Sports anime often have a similar premise of a player or team having a goal. To quote the Pokémon English opening song: Wanting "to be the very best, like no one ever was."
Gurazeni (which started as a manga of the same name) goes away from this notion where it's about the survival and struggles of being a professional baseball player. Its title translates into "Money Pitch" and it covers the story about a mediocre pitcher named Natsunosuke Bonda who is a lefty-one-out guy (LOOGY) trying to make a living.
Bonda is 26-years old and has been in the league since being drafted out of high school, but he only makes a paltry ¥18 million (less than $180,000) for the season. An Easter egg is how the fictional name Bonda (凡田) has the kanji 凡 in it, referring to something "average" or "ordinary" as a hint to the reader.
|Gurazeni has an NPB setting without saying the NPB names, as shown with Jingu Stadium and even Umbrellas referring to the Yakult Swallows|
While money seems a little greedy given this is part of the show, Gurazeni shows the cruel side of baseball. It's not always about winning pennants, games or championships, but to survive in a competitive environment. Bonda knows his playing career will eventually end and he hopes to accumulate as much money as possible before it's over. He hasn't even spent his signing bonus.
|Gurazeni provides accurate maps and information on the Swallows, as their farm team plays in Toda, Saitama.|
Bonda goes through several twists and turns of adventure showing a fictional behind the scenes. From former players to teammates at the farm, to even opponents and knowing their backstory, Bonda has plenty of inspiration and a memo of who to not be while playing professional baseball.
There is even a plot that has to do with foreigners playing in NPB, explaining the gaijin rule and how it works. Being a ballplayer has more responsibilities than just staying in shape and producing on the field. It's a life of ups and downs, which Bonda continues to go through as a lefty specialist wanting to stay at the ichi-gun.
The best focus to this anime is how it isn't always about what happens on the field, let alone there is not as much in-game analysis and more perspective on careers, which brings a slice of life to the viewer.
When it comes to criticism, an argument can be made that the pilot should not have been a double header episode with two different stories in each half. The introduction to Bonda was good, but the second story introducing a broadcaster who was a former player felt like too much and should have been saved for later.
The artwork for this anime isn't flashy, but it is tailored to look exactly like NPB without using the team names. Mazda Zoom-Zoom, Tokyo Dome, Yokohama Stadium, Koshien Stadium and Jingu Stadium have all been seen. If anything, don't compare the animation to something along the lines of Studio Ghibli or what Makoto Shinkai has directed.
If you're into baseball behind the scenes, this show is easily for you. It's a greater understanding of life as a ball player and the concept of staying up at the ichi-gun level.
Best yet, it was popular enough in the Spring to be picked up for a second season, which begins in October.
Other external facts:
Gurazeni has all elements of NPB are there minus the team names being replaced with obvious fictional ones. Besides the stadiums, the colors are still the same to indirectly represent the following teams:
Bunkyo Mops = Yomiuri Giants
Jingu Spiders = Tokyo Yakult Swallows (Bonda's team)
Nagoya Wild Ones = Chunichi Dragons
Kawasaki Blue Comets = Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Hiroshima Carnabeats = Hiroshima Carp
Osaka Tempters = Hanshin Tigers
The manga has Pacific League teams as well. For the Saitama Seibu Lions, they become the Tokorozawa Jaguars.
The opening song is "Merigo" by Robert Yoshino, featuring SKY-HI. Its lyrics capture the show's purpose on the ups and downs in life as it's a "Merigo", short for Merry-go round as shown in the music video.
The closing song in the credits is "Shadow Monster"by Toki Asako. Not a bad tune given how relaxing it is, talking about being bold and not shy.
Fukushi Ochiai is a well-known voice actor who plays Bonda, but he also happens to be the son of the famous Hiromitsu Ochiai, who was famous as a manager and front office executive for the Chunichi Dragons. Former Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka and Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto also provide cameo appearances on select episodes doing the color commentator role.
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