[Synopsis]: While taking part in a minor league training camp in Okinawa, the Saitama Lycaons renowned batter Kojima Hiromichi (Isobe Tsutomu) encounters an unknown talent in the form of Tokuchi Toua (Hagiwara Masato) when he gets caught up in the game “One Outs” – a one on one contest between pitcher and batter the results of which are gambled upon. Though he struggles, Kojima manages to give Tokuchi his first loss in over 500 challenges and scouts him for the team in the hopes that he can lead the Lycaons to the championships. Tokuchi accepts Kojima’s proposal but the team owner is reluctant to recruit him given that he has no professional experience and measures the team purely by it’s profitability. Tokuchi reaches an agreement with the owner when he pitches him a grandiose version of the “One Outs” game – a unique contract wherein he earns 5 million yen for each out he pitches at the expense of a 50 million yen penalty for each run scored against him.
One Outs presented somewhat of a unique ensemble in that, despite its subject matter of baseball which involves entire teams of players as well as management and coaching staff, the show featured a very small cast. What’s more is that One Outs revolves entirely around Tokuchi and only infrequently bothers itself with characters like Kojima, Ideguchi, and the Lycaon’s team owner. Though the Lycaons team is populated by a number of recurring faces and named characters, they are rarely of any import in regards to the events unfolding and are practically never the source of any plot development.
This kind of cast dynamic puts a lot of emphasis and stress on Tokuchi’s character and one’s enjoyment of the show will likely be tied to how engaging he appears to them. In terms of characterization, he’s a pretty interesting package – his condescending and disconnected attitude feed well into his collective persona and the manner in which he preys off of other people’s anxiety and nervousness. His manipulation of others is his defining trait and his most important skill when it comes to pitching and it is in this process that One Out’s renowned psychological aspects come into play.
While Tokuchi is generally interesting he has some writing flaws that somewhat detract from what would otherwise be a moderately compelling, static character. From the get-go, One Outs paints him as a pretty infallible character and the plot of the show doesn’t do much to upend this. He lost to Kojima in what the viewer might consider a narrative technicality, he struck out 21 batters in his first game with the Lycaons, and ended up pitching a perfect game in his second pre-season game. The question that arises with characters like these is then, how do you make them compelling? Tokuchi comes off as being a bit too perfect – his origins in “One Outs” was supposed to limit his experience to the position of pitcher however when he is forced to play other roles such as batting and fielding, he succeeds none the less despite having no professional experience in them. Even things seen as mistakes are later attributed to his own purposeful design and when the show continuously finds ways to apologize for any negative events related to him, the interest and appeal of his character takes several hits.
The rest of the cast isn’t all that important because of the focus placed on Tokuchi but there are a number of characters worth mentioning. One thing the show did exceptionally well was how it dispensed its information. In many shows, the exposition relating to ongoing events and the thoughts of each player and team might be given to a mouthpiece character who in turn spells everything out at a distance for the viewer to understand however these characters always end up feeling a bit inhuman and omniscient. One Outs administers this technique through a number of different, changing characters as well as a Hunter x Hunter-esque narrator who dramatizes the character’s psychological interactions and keeps things fresh. Though the owner of the team has financial reasons for wanting Tokuchi to lose, he comes off as a bit too comically evil in how he attempts to spoil the games and it seems like he wants his team to lose just a little too much.
The animation was consistent throughout though didn’t present anything particularly exceptional. The character designs were a point of intrigue in that some characters looked very outlandish and exaggerated while others appeared far more realistic and grounded which created an odd visual juxtaposition between them. Tokuchi falls into the former category with his somewhat stylistic design however this also sets him apart from the rest of the cast on a visual level aside from his personality and skill. The backgrounds were initially kind of interesting given the starkly lit, underground-feeling arena where “One Outs” was played however this is quickly exchanged for a typical baseball stadium and you see the same two or three settings every episode the rest of the show.
