Yuri!!! on Ice is a good show. One Outs is not.
There’s a humble scene in Yuri!!! on Ice where Yuri Plisetsky eats a pork cutlet pirozhki with his beloved grandfather before the Cup of Russia. Up until that moment, the show portrays Yuri as a cutthroat competitor, willing to do anything to crush his opponents, and acting without love or sympathy to anyone who helps him. Complete with the blonde hair, sharp facial features, outlandish fashion, and the mean, disinterested demeanor that comes with many anime anti-heroes, Yuri looks and acts like a delinquent reminiscent of a yankii to a Japanese audience, or a punk to a Western one.
The popular psychological drama One Outs paints the same portrait of its main character Tokuchi Toua, minus the outlandish fashion, and with greater emphasis on his competitive energy. But unlike Yuri, Tokuchi never gets the humanizing moment that adds dimension to his character. This is because Yuri!!! on Ice is a good show. One Outs is not.
Despite praise, One Outs finer points fail stupendously.
One Outs has received nearly universal praise on anime and baseball forums ever since its 2008 release. Baseball fans love the puzzling game strategy, easily the strongest part of the show, while anime enthusiasts complement the show’s thrilling psychological sequences. But every other aspect of the show–the clunky art style, dizzying action scenes, melodramatic dialogue, stagnant character development, ill-fitting music–fails stupendously like watching the third strike go by on the last play of the game.
The show introduces Tokuchi hustling Okinawa’s finest degenerates through a street game called One Outs, a pitcher-versus-batter game that puts big money on a single at-bat. When professional baseball star Kojima Hiromichi defeats Tokuchi on a technicality, he convinces Tokuchi to join the last-place Lycaons to give Kojima one last shot at a championship. Tokuchi soon discovers that baseball’s many strategical nuances challenge his gambler’s mind to crush his opponents psychologically, and he overcomes his physical limitations with a ruthless undressing of every strategy thrown at him.
And all of this happens in the first three episodes, and then repeats again and again without any challenge to Tokuchi’s unexplained infallibility. For a show that delves deeper into complex strategy than any sports drama ever made, the superficial plot floats like a rubber duck in a kiddie pool.
We don’t need to watch the ending.
This isn’t to say that the show lacks intelligence: many thousand words can be written about the strategies Tokuchi implements to achieve victory. One Outs provides visual representations of nine-player infields, slowly-rotated pitches, unbalanced baseballs, and other theoretics that most sports fans could only imagine before. Tokuchi spends an entire episode breaking every possible rule to prolong a game into a forecasted thunderstorm that would erase the 16 runs he gave up previously, and this chess-match of cheating simultaneously ruins the integrity and sings the praises of baseball’s innumerable complexities. But we don’t need to watch the ending to know who wins because nothing ever suggests Tokuchi will ever lose.
As if Tokuchi’s superficiality wasn’t bad enough, the show’s many other subpar aspects ensure its demise. The on-field scenes often move from the ball’s perspective, which can nauseate a sensitive viewer and distort the game’s visual pleasure. Tokuchi’s contracted salary with the owner, which advertises itself in giant gold letters at the end of every episode, grows to an unbelievable sum and quickly becomes an inconsequential reminder of Tokuchi’s undefeatability. And far from providing a psychological dressing, the show’s repetitive score hops in when it doesn’t need to and often presents the wrong mood for the scenes. Though the show’s hard work manifests through its high baseball IQ, it barely registers in its artistic and technical shortcomings.
The best sports shows get the most fans when they behave like the sports they portray. Katsuki Yuri eventually finds a happy ending, but his satisfaction comes only because Yurii!!! on Ice has its main character fail and grow in the process. In creating a juggernaut, One Outs ruins the most satisfying part of both sports and drama: the pain of defeat setting up the thrill of victory.