The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Gurazeni: Money Pitch
How would you rate episode 1 of
Gurazeni: Money Pitch ?
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How was the first episode?
In a lot of ways, Gurazeni is a welcome change of pace from what I'm used to watching. It's a sports show that is less about reaching unrealistic heights of fame and fortune and more about following an average pro baseball player's trials and tribulations as he climbs up the ranks little by little. Bonda Natsunosuke is 26 years old, which makes him absolutely ancient by anime protagonist standards. And while I don't know much about baseball, it's always been the sport I'm most curious about, so the opportunity to have this show be rich with background information and technical details could have made for an interesting and unique watch this season.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this premiere much at all. A major culprit in Gurazeni's botched first impression is the quality of its visuals – simply put, Gurazeni is very ugly to watch. The character designs are awkward-looking and poorly animated when in 2-D, and the poor integration of the CGI makes the show look cheaper than anything else. It also hurts that some of the most pivotal baseball scenes of the episode, like Bonda's impromptu nabbing of the foul ball, are reduced to slide-show animation, robbing the moments of their potential impact. Watching a sports anime quickly becomes a chore when the few sports scenes featured are such a drag.
The script is also a mess, featuring way too much narration and not enough meaningful characterization or impactful story beats. Bonda's entire goal is to make more money, which is understandable, but when he's complaining about earning the equivalent of a six-figure salary in U.S. dollars and putting a young father of two children out of work with his ambitious plays, it becomes a little hard to root for the guy. When the show isn't focusing on Bonda's financial stresses, it tries to gussy up the drama revolving around his friend Toku's struggle to punch up his performance and ratings as a sports-commentator, which ends up being as exciting as it sounds (not at all). Instead of character drama or even mildly amusing comedy, the script sees Bonda dryly describing baseball facts and delivering his own commentary on his performance, and this narration wears out its welcome quickly.
Without the benefit of snappy direction or appealing visuals, these boring and unlikable characters weigh Gurazeni's premiere down even more. I'd love to have an esoteric sports anime that explores unconventional character types and even teaches me about the sport, but it also needs to be entertaining; Gurazeni succeeds in the first two departments, but stumbles greatly in the latter. Maybe this will develop into something more compelling down the line, but this underwhelming first outing doesn't inspire a lot of hope.
I was intrigued by the premise of Gurazeni going into this episode. Plenty of sports titles focus on talented high school athletes, so the idea of following a mediocre adult professional just trying to keep his job sounds like a neat change of pace. Rather than trying to win an intense, single-elimination tournament, the protagonist's goal shifts towards making the most of his limited time on the field during a regular season. There are plenty of compelling stories to be told there, but I don't think Gurazeni is going to be the show to tell them. A fresh approach doesn't mean much without strong execution.
This episode gives Bonda plenty of time to present his point of view, and it yet it somehow feels like we're missing some of the most vital parts. For all the attention he pays to the importance of making money before he retires, we never get a sense of what Bonda's financial situation is at the moment. He's making a decent amount of money, but what is he doing with it? If he's just carefully saving and investing it, that would make for a very different story than if he were trying to pay off a debt or if he needed to make a certain amount of money before a given deadline. In the absence of a specific goal or threat to Bonda's well-being, the show's central conflict is too vague to really be compelling.
Gurazeni also commits one of the worst sins in its genre: it fails to make the sport itself feel exciting. There's a long list of good baseball shows out there, and most of them tend to follow a proven formula. There's a huge mental aspect to this sport, especially when it comes to pitching and hitting, and delving into that usually makes for good entertainment. We should be learning about the dynamic between Bonda and his catcher, or at least following the battle of wits between him and the batters he faces. Instead, he marches out the mound and things just sort of happen at random. The built-in competition means that a sports anime should be anything but boring, and yet I felt my attention starting to slip well before the end of this episode.
I don't think Gurazeni is a completely hopeless case, but that optimism may just be a product of my desire to see a good series about professional baseball. A lot of things will need to change in the very near future if this show is going to have a chance: Bonda needs to become a more engaging protagonist, the baseball scenes need to be more exciting, and the salary-as-power-level gimmick needs to be dialed back a notch. As much as I'd like to see those things happen, I can't really recommend this show in its current state.
