Gurazeni: Money Pitch
Natsunosuke Bonda is a twenty-six year old lefthanded relief pitcher for the Jingu Spiders, making a paltry (in his eyes) 18 million yen a year. We follow a year in his career, along with events involving teammates, opposing players, and others whose paths cross his on the field (and sometimes off it), even as he has his eyes set on- well, yes, a girl, but mostly more cash.
"We end up seeing those with bigger contracts as above us, and those with smaller contracts as below us. If you get down to it, that's what it means to be a pro"- Bonda
I can't say I know that much about the motivations of professional sports players, but I'd guess they're some combination of two motives applicable to anyone who has the basic skill to do a job:
(1) Doing it because you love doing it. I had the good fortune to see the 2018 Oscar-winning animated short Dear Basketball, and if that DOES accurately reflect Kobe Bryant's true feelings, I'd call him blessed, because he's doing something he actually enjoys, in addition to being well-paid to do it.
Of course, there's also:
(2) Doing something primarily for remuneration; it could be mainly for status rather than money, but the two are usually linked, and our show's hero, Bonda, CERTAINLY feels this way. In fact, despite his use of the editorial "we" in the above quote, Bonda seems obsessed with contract size to a MUCH greater degree than his teammates- to the point that it's a handicap that affects his performance. There may be a good solid reason why he isn't called out of the bullpen and onto the field more often- he's intimidated by batters making more money than he does, and his pitches to them reflect this lack of confidence, even when they're objectively weak at bat. We see it a few episodes into the show, when he shuts out a batter with a .400 batting average who happens to make less than him, but is powerless to prevent a home run by an opponent with only a .200 batting average, but who happens to have a bigger contract than Bonda's. One of Bonda's coaches tries penalizing him to break this habit, but it seems impossible for him to stop doing it. (There is an upside for Bonda's obsessive study of contracts, though, for him if not (and CERTAINLY not) for the team: he knows exactly how players' contributions are figured into their contracts, and can accurately guess how much management will offer them at renewal time. The argument he gives them for an increase above their offer to him seemed a bit of a stretch to me, though.)
I ended up pondering Bonda's complaints about his supposed lack of funds quite a bit. Wiki translates Bonda's salary as $160,000 U.S., which would be a pretty comfortable salary (especially for a single person) in most of the United States. Of course there are caveats here- if he's living in the Tokyo area I would assume he's facing housing costs comparable to San Francisco or New York City in the U.S. (At one point we see his apartment, which is as tiny as we'd expect.) But Bonda still seems awfully defensive about his salary, going to great pains to point out that he has to have exercise equipment (it wasn't clear to me if he meant he actually had to BUY it; aren't there gyms?), and that he's expected to occasionally pick up the tab for evenings out with the guys (which, we see, can run into the hundreds of dollars.) He also says that a player's career is essentially finished "at age 30", which seems patently untrue even given the internal evidence in the show- several of Bonda's teammates in fact seem to be making peak money in their mid-30's, and we even see some who are playing into their 40's, though at much reduced money.
All in all, though, Bonda's obsession with money, and his perceived lack of it, got a bit old for me; in fact, at one point, through a combination of nerves and alcohol, Bonda even manages to publicly embarrass himself about it on a radio show- his spiel ends with complaints about the rules of Japanese baseball (shocking!), but it begins with a tirade about how ill-paid he is compared to the other guests on the show (who were players on other teams.)
But there were some characters in the show that I liked, especially in the show's second half (second season)- which also seemed to feature a lot more action on the field itself than the first half. My favorite was Itsuki Roppa, a guy who plays baseball for the purer motive of actually LIKING the game, but whose performance is pretty erratic. (Itsuki and his wife are partially supported by his father-in-law, so I guess he can afford to be less obsessive about money.) He's been promoted up from the minor leagues (apparently promotion up to the majors, and demotion to the minors, happens a lot in Japanese baseball), and Itsuki faces something that Bonda doesn't- the additional stress of being a family man, whose wife is about ready to give birth. Itsuki's on-and-off performance during the Spiders' pennant game makes for some nice suspense, and comes complete with a delightful surprise in the final act.
Another character of note is named Tokunaga. He was a former teammate of Bonda's, who's become a sports commentator, and there are a couple of episodes featuring him (and his fiancée!), and some REMARKABLE buck-passing, that were utterly fascinating. (Apparently nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news in the Japanese business world either.)
And then there's Yuki. She's featured in the opening- and especially the closing- titles throughout the show, though within the show she's not formally introduced until Episode 12. She's a waitress at Bonda's favorite diner, is perky, adorable, has a terrific smile, but seems (to Bonda) unapproachable, partly out of his shyness, but also partly because she's a tremendous fan of an opposing team, the Osaka Tempters- and in fact, during a game when Bonda unintentionally injures two Tempters players, she declares she HATES Bonda (though at that point she had still not connected him to the guy who often came in and ordered fried chicken and rice.) As far as romance goes, I'll only say that the warm-up takes a VERY long time, and while Bonda might not strike out with Yuki, he might not quite make it to first base with her by show's closing either.
The Recs this time? I've not actually seen Big Windup (or its sequel, Big Windup 2), nor have I seen Ace of the Diamond,but they ARE baseball animes, so might be of interest (again, with the caveat that I've not seen them, and so can't recommend from personal experience.) At Julian’s suggestion I’ve also added One-Outs, which Julian describes as “baseball but it’s really high-stakes gambling.”
Again, I liked the less-Bonda centered second half of Gurazeni more than the first. Still, Bonda really isn't a BAD person per se, and the show has flashes of charm and wit (and features some endearingly quirky character designs (as did Baby Steps; is this a thing in sports anime?).) Plus, just about everyone here gets a happy ending (or at least one they can live with), and I can't argue with THAT. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: No fanservice, no (intentional) violence. TV-PG or so.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Gurazeni: Money Pitch © 2018 Studio DEEN
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