The CG looks like it comes straight out of an early PS2 game. The narrative heavily relies on internal monologues tediously explaining every single technical term or management concept related to baseball. The budget is so low that the ending didn’t even have a proper animation sequence until the second season, where they just reused the song but set it to some dancing animation rather than an animation loop of a girl sitting on a hill; a character you don’t even meet until the last episode of the first season.
Gurazeni is not going to start winning any awards any time soon. This is a series that has so many technical issues at a fundamental level that it’s easy to see why it’s been so panned critically. The fact that it even got licensed to air on Crunchyroll is nothing short of baffling.
But yet… there’s just something about the series that makes the hate feel unjustified. We thought we’d make a case for Gurazeni and explain why there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
The Truly Average Hero
Plenty of anime try to position their heroes as being “average” to better fulfill a power fantasy for the viewer. They are meek, uninteresting people who believe they have no talent but discover through freak chance that they have a strange talent for a sport, which leads them to become one of the best players in all of Japan. The fact that they are actually an average person is inconsequential to the plot: it is only there to make the reader feel empathetic.
And that’s what’s so interesting about Natsunosuke Bonda. He’s not the star of his team. He’s just a relief pitcher on the Spiders, a national level pro team. Compared to the average person, he is obviously quite talented, but in comparison to the rest of the league? He barely stands out. This creates a unique perspective for the series, as Bonda’s goals aren’t for glory, but survival. He’s not the kind of player who has a cult of personality or the sheer talent to survive normally in the big leagues. When he stops being useful, that’s the end of his baseball career and the end of living the good life.
Unidealized View of Sports
One of the defining episodes of Gurazeni comes from when the well-known batter of an opposing team has his contract up in the air. The management actually wants to retire him because he’s so expensive and he’s been in a bit of a slump, but he’s so ingrained in the culture of the team that they just can’t outright deprive him of a contract. They wait until the next game and hope that his slump continues when he goes up against Bonda, and when he fails to even hit against a no-name like him, that might convince the batter to retire.
Stories like these are simply just not being told in anime these days. Sports anime, in particular, are so focused on tales of the importance of discovering a passion that the reality of the sport goes ignored. Yet Gurazeni doesn’t just not ignore it, it embraces it as the main driving point of the plot. Gurazeni is, ultimately, a story of capitalism and how it completely drives our culture for better and worse, and baseball is just the window dressing to show how nothing is sacred.
We hope that, with this defense, you may be more inclined to throw Gurazeni on your queue. It’s not a series for everyone, but it’s a fascinating character study and a truly unique story that’s unlike anything else that’s come out recently. It shouldn’t just go completely ignored as it has been.
Are you one of the 37 people outside of Japan who has actually watched Gurazeni? Well, please, don’t be shy! Comment below and make yourself heard!