Bonda Natsunosuke has only one thing on his mind: money. Everything in Bonda’s current life is focused on how better to improve his yearly salary within his professional baseball team. Bonda only makes around 18 million yen a year though, so he’s gotta improve that somehow despite only being a relief pitcher. After all, while an 18 million yen salary, he certainly can’t survive off that with how long the average baseball career lasts. Somehow, Bonda will need to find a way to improve his pitching to improve his leverage when it comes time to negotiate his contract.
If nothing else, Gurazeni has an interesting set-up. Far too often modern sports anime romanticizes the simple love of a sport while using the actual problems that come with that as a point of conflict to overcome. Gurazeni, however, has a much more practical interpretation. Baseball is used by Bonda as an escape from the boredom of every day. He keeps trying to improve his game not simply because he loves the game, but because falling behind means he’d lose his already tenuous position. Bonda is good, but not all that much better than your average high school hotshot. Losing his contract means he loses his one chance of escaping normal life.
And for that reason, Bonda is going to be a difficult character for some viewers to relate to. With his dumpy, unassuming design, he’s not exactly the idealized person for your average kid to impose their own ideals on. His constant talk and obsession with money is not something that’s going to inspire passion in your normal sports anime fan that’s looking for big hype moments. Rather, Bonda’s appeal is very limited; largely to that of longtime college graduates who are depressed over their current lives and can respect the practical way in which Bonda is fighting against having a merely average life. It’s a very specific niche and one that may not translate well to high school to college age demographic of Western audiences. But to that niche, Bonda is highly sympathetic.
Unfortunately though, far too often does Gurazeni falls into telling and not showing. In the very first episode, Bonda discusses how he has to go up against a very newly recruited player from the minor leagues that’s getting his first shot. Bonda goes on and on, describing his high school situation, his current family life, how the player will never get another chance after Bonda strikes him out, all over the actual game and as Bonda is pitching against him. There’s a very interesting story in there, but Bonda’s unending inner monologue distracts from the tension of the scene, letting none of the story beats have any impact. Gurazeni doesn’t trust its viewers to be able to absorb the impact of a scene, and that’s a real problem.
On the plus side, Gurazeni has been showing steady improvement on the story-telling front since the first episode, with the first episode 3 hosting a unique dual perspective story in which Bonda and his teammate trying to improve their numbers before the end of the season. What makes this work is the impact of the realization in the second half that Bonda’s victory in the first half was actually detrimental to Bonda, as his homerun shutout deprived Bonda of the opportunity to improve his numbers further and potentially make a real change in his contract for the next year. This contrast is much more effective at communicating what Gurazeni is all about that it failed to in the first episode.
Gurazeni is incredibly unpolished, but there’s something interesting in there underneath the rough edges. It is a show strictly for older viewers who want an anime a little more grounded and down to Earth, but if you fall in that demographic, maybe give it a shot. You may find that the quality of Gurazeni is going to vary from episode to episode though.