Gurazeni: Money Pitch – Anime Review
Synopsis: Bonda Natsunosuke (26, single), is a left-handed relief pitcher for the professional baseball team, the Jingu Spiders. He became a pro right after high school and now in his 8th year makes 18 million yen a year, and is not what you’d call a “first rate player.” “I don’t know how many years I’ve got left to play after 30.” “Only a few can become coaches or commentators after they retire.” “Pro baseball players need to make their money while before they retire!” Despite the harsh realities, Bonda always repeats the same phrase: “There’s money buried in the grounds.” (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Gurazeni is never a stellar looking series, not once throughout the Spring 2018 season. Frequently the art is low on detail, and veers into off-model territory at the drop of a hat, meaning the general visual quality episode to episode is average to sub-par at best. It doesn’t help that the series makes frequent use of 3D CGI models for its characters when they’re playing on the field. While the motion of the animation is quite fluid, the 3D models rarely match up well with the 2D, (For example Bonda, our underdog pitching hero, looks far thinner in his 3D model, where as his 2D appearance has a more pudgy face.) making for a frequently jarring switch between the two. Beneath this disappointing visual offering however sits an artstyle perfect for conveying the light-hearted, yet cynical depiction of Japanese Professional Baseball. It presents things with an almost quirky, gag manga like quality, allowing its larger than life or exaggerated characters to fit perfectly with expectations.
Linny: While Gurazeni flits about telling the stories and strife faced by players other than Bonda and even players from other teams, it remains for the most part Bonda’s tale. A fair number of the episodes are either about him or involve him to at least a minimal capacity. It can however be a little distracting though when the show focuses on someone else, relegating Bonda to the sidelines as narrator or even making him completely absent. What makes this transition more awkward is that the stories are almost always episodic, meaning that even if you took to a new character, you’re probably never going to see them again.
Tom: Bonda is the quintessential underdog, and some of the series best highlights are when it focuses more so on him and his obsession with salary numbers over the more one off stories. It’s the series bread and butter, yet Gurazeni frequently places its attention so much more so on our one-off characters. We spend plenty of episodes on the other underdog players, retired pitchers, or even other members of other teams entirely. While Bonda remains our narrator and often plays some pivotal focal role to help us connect with the story, perhaps too often he’s a side character in his own anime. These story lines aren’t bad, but it’s that greater focus and attention given to Bonda that make for the best episodes of the series, where we as an audience have an active investment in Bonda’s struggle against this harsh, cut-throat sport, over other characters struggling in similar fashion. The series clearly has a lot to say and explore in this more cynical take on Japan’s professional baseball league, yet still says it best when its criticism is centered around Bonda and his own struggle.
Linny: Gurazeni is pretty honest, never hesitating to show how cruel and unpredictable a sports career, specifically in Japanese baseball, can be. We’re often watching players facing demotions to minor leagues or having to accept that they’re just not up the high standards set by their team managers and owners. However, the tragic element is sharply cut down by the gag like nature and character designs of Gurazeni. The show itself tells these stories in a light hearted manner, never dragging out the dramatic moments so potential viewers need not worry about it being a complete and utter downer of a show despite its harsh topic.
Tom: But Gurazeni isn’t your typical sports anime for exactly that reason. It’s so focused on the more business, life-style end of Baseball that we rarely get any true baseball game play. In fact it’s not till the back half of the season we start getting some more traditional content, like strategy for pitching, tense game moments and such, all sparingly peppered throughout the back six episodes.
Linny: Gurazeni seems almost tailor-made for an older crowd. With its unique realistic and harsh take on sports, it’s bound to entertain a mature viewer but bore a younger audiences who’d prefer bombastic and thrilling action over discussions about career, contracts and money, money, money. The playful style of narration and animation avoids making the show feel like a doom and gloom fest and helps to keep the show breezy.But it’s unfortunately not a prize horse of a show in that it has its fair share of flaws which include subpar animation, scattered one off plots, and its visual depiction of darker skinned characters which as you can see in the picture above doesn’t jive with progressive Western views. Pick this show up if you want to see a sports anime that has a completely different approach to the topic, one that will likely resonate best with an older viewer well aware of the financial issues that come with being a working adult. Oh, and for those who will be picking this up, a word of advice; the girl featured in the ending credits does not make an appearance until the very last episode.
Tom: Overall Gurazeni isn’t a stellar series, both for its lackluster art and it’s inability to always present the most engaging content. That said, its light-hearted, yet deeply cynical take on the money-chasing ways of professional baseball remains an enjoyable ride from beginning to end. It’s not a series that sparks fervent fandom, but remains a unique ride for anyone seeking a less traditional sports anime. With a 2nd season already announced I can’t help but be a tad excited, interested to see what other cynical, yet comedic tales the series has to offer, and a thin hope that Bonda might remain a greater focus in its second outing, addressing the series’ struggle to really spark its audience deeper interest.
Gurazeni: Money Pitch is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.