Rather than sticking to the mainstream and well-known animes out there, sometimes I like to take a detour and check out something that may not have made any huge headlines on the anime scene but is a gem in its own right. For something that fits the profile, I’d like you to turn your attention to one of the dark horses of the sports anime genre – One Outs: Nobody Wins, But I!
Just a few samples out of the 20 volumes that you can enjoy reading
This show is based on a manga written by Shinobu Kaitani (of “Liar Game” fame – if you haven’t heard of this manga/tv show I will be writing a review of the manga in the near future) and was originally published for a seinen demographic in Business Jump. There are 20 volumes which were published from 1998 to 2006 and the anime was produced in 2008 by Madhouse (of “Death Note”, “The Girl that Leapt Through Time”, “One-Punch Man” – make sure to read the weekly reviews on the site – and “Black Lagoon” fame, to name a few). Although it purveys itself to be sports manga, it also falls under the psychological category due to the dual focus of the storyline – one aspect looks at the outcomes of the various games and the competition they face and the other looks at the psychology behind sports and how to take on opponents from a psychological standpoint. It’s that new and fresh angle on the sports genre that made me take a second look and reconsider making this anime part of my collection – something I haven’t regretted since.
Some of Madhouse’s other, more notable, crowning achievements
The straightforward pitch (pun!) is that of a regular sports anime where we have our protagonist team, the Lycaons, taking on various opposing teams as they try to make it to the top in the championships. Very cut and dry from that aspect but as I said, there is a dual focus with this story and so the plot seemingly divides into a number of various mini-storylines which are all perfectly interweaved to create an amazing show!
One of our main characters, Kojima Hiromichi, is a legendary baseball player who has had an amazing 21-year long career thus far with amazing batting averages that puts most of the old hands to shame. The only thing is that even though he’s had this amazing individual success, he still hasn’t been able to win a championship with the Lycaons – something he desperately wants to achieve before he has to retire from the game. Through a twist of fate (and a twist of a wrist), Kojima comes to meet the real star of the show – Tokuchi Toua. Tokuchi is a gambling man – whether it’s at the casino or at a baseball game knows as “One Outs” – but his methods don’t leave things in the hands of lady luck. Rather, he uses his abilities to observe and read people to manipulate their thoughts and actions and use this to his advantage. It’s at a “One Outs” game that Kojima gets to see the potential that this man holds to turn things around for the team and so after a one on one match up and a little bit of negotiation, Kojima gets Tokuchi to join the Lycaons.
Tokuchi Toua in a nutshell
Of course, nothing comes for free and Tokuchi deals directly with the owner of the team, Saikawa Tsuneo, to negotiate his own kind of “One Outs” contract. Tokuchi is a pitcher so the contract stipulates that the pitcher gains ¥5,000,000 (about US$46,000) for every out he pitches, but loses ¥50,000,000 (US$460,000) for every point he gives up. To any rational person, that would seem like an insanely risky deal for the pitcher but a potentially lucrative one for the owner. Saikawa is no different and immediately agrees to Tokuchi’s suggested contract, thinking that he’s in for a big windfall, when really he’s just in for some major headaches as Tokuchi slowly carves a path to victory for the Lycaons.
Making a deal with Tokuchi is like making a deal with the devil…
…a deal you will soon come to regret
I’ve referred to this anime as the dark horse of the sports genre and this is not an over-exaggeration. When I first came across this title sitting in the “sports” genre list I read the synopsis and wasn’t immediately taken but the concept played on my mind and I went back to it and gave it a chance. A few episodes in and I was completely hooked. In fact, I could easily go back to that anime and watch it from start to finish again. I’ve watched it about 3 times now and I never tire of seeing how Tokuchi takes down opponents using the power of his mind. It sounds like he has a superpower of some kind, but really he is a psychological warfare expert. He uses his surroundings including the people around him, the weather, various circumstances or just about anything to create either a false sense of security or a feeling of intense pressure against his opponents. And this is where the other focus of the show lies (the first being the progression of the team through the various games). For the most part, Tokuchi’s opponents are those from the opposing team – whether it be the players or the coaches – but sometimes the biggest opponent he faces is the one that is supposed to be on his side – the owner of the Lycaons. So there are various dynamics at play where Tokuchi has to put both his own interests as well as the interests of the team first whilst dealing with the man at his back that is trying to sabotage him. Sometimes you get the feeling that Tokuchi doesn’t even do it for the money but for the fun of it all as he crushes his competition and revels in their looks of despair.
The truth of the matter
Kaitani-sensei is obviously gifted when it comes to psychologically-based storylines but I will admit that his stories do require some effort and concentration on the part of the viewer. As much as you would like to kick back, relax and watch how the championship is won, you have to pay attention to the score and rotations in the game and, most importantly, the running tally of money owed to Tokuchi. In addition, there are also explanations with regard to the business end of baseball, including the profits and losses that can be incurred and what the influencing factors are, e.g. calculating profits from ticket sales at the home stadium versus the losses incurred by running a losing team. Although it sounds like additional work, this element is part of the reason you feel invested in the game.
Put on your thinking cap and keep a calculator handy
In terms of the production itself, Madhouse is one of my favourite studios and I find that they usually stay quite true to the manga’s that they choose to adapt. The same applies to One Outs where they have maintained the style of Shinobu Kaitani whilst making it palatable for an animated setting since the art style of the mangas itself might not be as artistically finessed as some would like. The music is ideal for the show as well with a top OP and ED provided by J-rock bands Pay Money To My Pain and Tribal Chair and an OST that brings that “take me out to the ballgame” kind of feel. In terms of criticism, the one major sad point of the anime is that they don’t see the championship through to completion. However they can be forgiven since there are a total of 20 volumes and only 25 episodes after all. They don’t leave you on a cliffhanger as such but leave you wanting to see how it all turns out which, I’m sure, must have done wonders for manga sales after it aired.
Brains and talent make for a formidable opponent
When you watch this show, you find yourself sitting in awe at how Tokuchi’s mind works and how well he plans his attacks against his enemies and you get that feeling that as awesome as he is, he’s also rather scary and is the kind of protagonist that you wouldn’t want to cross. He takes no prisoners and is merciless, but only because this is what he expects of his opponents – that they too will do whatever it takes to win. There are plenty of other characters, some of whom Tokuchi finds he can relate to somewhat and keeps them in the loop and others he uses as pawns to both further the team as well as take on the enemy. With a friend like Tokuchi, do you really need enemies? Watching how his plans play out is definitely part of the fun so if you’re into mind games and seeing how an absolute boss takes on the game of baseball whilst making a financial killing, then look no further than One Outs. And if you’re wondering whether we ever get to see Tokuchi crack under the pressure? Well, I suppose you’d have to watch it to find out…
Image credits: Shueisha, Madhouse