Now this is an interesting one. Gurazeni is the kind of show that I doubt we'd see streaming at all if not for the wide scope of Crunchyroll's pickups, given it seems directly aimed at a very different audience for most shows. As far as I can tell, Gurazeni is aimed at “salarymen who dream of baseball stardom but mostly just want to compare salaries,” and it seems pretty well designed to cater to that precise niche.
Don't be fooled by Gurazeni's professional baseball setting; it's not really a sports drama in the style of Kuroko's Basketball or Cross Game. Instead, it follows pro cleanup pitcher Natsunoke Bonda's unabashed efforts to make the most money he can across his brief professional years, well aware that his career prospects will start to vanish the moment his physical aptitude declines. Gurazeni thus comes off as almost a kind of upbeat horror story, with Bonda perkily describing how baseball is a zero-sum game, success or failure often come down to arbitrary single moments, and his own status is that of a racehorse attempting to avoid the glue factory (no offense, Umamusume).
Gurazeni's premise is fairly interesting, but it unfortunately lacks the energetic storytelling or visual execution necessary to sell that premise. While I enjoyed the stark, unexpected brutality of some of this episode's reflections on baseball stardom, there was never any real sense of urgency, and this premiere's two half-episode narratives both felt pretty underwritten. On top of that, the show is just very ugly - the character designs are simplistic, there's no real animation to speak of, and the flat, one-tone shading makes everything look cheap and unattractive. The direction is strictly functional, mostly sticking to talking head-style closeups, and the background art is composed of basic geometric shapes and crummy CG characters. Gurazeni's various aesthetic qualities top out at functional and mostly hover around distractingly bad.
All in all, Gurazeni feels like an interesting novelty, but not a particularly good show. Bonda's bluntly mercenary approach to his career is a unique and weirdly charming perspective, but without tighter storytelling or any sort of visual intrigue, Gurazeni sorts out to be the seed of a compelling idea, executed poorly.
You could almost describe Gurazeni as a sports show without the sports. That's obviously not strictly true, given that the majority of this first episode takes place on a baseball diamond, but despite its setting and the fact that the main character is a professional pitcher, there's very little actual baseball played. Instead, protagonist Bonda is obsessed with his salary and those of his fellow players. In the story's world, a what a player earns is based on his performance during a game, and Bonda falls firmly in the middle with a salary of ¥18 million. His chief concern is improving his skills in a highly visible way so that he can earn a higher salary and thus avoid working for the rest of his life once he retires.
In current conversion rates, Bonda's salary translates to $168,120 or €137,026, so this is still a pretty decent amount that he's making, one that he could probably do just fine with if he manages it wisely, and honestly, this makes his worries come off as whining to some degree. Yes, it would be a significant comedown to retire like his friend Toku and earn a measly ¥3 million as a color commentator for games, but Bonda expressly says that Toku managed his earnings poorly while he was playing. And financial concerns are valid no matter what you make – it's more that basing the entire half-hour episode around that one specific issue isn't a great choice, because it makes Bonda begin to wear on our good graces as the show moves at a glacial pace.
This is partly because of the decision to tell and not show. The entire episode is narrated by Bonda with almost no breaks, and when it isn't Bonda, it's Toku, so we have no real opportunities to form our own opinions of what's going on. The closest we come is when Bonda deliberately tries to catch a foul ball in order to both make himself look good and discredit a celebrated rookie player from the other team—and given that the guy who gets sent back to the minors has two small children and a wife, that doesn't make Bonda look great, even if it's meant to be a depiction of what a dog-eat-dog world pro sports can be.
That we barely see any baseball being played is just pouring lemon juice on the papercut at this point. Mostly we see Bonda stretching or practicing his pitches, with two brief scenes of actual games. The baseball is animated using computer graphics, which is decently smooth, but the rest of the show is limited in terms of animation, and the character designs aren't particularly attractive or expressive. Simply put, while baseball can be interesting and personal finances are a serious concern, they don't mix well in this first episode. Right now if you're looking for sports, Megalobox looks like the much better bet.
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