I think One Outs has a pretty effective hook within the events of its first two episodes – we are introduced to Kojima Hiromichi who becomes involved with Tokuchi and “One Outs” when one of his teammates ends up losing the night before. After being bested himself, he has a bit of an existential moment and leaves the training camp to mentally hone himself for a month’s time. When he returns he once again challenges Tokuchi to a game of “One Outs” – this time betting his career and Tokuchi’s ability to play the game in a desperate, high-stakes contest. Between the very human and insightful moments from Kojima, Tokuchi’s enigmatic pitching ability, and the high stakes game where both players effectively bet their ability to play the game, I think the series starts off in a rather exciting manner.
Once Tokuchi begins playing for the Lycaons, the story plateaus a bit and slows down considerably as it focuses on the team’s battles with 3 other minor league teams after the preseason and uses a fairly similar formula for each despite their various developments and psychological intricacies. What’s important to note here is that One Outs is only a show about baseball insofar as its subject matter which is ultimately more of a vehicle for the show’s game theory and psychological elements than anything else. This becomes quite obvious in how the very integrity of the game is brought into question early on with rampant cheating and match fixing. Baseball and even the gambling aspect of the show brought out in Tokuchi’s risk taking and esoteric strategies are essentially side attractions and window dressing. What the viewer is really watching is a show about problem solving as Tokuchi confronts a myriad of obstetrical within the context of baseball and has to manipulate, scheme, and gamble to overcome them. The show itself often subverts the very idea of baseball – changing the premise of the game into something more focused on time or on violations rather than who’s on base or what the score is.
While those looking for a sports-centric show might be upset by One Out’s focus on the psychological it is undoubtedly the show’s most interesting, core element. While it can be presented a bit too forwardly at times, the general thought process exhibited by the different players and the interplay between them and Tokuchi is certainly engaging. As he develops answers to certain players and issues that arise during the course of the three game series a kind of metagame evolves and between this and fairly interesting implementations of game theory the show is pretty entertaining.
The knife’s edge upon which psychological battles typically balance is the viewer’s own suspense of disbelief and at times Tokuchi’s strategies and ability to read other people definitely strained this. Did he know enough about the person to know how they would behave? Was the scheme realistic or was it too far-reaching and convoluted? Does what’s happening feel possible? These things weigh against the viewer’s perception of the show and their ultimate enjoyment of it will likely depend upon whether or not they enjoy the mind-games that transpire.
There isn’t too much worth noting about the soundtrack which for the most part just did its job and fit the show’s introspective and tense scenes comfortably. While never rising above the dialogue or events of the show, a handful of the tracks lent themselves particularly well to the kind of montage format a lot of the in-game plays occurred within – drawing the scenes together by means of a kind of repetitive but comprehensive sound.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
All in all, One Outs feels like a pretty mixed bag of successes and shortcomings. Its psychological components were enticing but its story felt long-winded in places and formulaic in an overarching way. One of my more gnawing qualms about the gambling element of the show is that Tokuchi never really feels like he’s actually risking anything. There isn’t any singular point in time where Tokuchi doesn’t seem in control of the situation – is something really at stake when the person gambling either never loses or doesn’t seem to care whether they do or not? This will depend on the viewer.
I gave One Outs a 6 because, while it had its writing and character issues, it still managed to present fairly interesting material in the form of game theory and certain manipulative strategies. Even if it wasn’t always engaging, it was at least entertaining. Tokuchi’s characterization, the suspense of disbelief-straining psychological manipulation, and the staleness of the narrative’s proceedings detract a bit from the show but never enough to the point where it wasn’t fun to watch.
I would recommend One Outs to those who have found that they enjoy shows featuring things like a battle of wits or a mental showdowns. Those looking for a show about sports or baseball are likely to still enjoy the show. However, they will find that they won’t be able to follow the game as it unfolds as usual or attach themselves to certain teams or players because of how the underlying integrity of the game is perpetually tarnished.