After everything I said about Megalo Box, I have to eat my hat. I’ve actually found a sports anime that seems pretty compelling to me. It’s called Gurazeni: Money Pitch, and it’s the story of Bonda, a pro baseball player. Now, I’m not that partial to baseball, so that wasn’t what drew me in. Here’s what did:
First of all, as a family man, I’m always on the lookout for anime that I can watch with my kids. Here is a first episode with absolutely nothing that I think anyone could find objectionable. It’s a funny, upbeat story—with a dark under-presence continually peering out from below.
You see, as you might gather from the title, the show is also about—money! As pro football players, Bonda and his colleagues (do they call them colleagues in baseball? Well, whatever) make a fair amount of money: Bonda estimates at one point that he makes three times an average worker’s annual salary. But for Bonda that’s too small: Since a pro bb player is basically running on borrowed time once they hit 30, they need to make enough money within that time to retire on.
Even beyond necessity, money becomes a status symbol to the players. Bonda explains to the fourth wall that he and his fellow players rank each other according to their incomes. Those with higher incomes are considered superior to those with less. Needless to say, this means not only that all the players are striving to make more money, but also that this informal ranking system affects their behavior and interactions—in short, the politics of baseball.
The moment that really sold me on the show brought all of these elements into play. Bonda, a lefty relief pitcher who makes 18,000,000 yen a year (making him near the bottom as far as the ‘ranking’ goes), goes up against another low-ranker: Doi, a star from the minor leagues who is playing in the major leagues for the first time. Doi has a family, including two young kids; Bonda is single. As Bonda prepares to pitch against Doi, he reflects on the fact that if Doi strikes out here, he’ll probably get sent back to the minor leagues—his dreams of being a major league player crushed forever. But if Bonda pitches well and gets him out, it will likely result in a substantial raise that will really Bonda in retirement. Thus, in the space of a moment, Bonda has to make a moral decision, and one without a clear resolution.
Should he let Doi hit the ball for the sake of his family? Or is he not morally culpable if he strikes him out? What would I do in the same situation, I found myself asking.
To find out what Bonda decides to do, you can stream Gurazeni: Money Pitch on Crunchyroll! Meanwhile, I’ll be chewing on my hat some more: nom nom nom.