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Friday, April 22, 2011

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High school baseball club manager Minami observes her team. (C) NATSUMI IWASAKI·DIAMOND/NHK·NEP·IG

NHK hopes for a home run with new anime


Staff writer

It's a quintessential scene of Japanese youth: Young boys out in baseball uniforms jog across their school grounds, the white and maroon of their gear contrasting with a clear blue sky. In the bleachers, an earnest-looking high school girl named Minami, in a jersey that matches the team's uniforms, eyes them with a book held tightly to her chest.

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Managing a hit: Atsuko Kashiwagi doesn't claim to be an expert on baseball or management theory, but she knew NHK would score with their new animated series "Drucker in the Dug-Out." TOMOKO OTAKE PHOTO

The book is not a practice journal for the boys' baseball club, it's a copy of "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices," a popular business book penned in 2001 by the late Peter F. Drucker.

So begins "Drucker in the Dug-Out," a 10-part animated series showing weeknights on NHK starting April 25, whose Japanese title is "Moshidora." On the surface, the anime looks to be your standard television fare, but for viewers watching for the usual dramatic subplots of team solidarity and friendship, "Drucker in the Dug-Out" will also throw viewers a curve ball.

The anime depicts how Minami bucks the usual duties of a manējā, which is a Japanese rendering of the English term "manager." Unlike the English version, the Japanese role is almost always filled by girls who perform menial work such as serving tea and washing dirty uniforms. But the young girl sets out to foment a revolution in the management of the school's struggling baseball team by using Drucker's book.

The TV series is based on Natsumi Iwasaki's 2009 fictional book "Moshi Kōkōyakyū no Joshi Manējā ga Dorakkā no Manejimento wo Yondara (If a high school baseball team's female manager read Drucker's 'Management')." The lengthy title is better known by its abbreviation "Moshidora." The book has sold more than 2 million copies thus far, making it Japan's best-selling book last year.

Atsuko Kashiwagi, general manager of the animation division at NHK Enterprises, a TV production company under the national broadcaster NHK group, was quick to recognize the story's appeal.

"I read the book soon after it was published, when it had not even sold 100,000 copies," Kashiwagi tells The Japan Times. Although she had worked on various other NHK projects that included "Major," an anime based on a manga about a baseball player who pursues his dream of playing in the major league, she says she was no expert on baseball. She also admits she wasn't an expert on management theory, and had only vaguely remembered hearing Drucker's name before. However, she felt "Moshidora" was easy to relate to.

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Smells like team spirit: NHK's new animated series is adapted from Natsumi Iwasaki's best-selling book, "Moshidora." (C) NATSUMI IWASAKI·DIAMOND/NHK·NEP·IG

"At that time, I myself had just become manager of the animation division (at NHK Enterprises)," Kashiwagi says. "It's a small section, but it has about 10 people and I remember realizing how hard it was to manage them. So when I read the book (which is filled with actual quotes from Drucker's 'Management'), all of the messages hit very close to home. For example, one of his beliefs is that 'People are your greatest asset.' Another one states, 'People who take risks make mistakes.' It really felt like he was talking about me having had a smooth ride in my life (by avoiding taking risks)."

Drucker, who died in November 2005 at the age of 95, is considered one of the most influential thinkers on management theory and practice in the 20th century. His teachings and writings are said to have inspired many top-tier business leaders, including Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, and former Procter & Gamble CEO Alan George Lafley. Drucker also has a sizable following in Japan that includes Tadashi Yanai, founder of the global apparel retail chain Uniqlo Co.

Iwasaki took Drucker's message further. Before writing "Moshidora," he was a TV scriptwriter and had worked with idols such as AKB48. When he came up with the idea to put such an influential thinker's ideas into a fictional format, he essentially took a piece of knowledge that had been confined to the domain of the business world's most powerful players and made it understandable to a broader audience.

"I think the book has been read by many people because so many people are questioning the way things are managed," Iwasaki was quoted as saying in a July 2010 press release issued by publisher Diamond Co. "Another thing I've realized is that entertainment or fiction is a very effective tool for communicating one's message."

Kashiwagi adds that the anime should appeal to an even wider spectrum of viewers, as well as the book's core readership of businesspeople.

"As Drucker himself has said, the book is not really about business management, but about the management of any organization," she says. "And it revolves around the story of a high school baseball manager. So it would be useful for students interested in joining extracurricular clubs, or people around the age of 18 who are about to enter the corporate world.

"In many ways, the story also betrays the expectations of viewers, like how it's not just about Drucker and in fact deals a lot with friendship between two high school girls. In that sense, even those who are in junior high school can enjoy it. It can be viewed as a tale of team spirit, friendship or tips on managing an organization. Such a diversity of angles is what makes the story interesting to viewers on a personal scale."

"Moshidora" has turned out to be a huge money maker for publisher Diamond, which has long specialized in business books, and for whom "Moshidora" was its first million-seller. The book has also helped the sales of the Japanese version of the Drucker book, which was edited by Japanese Drucker expert Atsuo Ueda. That book, also marketed by Diamond, has clocked up 41 print runs and sold more than 700,000 copies.

With the launch of NHK's anime series, the book's sales are expected to rise further. On top of that, a separate manga version is currently being run in the bi-monthly Super Jump magazine, and a live-action movie is set for a June 4 release with AKB48's Atsuko Maeda in the lead role. All this buzz is sure to boost "Moshidora" even further, in a blitz that Drucker couldn't have planned better himself.

"Drucker in the Dug-Out" airs on NHK General weeknights at 10:55 p.m. from April 25 till May 6. It will be rebroadcast Thursday nights at 12:15 a.m. For details, visit www9.nhk.or.jp/anime/moshidora. For information about the film, visit www.moshidora-movie.jp.


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