Abe Takaya from Ookiku Furikabutte!

Like many of my favorite characters (and for whatever weird reason), Abe was not my favorite from the start. (I was actually a big Tajima fangirl for a long long time... still am!) This may come as a surprise to those who know me better, considering Abe fits my usual bias to a T: grumpy, exceptionally talented, secretly a big ol' softie. (Hilariously enough, a character that I think is the volleyball version of Abe—Kageyama from Haikyuu!!—is another character I had a similar experience with. I guess I just like to live the first few episodes of every series in denial.) Because Ookiku Furikabutte! tells the story from the gentle, self-deprecating Mihashi's point of view, it's very easy to perceive Abe as a bit of an oppressive character from the get go. He's headstrong and at times unforgiving, coming off as selfish and ill-intentioned. However, Abe's growth as a character alongside Mihashi and his team is part of what makes his character so admirable. (And we all know I love stories about kids who overcome minorly tragic backstories.)

"I will make you a true Ace!"

Abe is both reliable and an incredibly hard worker, definitely the kind of guy you want on your baseball team. He's got an incredible handle on the game: a strategic mind that most kids his age can only dream of understanding. Oofuri is one of the first sports series that really turned me onto the genre as a whole—I've always been a baseball fan but the way the series describes baseball down to a science is incredibly fascinating. (You'll learn a lot about both baseball and physics if you pay attention.) Abe's position as catcher is an especially interesting perspective on the game that often times isn't focused on, in favor of pitchers or really excellent batters. He has the ability to call the game and out-strategize other teams: it's what makes him such a great character to watch. Like a good chess player, Abe will always surprise you with new ways to move pieces around the board and trap Nishiura's opponents. He's a young and blossoming baseball prodigy. He didn't get there without his own amount of struggles however, and comes to his new team at Nishiura with a lot of baggage carried over from his previous school.

I think what I grew to like about Abe, is that he never truly changes who he is fundamentally for the sake of anyone else. While he may dial himself down to make himself approachable, I think that rather than change his demeanor, Abe carries himself with an air of confidence and maturity that helps the others grow through his leadership. He's very calculating and strategically-minded and you can see that not only on the field but in the way he handles his relationships, especially with his pitcher, Mihashi. In turn, I think some of the more warm-hearted members of the team teach him the importance of kindness and patience. Rather than jump to conclusions about Mihashi's ability, he comes to understand him at a personal level and even cater to his way of learning. It's one of the things I really love about Abe: while he's quite methodical in his approach to everything, he is still ultimately a human driven by emotion. He's been through the struggle of dealing with aggressive personalities on his former baseball team and he's working hard to make sure he doesn't become that kind of person too. Abe grows to understand people from a human perspective which is part of what makes him such a great leader for the boys on Nishiura.

Oofuri is a very simple and gently moving series—much like the slow passing days of summer—and though I think Abe's "evolution" is much quieter than that of his teammates, the way he matures and grows throughout the series is really quiet and beautiful. He's wise beyond his years, but just like any other kid his age, he has a lot to learn. His story told in Oofuri is all about growing up and doing just that.