inning stretch. Teams even have their own cheering sections, which add music and more into the mix.
This energy isn’t limited to just the big leagues, of course. In particular, I’d like to take a look outside of the famed Nippon Professional Baseball league, toward the amateur circuit. Amateur leagues can be found across Japan, all of which are overseen by the Japan Amateur Baseball Association (JABA, for short).
Unlike the pros, where teams like the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and the Chunichi Dragons throw down for glory, many of the teams found in JABA member leagues are sponsored by corporations. Instead of being paid as players, the folks on the roster collect salaries as employees of their sponsoring companies. The teams square off in a highly competitive battle for supremacy, which ultimately comes to a head at the Intercity Baseball Tournament and the Industrial League National Tournament.
In the JABA, it’s not uncommon to see, say, JR Railways East squaring off against Mitsubishi Heavy Equipment at the Kyocera Dome.
Prominent amusement company Sega Sammy has their own baseball club in JABA, who calls the Tokyo Dome its home field. And it’s cheer squad, well, that’s something else!
The Sega Sammy cheer squad takes brings life to the field with spirited routines, set to songs from classic Sega properties, as well as popular films. With a marching band performing selections from Gamera, to Fist of the North Star, to even cult classic Space Channel Five, the team brings the rhythm to every game.
What makes things particularly charming, though, is what happens when Sega Sammy scores a run. Suddenly, the music stops, and the cheer squad rushes to the center of the area. The guys link arms, the girls get their pom poms ready to roll. Suddenly, a familiar trumpet trill rolls up, as the the men start waving flags emblazoned with the Sega Sammy team logo, and the women start a carefully choreographed routine. The men sway as they start to sing the lyrics to the iconic Sakura Wars theme song, Geki! Tekoku Kagekidan (Fight! Imperial Defense Troupe). Within moments, the entire crowd is joining in song , cheering on the Sega Sammy team. The melody echoes through the stadium as the words ring, clear as day.
“Run, fast as lightning, Sega Sammy baseball! Roar, electrifying Sega Sammy baseball!”
With a burst of confetti and a brassy finish, the song suddenly ends ,and the next cheer begins.
Sakura Wars begins at the 7:35 mark
It’s a fascinating sight to behold. Now, I’m going to be honest. I don’t know why the mascots are in the above video. I’m not sure why they’re just sitting and politely watching and clapping where appropriate. Still, their presence is delightfully fitting when discussing a cheer squad who performs to classic game and anime songs.
And, well, this brings me to a point. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m an utterly shameless Sakura Wars fangirl. I’ve invested far more time and energy into this franchise than I’m comfortable discussing at this point, and I will probably one day embarrass myself when I start belting out a tone-deaf rendition of Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan or Hanasaku Otome.
At the same time, I’ve argued until I was blue in the face that the franchise was a legitimate cultural phenomenon at its peak. In its salad days, Sakura Wars extended far beyond the typical otaku trappings. A Sakura Wars café maintained a permanent residence affixed to Sega’s Ikebukuro game center from 1998 to 2008, and numerous musicals delighted folks across the nation. The shows became sensations in their own right, going as far as to host sold-out crowds at the renowned Budokan arena in 2011.
That’s to say nothing of the video games from which Sakura Wars was born. The first game made its debut in 1996 on Sega’s Saturn console. The title shifted 360,000 copies in its first year of release, selling out completely within hours of being available on the market. From there the series would see four sequels, which took fans from the Saturn, to the Dreamcast, to the PlayStation 2.
That’s to say nothing of the spin-offs and quirky side-games that ranged from Columns reskins to games that traced the daily life of male lead Ichiro Ohgami, to gimmicky internet mail apps.
Still, I can’t help but feel that this small bit of baseball fun illustrates just how much Sakura Wars has ingrained itself in the cultural psyche of the nation. The fact that a crowd of tipsy fans, grown adults, and kids of all ages can come together and croon along to Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan as easily as a Sox fan would to Sweet Caroline speaks volumes.