Gurazeni – Episode 4
In episode 4 the show goes back to being a two-parts episode and I must say this has been my favorite episode so far! Again, Gurazeni is a fun, easy watch with charming characters, but it can also be very thought-provoking in terms of challenging preconceptions of sports anime, pro-athlete lives and expectations and Japanese workplace culture. This episode had a little bit of all that and I’m pretty excited to talk about it.
The first story deals with the aftermath of a showdown between Bonda and Doterai Jo, a 400 million yen-worth player from the Setouchi Carnavits. Doterai is known as the three-time home-run king and with 500 home-runs under his belt, he is very much a legend in the Japanese baseball world in-universe. In the previous September he was injured by a dead ball thrown by Bonda, so he was out of commission for a while and his chance to redeem himself has come in the form of having to face Bonda again in a game between the Carnavits and the Spiders.
Doterai is really hanging from a little thread here. While the tension grows for the showdown, there’s some backtracking to a point in where the Carnavits are trying to refresh the team roster and they attempt to negotiate contracts with some foreigner players, but the discussion basically refers to forcing Doterai into early retirement. What I personally found interesting was this sort of support they were showing Doterai not as a valuable player for his skills, but the legend he represented. Of course, his historic relevance comes from his skills, but I would assume a pro baseball team would drop a player that doesn’t bring in wins and even more shocking was the fact that this re-hiring of Doterai came at the expense (no pun intended) of the Carnavits as a whole, so it might doom the team into a losing streak!
Either way, during the actual showdown Bonda goes through some inner-conflict over the idea of retiring the legend himself, he wants to do his job, but he also feels like he’d offend if he didn’t give Doterai a hit and that’s some Japanese culture thing right there… I mean, to be so conscious of ‘the people’s feelings’ is something that probably doesn’t have a lot of space within professional sports. Bonda does stop Doterai from hiting a home run, but gives up a hit, so the managers of the Carnavits can’t retire Doterai like they’d like to and Bonda doesn’t get in trouble by bringing down a giant.
The second part focuses more on the expectations people have of professional players, the amount of skill it takes for someone to reach that goal and how these things are trivialized by non-professionals. Bonda and a young guy who seems to be his friend are casually juggling a soccer ball when an on-looker who harshly criticized Bonda before joins in. As they juggle, the on-looker guy realizes that Bonda and his friend have physiques that aren’t quite regular. He remembers that in his youth he wanted to be a pro soccer player, but he gave up and now he begins to see Bonda’s skills under a new light.
Later on we learn that Noboru, the guy hanging out with Bonda, was a junior league pitcher that failed to make it to the professional league despite showing plenty of promise. He retired early supposedly due to an injuries-riddled career and now he has a low-income job selling merch at the stadium. Noboru seems plenty all right with that, though. I’m sure he’s had time to come to terms with it. Bonda makes a mistake during the game he’s playing and both the on-looker and Noboru quietly encourage him, since not just about anyone can go pro and once they do, the pressure they have to deal with in games is no joke.