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Friday, February 4, 2011

One Outs: So This is What Baseball is Really Like...

Much like Akagi, Kaiji must have done well enough for Madhouse, so later in 2008 Madhouse gave us a third gambling anime, but this time Nobuyuki Fukumoto is completely absent. In his place is Shinobu Kaitani, who is now known for his Young Jump manga Liar GameOne Outs ran in Business Jump from 1996 to 2006, totaling 19 volumes, and the anime adaptation covers the first half of the manga. Even though this isn't a Fukumoto title and is can be considered more of a sports anime than a gambling anime, One Outs is still an excellent title and fans of Akagi and Kaiji will still definitely feel at home here.

One Outs focuses on the Japanese minor leagues, specifically on a team called the Lycaons. The Lycaons, to put it lightly, is one of the worst teams in the league, with the exception of star-batter Hiromichi Kojima. Before the new season begins Kojima brings fellow players Kinosaki and Nakane with him to Okinawa for some final training. There, Kinosaki and Nakane run into a gambling game based aorund baseball called "One Outs", where the batter has to hit a home run from the pitcher's throw, and the bystanders bet on the chances. The undisputed king of One Outs is Toua Tokuchi, whose pitches aren't especially fast, maxing out at only 83 MPH, but for some reason are impossible to hit. After the Nakane fails to beat Tokuchi the two bring in Kojima, who also loses. Determined to win Kojima risks damaging his arm during training solely so that he can beat Tokuchi, and in their second game make a bet that if Kojima wins, Tokuchi will help the Lycaons out, but if Kojima loses then he has to retire from baseball right away. Kojima wins, injuring his arm due to the training, and brings Tokuchi with him to the Lycaons.

The owner of the Lycaons isn't pleased with the sudden appearance of Tokuchi, who was partially responsible for Kojima's injury, and is ready to kick him out. But Tokuchi decides to play a game with his contract, which could make either side extremely rich. The owner agress and creates the One Outs Contract, which states that Tokuchi will earn 5,000,000 yen for every out he pitches, but will lose 50,000,000 yen for every point he gives up.

One Outs is a very different title than Akagi and Kaiji, but still has similar elements, especially with Akagi. Tokuchi is more like Akagi than Kaiji, where he's a psychological player who might not necessarily be great at the game he plays, but he makes up for it by playing with his opposition's head. For example, Tokuchi can only do one special pitch, which is that slow fastball. Soon the other teams figure out how to hit it, so Tokuchi decides to make a pattern with Ideguchi, his catcher. But the pattern is later found out, which results in Tokuchi having to outright lie to Ideguchi so that the other team can't figure out which throw will be used. And trust me when I say that this is only the beginning of the crazy mind games that are played in these baseball games.

The other teams the Lycaons play are either filled with extremely talented players, are lead by a coach who knows strategy, or play in a "trick stadium" where no one and nothing can be trusted at face value. There's a lot of actual baseball being played, which will please fans of the sport, but at the same time the psychological battles are just as important. Each team delivers a completely different style of game, keeping the show from getting stale and also forcing Tokuchi to use everything he's got to help make his team win. Finally, the show is accurate to the idea that baseball is a team sport, as the members of the Lycaons actually aren't that bad, but rather they had problems from a psychological standpoint and after Tokuchi gets them over that hurdle they start to improve, though most of the players are generally big worrywarts.

Then there's the owner, who is a truly evil man who wishes nothing but to see Tokuchi amass a giant debt and goes to extreme lengths to make sure that happens, even if it results in his team losing by a giant margin. It really makes for a great battle where Tokuchi wants his team to win and becomes kind of the co-leader of the team alongside Kojima and the owner aims for nothing but filling his pockets, even if it makes his team suffer in the end and never improve.

Once again most of the same staff from Akagi and Kaiji return, but this time there is no Hideki Taniuchi to be found. In his place is Akihiko Matsumoto, who did the music for the most recent Black Jack TV series as well as the Summer Wars movie, and after hearing Matsumoto's soundtrack you realize that Taniuchi's sound would have been truly out of place here. Instead of a hard-rock soundtrack, One Outs instead has a jazz-funk fusion soundtrack and it truly fits not only the show but the sport of baseball in general. And just like Kaiji most of the soundtrack is unforgettable, with a personal utmost favorite of mine being the song called "Aerobatic Funk". My god is the soundtrack to this show amazing!

In comparison the opening and ending themes are more traditional songs that do their job in interesting ways. The opening, "Bury" by Pay money To my pain, is sung completely in English and at first actually doesn't feel all too fitting with the show in general but is still absorbingly addictive. The ending theme, "Moment" by Tribal Chair, sounds like more like your traditional rock song that many other anime use but it's still a great song and is a perfect way to ease the tension that the show brings about.

For the third time Masato Hagiwara voices the main character, Tokuchi in this case, and if you loved his Akagi then you'll love his Tokuchi as it's pretty much "Akagi Mark II" at first listen. That sly, conniving voice he had as Akagi works perfectly with Tokuchi, but unlike Akagi there is an honest, and sometimes straight-out, friendship from Tokuchi that Hagiwara also brings out, keeping the performance from being an exact clone of his Akagi. Legendary voice actor Kenji Utsumi plays the Owner and makes him sound appropriately evil and uncaring. There's also actors like Tomokau Seki (rival batter Thomas), Kappei Yamaguchi (Ideguchi), Tsutomu Isobe (Kojima) as well as many others that put out great performances, keeping the high quality that Akagi and Kaiji brought.

One Outs couldn't be any more different from Akagi and Kaiji in some aspects, but at the same time there's enough similarity between them (and not just via the staff and Masato Hagiwara) to make them an excellent unrelated trio of animes, which is why I call them the "Madhouse Gambling Trilogy". And, you know, that term will be incorrect come April 5, when Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen debuts, making this the "Madhouse Gambling Quadrilogy". If you want something truly different from your "usual" anime, and especially if want something for older audiences, then look no further than these titles. They all tell great stories filled with great characters and truly tense moments, and I am so happy to see Madhouse returning to one of them. Now maybe after Kaiji Season 2 we'll finally get One Outs Season 2 that covers the second half of the manga as well as an Akagi OVA that continues that crazy mahjong match of death...

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