Lounging at my computer waiting for a promised telephone call, I get that unsettling feeling my acquaintance has forgotten, and the risk of disappointment looms ever closer with every tick of the clock. Luckily, I have the final two episodes of One Outs to help kill time; its generic sports appearance notwithstanding, it manages to fill twenty-five episodes with uncomplicated thrills whilst delivering on originality, and is thus effortlessly absorbing.
Superficially, One Outs shares key features with Major, the current paradigm for animated baseball. The protagonists in both adopt a rabble of losers and lead them to victory using inspirational talent and charisma. On a more fundamental level, One Outs opts for a deviant flavour more in keeping with Kaiji and Akagi, essentially sticking a finger up at its host sports genre. To be sure, while Major captures the pure heroic spirit of baseball, One Outs strives to defile it. There are no gallant fastballs to save the day in displays of raw machismo, no epic man-to-man standoffs, only sneaky psychological machinations and lots of sinister smiling.
What’s more, One Outs achieves levels of shallowness which would make even sports anime break a nervous sweat. All the action happens on the pitch, with no surrounding drama and no character development outside of the games. No background stories, no side plots, no diversionary comedy episodes, nothing. As a result, the plot consists entirely of unwavering cynicism, which, although gripping at the start, does wear thin after a while. For instance, when Toua recommends a plan to neutralise their cheating opponents which involves apparently self-defeating actions on the pitch, the diminutive fat-lipped manager refuses. I hoped he was protesting at Toua’s unsportsmanlike methods, making a moral pitch in favour of facing their enemies head-on and winning through passion rather than tricks. Instead, predictably, he turns out too stupid, slow, and corrupt for this to occur to him. In fact, I forget his reasons, they’re so banal.
Having said that, thanks to its curious combination of setting and subject matter, the series still offers goodies for everyone. Fans of suspense will appreciate its brooding, melodramatic style borrowed directly from Kaiji and Death Note (just consider the butch setting as shiny new packaging on the same Madhouse product). Furthermore, anyone looking for effective twists with generous helpings of cheese a la Code Geass should also take a peek. Extreme suppositions abound, like a baseball runner so fast he defies any strategic logic and teams which use outlandish, indecipherable signals to cheat their opponents. Not to mention game tactics based on absurdly precise measurements such as the number of spins on a ball as it flies, high-stake bets at every turn, and an excitable narrator to recount every obvious detail.
In terms of animation, much of One Outs’ strength lies in the design for Toua Tokuchi. A bishie with a demonic twist, his wiry frame, pale rock star looks, and wickedly narrow eyes not only suit the anime perfectly, but continually demand attention. Moreover, One Outs boasts fluid baseball sequences and rich colours as well as detailed environments. Considering it’s a product of the Madhouse machine, this is probably as good-looking as sports anime get.
Nonetheless, there’s disappointingly little artistry evident in the style. Since most of the action occurs on an open, well-lit baseball pitch, One Outs lacks much of the shadowy detail present in Kaiji. Moreover, apart from Toua, the characters look rather nondescript, as though lifted from any number of other shows on the market.
Every episode begins with Pay Money To My Pain’s dark, grungy opening theme, ‘Bury’, which acts as an addictively haunting mood-setter for the narrative. On the other hand, the in-episode accompaniment includes funky beats and string instrumentals with fairly exciting melodies. None of the audio tracks will capture minds and hearts, however, or make for an album worth paying for.
On balance, I enjoyed the characters, with Toua Tokuchi standing head and shoulders above the insipid, caricatured supporting cast. Having more in common with the sociopathic Yagami Light (Death Note) than any heroic shounen archetypes, Toua enjoys toying with people. Whenever possible, he openly hunts for physical and psychological weaknesses in his opponents in order to exploit them. Nonetheless, while his questionable actions make him difficult to identify with, he also happens to fight for the most sympathetic team, which makes him admirable enough. Unfortunately, Toua’s personality falls short in one important regard – he undergoes no development whatsoever, remaining exactly the same throughout and generally failing to fulfil his true potential as an antihero.
On the other hand, the lack of honourable secondary characters appears a glaring omission (more so than in Kaiji) because of the baseball backdrop. In a sports context, most would expect at least a few individuals to have entered the game out of interest rather than for the intrigue. However, with their personalities left wholly unexplored, questions of their ‘interests’ become moot anyway. Furthermore, One Outs relies so strongly on Toua’s strategies rather than the Lycaons’ skill that the other characters become redundant. The supporting cast’s only purpose is to act as cardboard pawns in Toua’s game, to enact his commands, and coo admiringly whenever he hands them a victory. Still, while most of them fly through the story without so much as a witty line or interesting face to remember them by, they function well enough to work in the narrative’s favour rather than detract from it.
Generally, One Outs’ strategy-based content is convincing and the devilish protagonist unique enough to hold anyone’s attention for twenty-five episodes. If baseball or suspense is your thing and you’ve got a few hours to fill (say, you’re nervously awaiting a phone call from an ingrate, damn it), then One Outs certainly delivers a refreshing combination of these themes that’s worth watching at least once.
Kojima is a baseball legend. As the superstar cleanup hitter for the Lycaons, he won himself many awards including rookie of the year seven times; but there's one title he never acquired: champion. In an attempt to find that special something Kojima feels he's missing inside, he opens a training camp in Okinawa. There, through a series of events, Kojima is introduced to a high stakes game dominated by the talented Toua Tokuchi, and subsequently loses a fortune. However, Kojima finally defeats Toua and due to their agreement, he enlists him to join the now poorly-ranked Lycaons - but Toua demands a high price: instead of a salary, he will receive five million yen for each out, and lose fifty million yen for each point lost. With a bad attitude and prodigal skills, Toua will help transform the Lycaons into winners once more.
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