Gurazeni: Money Pitch

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5 Stars

Gurazeni: Money Pitch (Crunchyroll) is my favorite new anime series for 2018. This is an engaging, smartly-written seinen sports story with sympathetic believable characters.

This is not your typical sports anime. Most sports anime involve some kids who love a sport but may not be particularly good at it. By dedication, practice and teamwork they eventually become good enough to win the championship while learning some important life lessons along the way.

This is something completely different: a story about adults who play a sport professionally. They find it less glamorous and less remunerative than the fans imagine, not to mention incredibly stressful. They often wonder whether it is really worthwhile but they keep doing it anyway because deep down they really still love the game.

BONDA Natsunosuke is a 26-year-old professional baseball player. He’s a left-handed middle relief pitcher, an unglamorous position that rarely leads to stardom. He earns a mere 18 million yen per year (US$160,000). That sounds like a lot of money to the average Japanese but it’s hardly enough to provide for a comfortable retirement, given that he’ll be lucky to play 10 more years. And since he joined the pros right out of high school he has no career prospects outside of baseball.

Thus it’s understandable that Natsunosuke is rather obsessed with money: how much he makes, how much other players make, and what he needs to do to make more.

Natsunosuke is, in fact, something of a lovable nebbish, earnest and hardworking but capable of being his own worst enemy. For example he sometimes psychs himself out when pitching against a player who makes more money that he does.

On the other hand he’s clearly talented and clever. When he gets in the groove and doesn’t get in his own way he can pull off some impressive feats.

Natsunosuke plays for the “Jingu Spiders.” All of the pro teams in this series have funny-sounding names that clearly map to the names of real Japanese professional baseball teams. The “Jingu Spiders” represent the Tokyo Swallows, who play at the Meiji Jingu Stadium near the center of the city. Their arch-rivals the “Osaka Tempters” are the Hanshin Tigers.

Natsunosuke’s closest friend is Tokunaga, formerly a pitcher for the Spiders. Now at age 35 he’s working as a color commentator for a local radio station at a small fraction of his former salary. He actually seems happy enough but for Natsunosuke he is a constant reminder of what will happen to him if he doesn’t make it big.

Tokunaga is the Spiders’ pitching coach, a gruff man who recognizes Natsunosuke’s potential but also notes his psychological weaknesses.

The Spiders’ manager Tanabe is less analytical but seems to have a lot of faith in Natsunosuke.

Of course the suits in the front office are a bunch of soulless weasels.

Natsunosuke has a terrible crush on Yuki, a pretty waitress at a cheap restaurant that he frequents. He is too shy to ask her out or even engage her in a real conversation. Yuki hardly notices him, assuming that he is just another low-level salaryman.

Yuki is in fact a fanatical baseball fan, devoted to the Tempters. She is vaguely aware that the much-hated Spiders have a pitcher named Bonda, but she never connects him with the ordinary-looking man who comes in regularly and always orders the karaage rice. To her, professional baseball players are larger-than-life characters who would never be encountered in real life.

I’m hoping to see additional seasons of this anime. It’s based on a long-running seinen manga and the anime seems to have done pretty well, especially for a non-fantasy human interest story.