This anime, produced by the creators of Kaiji and Akagi, is one of the best in the business. It is a baseball anime on the outside, but what it really is, is an anime about gambling, manipulation and trickery.
Kojima Hiromichi is the star batter of the baseball team Saitama Lycaons, one of the weakest teams in the Japanese baseball championships. In his 21-year career, Kojima has reached many a milestone and won a number of awards, but the championship trophy has been eluding him forever. Determined to win the championship in his final year of baseball before retirement, he organizes a rigorous training camp for two weeks, not only to improve his power-hitting, but also to scour for new talent.
The real story begins when the pitcher gets injured during practice and two of Kojima’s teammates are forced to search for a substitute pitcher in the city. When the two get approached by an American woman who claims to help them out, little do they know they’re going to enter into a high-stakes gambling scene revolving around baseball [called one-outs] in one of the local playgrounds. And that is where they meet Tokuchi Toua, the protagonist of the series. The two get trolled into entering into a bet which Tokuchi goes on to win. When Kojima comes to know of this, he himself goes to the ground to have a one-on-one match with him. But when Tokuchi defeats Kojima despite possessing no apparent pitching skills whatsoever, Kojima is forced to re-evaluate his training and mental thinking. The events unfolding thereafter cause Tokuchi to enter the Saitama Lycaons team, as a favor(?) for Kojima, to help his team win the championships.
Here is where the notorious “One-Outs” contract comes in. The owner of the Lycaons, Saikawa, is a devious tycoon whose only interest in the baseball team is as a revenue source. Saikawa cites Tokuchi’s lack of professional experience as a reason for his reluctance to offer him any significant salary, but then Tokuchi comes up with an offer. The One-Outs contract : earn 5 million yen for each out he makes, lose 50 million yen for each run he concedes. Saikawa sees this as an opportunity for easy money, little does he know of Tokuchi’s guile. The series thereafter follows the mind-games between Tokuchi and Saikawa, the tactics and strategies between baseball teams for the championship trophy and what-not.
Everything Tokuchi does, has a reason…
The story is great, and the narration job is done pretty neatly. Although once in a while, the viewer might feel the analogies are being repeated a bit too often. Even though the story is pretty linear, it gains more weight from the strength of the characters. Tokuchi’s role is the best, as is expected of course, but some of his teammates(especially the catcher Satoshi Ideguchi) are fully fleshed out and believable. Most of the story is seen from Ideguchi’s point of view, and he is the first one to notice Tokuchi’s genius, apart from Kojima. Full points to the creators for the characterizations. Animation for the show is above-average and holds up pretty well even after more than 7 years since its inception.
The anime may not be for everyone, though. If you want to watch something light-hearted or romantic, this is definitely not for you. But if you like anime like Code Geass, Death Note and other such thriller anime, this is a must-watch.
RATING : 9.5/10
– mind-games throughout
– smart-ass protagonist
– opening and ending themes
– somewhat repetitive analogies
– Kojima is relegated to a minor role in the latter half