OP: 「メリゴ」 (Merry-Go) by Cypress Ueno & Roberto Yoshino feat. SKY-HI
Baseball is not a familiar subject for me, and I don’t have any sort of attachment to the sport. It’s non-existent in the UK, and I barely pay any attention to technical details in sports anime. Admittedly, most of my baseball knowledge comes from Wii Sports. But Gurazeni hits a really charming spot that no other sports anime has touched, and if you’re curious about giving this a chance, I think it’s definitely worth a shot.
Bonda Takanosuke (Ochiai Fukushi), a 26 year old relief pitcher, provides a unique perspective that is rarely explored. We follow a journeyman in his prime, who doesn’t dream about being the greatest, and simply wants to earn enough money for a comfortable retirement. I loved listening to his inner monologues, which aggressively compared contracts and salaries, while expressing a highly pragmatic life philosophy. He thoroughly understands his specific role, which is to provide unfavourable matchups for opposing left handed batters, a rare niche that allows him to make an unlikely career out of baseball.
Most of all, I appreciated how he didn’t mince his words, when it came to talking about the cutthroat nature of competitive sports. A right handed batsman has an advantageous matchup, against a left-handed pitcher. If one is not able to handle left-handed pitches, it will create a lasting stigma in his career, that he wouldn’t even have a chance of handling the pitch of a right-handed ace. Knowing that the rookie would likely be demoted and put on a meagre salary, Bonda chases after the bunt and catches it. He frames it as selfishly raising his standing, at the expense of a young family, who were depending on their father to put food on the table. I don’t blame him for doing what was best for himself in a professional capacity, but it stings to see the situation put into that kind of perspective.
On the other side, we have Natsunosuke Tokunoga (Namikawa Daisuke), an ex-player turned commentator who is also Bonda’s sempai. We actually hear from Bonda that he doesn’t think Natsunosuke deserves his gig. Despite his popularity in the dressing room, Natsunosuke was never a successful pitcher and earned comparatively little from his career. That said, he lived out a frivolous life, resulting in a precarious financial situation. However, his charismatic personality translates well into commentary, and although it pays much less, he seeks to steady the boat with it.
Unfortunately, his ratings on TV haven’t been great, and his job might be on the line. To that end, I liked the bait and switch, where it seemed like Natsunosuke researched a particular individual for naught. Then the starting pitcher turned out to be Bonda – who he knows inside out. Cue an enlightening commentary that sets his commentary career back on track. Through an incredible performance, Bonda raises his standings as a pitcher, while bailing out his senpai.
Gurazeni seems like it will be a story of the side character’s struggle, and I find this kind of viewpoint to be very refreshing. While there is less action compared to traditional sports anime, you wouldn’t think that the characters were genetically engineered superhumans exceeding any realm of logic, adding a strong element of realism to the show. Judging by next week’s preview, Bonda will be going up against a higher value batsman, which will definitely come as an opportunity to raise his stock. Natsunosuke might even get a chance to further his career, if Bonda does well.
My recommendations? For starters, you’ll want to avoid this show if you absolutely hate sports, or struggle to keep up with extensive monologues. There’s going to be a lot of both. However, Gurazeni also provides a breath of fresh air from the generic rabble we typically get every season. If you love sports, or are seeking something that greatly deviates from industry conventions, I wholeheartedly encourage you to try your hand with this show!
ED: 「Shadow Monster」by Toki Asako