What’s it about? Mid-range pitcher Natsunosuke Bonda is working his hardest as a professional baseball player, trying to make a living for himself in a career defined by limited time and uncertain salaries.
Have you ever wanted to watch a sports story about financial anxieties and retirement plans? Then have I got a series for you!
Okay, Gurazeni isn’t as gloomy as all that—it has a nice bright color palette, appealing throwback character designs, and a cheerfully realistic protagonist—but it’s also far more interested in the practicalities of being a professional athlete than it is in following a traditional hoo-rah sports narrative. It’s the sports version of SHIROBAKO, showing how even if you do land your dream job, it’s still very much a job, with its own share of responsibilities and concerns.
There is something fascinatingly unique, almost refreshing, about Gurazeni‘s practical protagonist. Bonda studies every other player and busts his tail in games, but it’s not for any shounen-esque goal like Being The Best or Winning The Championship. No, Bonda’s working hard to Get That Raise.
Being a professional baseball player is a high-profile job with a great salary—Bonda makes 18 million yen (about $170,000 USD) a year, and he’s not even in the top tier—but it also comes with a lot of uncertainty and a very short lifespan. Poor performances or an injury could end your career in your 20s, and even great players usually retire in their 30s, with limited career options afterwards. Essentially, Bonda needs to make a lifetime’s worth of money in about 10-15 years.
Our protagonist is laser-focused on that goal, and so is Gurazeni. The episode is split into two stories, and each is all about the
Benjamins Fukuzawas. The first is an introduction to Bonda’s mindset while also showcasing his work ethic on the mound. The second is about Bonda’s friend, a former player who was irresponsible with his money and is now trying to make it as a color commentator with a salary of 3 million yen (about $28,000 USD) a year.
Again, it’s an undeniably novel way to approach a sports anime, standing out in stark contrast to the more common high school-focused tales of Youthful Passion and Love Of The Game. It’s also surprisingly upbeat given its subject matter, realistic without being cynical—Bonda likes his job, it’s just that he’s very aware it is a job.
The show’s chipper tone is also helped along by its colorful art design (although I winced every time it shifted to janky CGI for the action animation), making it a much more amiable experience than the plot synopsis would suggest. I found myself relating to Bonda’s professional concerns and overall enjoying the episode.
That said, I’m not sure there’s enough here to carry a full season. If the series keeps its focus around practical, financial concerns, I could see it becoming redundant in a hurry (this first episode was already repeating itself by the end), especially if Bonda doesn’t have any other more narratively exciting goals we can see him working towards. “I’m gonna move my way up the pay scale” is a fine motivation in life, but it doesn’t exactly make for a pulse-pounding work of fiction.
As far as feminist-relevant concerns go, Gurazeni is about a men’s team, so I don’t expect too many female characters (and I wouldn’t hold my breath for any queer characters either). A few women do pop up in the opening theme, but if the ending theme is any indication, they’ll mostly exist to cheer on the menfolk. There’s nothing here that would scare a feminist-minded viewer away, mind you (except maybe some low-level grumpiness about how most people don’t make $170k for even one year, never mind 10-15 years), but there’s also nothing especially progressive happening, either.
If you’re a sports fan interested in the more practical side of the profession, Gurazeni looks to be a perfectly pleasant way to spend 22 minutes each week. As for everyone out there looking for the emotional highs of a more traditional sports anime: maybe check out the MEGALOBOX premiere instead.