This title is clickbait. Touch is not the forgotten king of sports anime/manga, in Japan anyway. Touch has sold 100 million copies. To put that in perspective, in 6 years and 26 volumes – Touch has sold more than Hajime no Ippo (132 volumes), Kingdom (62 volumes), and Fullmetal Alchemist (27 volumes). Touch has sold close to as many copies as series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (131 volumes), Fist of the North Star (27 volumes), and Shingeki no Kyojin (32 volumes). Beyond the manga, we have an anime adaptation, 3 theatrical releases, OVA’s, a live action drama special, a live action film, and a manga/anime sequel (Mix). In 1983, Touch won not just the Shogakukan for the best shonen series but also the best shoujo series. Mitsuru Adachi is one of the most revered names in manga, yet for some reason in the west – whenever we think of great sports title, we do not think of Touch. Well guys, gals, and non-binary pals – today I just wanted to take a second to gush about Touch, the forgotten king of sports manga/anime.
In 1981, already established manga-ka Mitsuru Adachi serialized his magnus opus in Weekly Shonen Sunday, along with his concurrently running series Miyuki, however to not be outdone by his rival and peer Rumiko Takahashi who was concurrently writing Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. By the way if you don’t recognize those latter two series that’s fine because you probably recognize Rumiko Takahashi’s other series such as Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2 – but I digress. Adachi was on fire as this was his fifth manga to be serialized and he had already established himself as a mainstay in the industry.
If you’ve never read or watched an Adachi story, you really only need to read one to understand them all. You probably don’t know this but all his manga are very similar. It’s about a sport, usually baseball. It’s centered around the protagonist who shows hidden potential in the game but is impartial to the sport itself. He has a rival as well, but the rival isn’t just a rival in the diamond, but also a rival in love. There is also a lovely girl to fight for. But the girl is usually written really well and is never a damsel in distress – which is great because it would be misogynistic write women as trophies. Also they are teenagers in high school and life is hard. There you go, I just summarized the synopsis of nearly every Adachi series, you’re welcome. I know all this and yet I have still seen about 3 or 4 of his stories – the guy is a great writer.
Now let’s get to talking about our leads. Kazuya and Tatsuya Uesugi are twins and the girl next door is Minami, and the boys both love Minami. Kazuya is perfect. He is a gentleman and he’s destined to be the pitcher who will lead Mesei High School to Koshien (the summer national baseball tournament). He’s hard working and earnest and everyone believes that him and the lovable, smart, and also hard working Minami will get married. Tatsuya is the opposite. He’s lazy, he doesn’t like baseball, and he lacks motivation. But when it comes to his talent for baseball and his love for Minami . . . well that’s a whole other can of worms. With that brief description, you wouldn’t think much about this series but just let me say this; I think Tatsuya might be the best written protagonist that I’ve ever seen.
The story follows the Uesugi brothers and Minami as they start in middle school and go through high school. We get to watch the main cast and surrounding characters grow into young adults and see where baseball takes them. But it’s not just a baseball series, it’s a coming of age story. It’s a story about young love, making sacrifices, and understanding your place in the world. It’s a deep dive into motivation, discipline, and what it means to work towards a reality that seemed so far away it could only be described as a dream. It’s about youth being a finite thing and that no matter where you are in life, you are living under a deadline so you must take advantage of every moment. I remember that when I finished Touch, I felt empty inside. It felt like I was saying goodbye to my friends and that the only way to relive the past month I spent watching Touch was to watch Touch again.
But more than anything the story is about uncovering the real you. I won’t spoil anything for you but Tatsuya has a moment in the series that changes him and everybody around him which makes him become anew. And the amazing thing about the character development around Tatsuya is that he is not changing overnight like in some battle manga. His change happens over the weeks, months, and years that he’s in high school. And instead of being compared to his brother in the aftermath of this change, his friends and those around him start to see him for the man he has become. As Minami would always say “Ka-chan is Ka-chan and Ta-chan is Ta-chan”. Don’t compare the two just because they are twins – they are two different people with as many differences as there are similarities. This amazing character growth can be seen when Tatsuya who starts out as a character that we saw moping around for such a huge chunk of the series ends up becoming the catalyst for lifting the spirits of everyone around him, including yours as the audience member.
Touch is a beautiful story and it makes 0 sense that it hasn’t been given a chance to flourish in the west with an English manga adaptation. The series doesn’t just show the nature of competition and sports, but it shows the love one can develop for something or someone over time. It’s a story that embraces that not all starts are equal, but all finishes can be made into exclamation points. It’s for the realist, for the dreamer, and everybody in between and outside. It’s not flashy like Haikyuu, it’s not cool like Slam Dunk, and it’s not poetic and stoic like Ashita no Joe – but it’s more charming than any of those series (in my opinion of course). Please, I implore you to find Touch. Read the manga, watch the anime – whatever. The series has a lot of heart and you will understand when you read it.