In Japanese high school baseball, things are a bit different than what fans of American pro ball might be used to – as fans of baseball manga know very well. While there are multiple pitchers, there are no rotations like a pro team would use, and the position of “Ace” isn’t a rough concept – it’s as clearly defined a position as catcher, second baseman or right fielder. Every team has an ace, and every team has only one – and that’s the guy that gets to wear the coveted #1 to prove it.
This is a critical component of Diamond no Ace (it’s in the title, after all), as it is of many baseball series, and we see it play out in multiple ways this week. The main team is off to play their first game of the Spring Regional tournament – not as important as Summer Koshien by a long stretch, but the first test of the year and in this case, a chance for revenge against the team that knocked Seidou out of the Fall Invitational the prior year. And that means the ace takes the mound – Tanba Kouichirou (Morita Masakazu). And he struggled, though Seidou roughs up the opponents ace on the way to a 13-9 win, led by Kazuya’s three-run homer and the hitting of cleanup slugger Yuki Tetsuya (Hosoya Yoshimasa).
Veterans of the genre can see where this storyline is going pretty quickly, but this is not the sports anime that’s going to surprise us every week – it’s more about the execution of traditional sports shounen themes than reinventing them. Seidou is, fittingly, a powerhouse – but they have one weakness, and that’s the fact that they don’t have a true ace. Tanba is coming off an injury but he’s on a short leash, and his tentative form in the first game is enough to get him stripped of his “official” ace title.
Meanwhile, Eijun has skipped out on the bus ride to watch the team on the grounds that if he can’t officially practice, he needs to work his butt off every second he can. And it’s on the deserted practice field that the matter of rivals takes form – first with Yoshikawa Haruno, the clumsy first-year manager trainee (yes, it’s pretty sexist to have a girl talk about how her dream is to support the boys as they chase their dream, but the girl manager is as much a staple of baseball manga as the bat and glove). She’s seen a kindred spirit it Eijun – an “onaji taipu” – especially when he makes a fool of himself in class defending himself against the mockery he’s receiving for not being officially a part of the team despite having a scholarship. “It’s wonderful that you can be such a baka!” she tells him, just after clocking him with a tire.
Haruno, of course, is a rival for a certain someone back home, but there’s another onaji taipu and another rival on the field – Furuya Satoru (Shimazaki Nobunaga). He’s likewise a first-year but the only reason he’s not watching the first-string is that he was in the bathroom when the bus left. He happens upon Eijun when the latter is testing the limits of just how much fun a boy can have playing with himself, and the two end up playing catch. This is certainly one of those “fated moments” sports series are known for – Furuya-kun has trouble catching Eijun’s “disgusting” ball because he can’t throw straight, then – once his shoulder has warmed up – unleashes a straight-o that almost takes Eijun’s head off. Turns out Furaya is a walk-on (no scholarship) player who tested into Seidou because he wanted to find someone (Kazuya) who could catch his best heater.
With that, the pieces are all in place for Ace of Diamond to begin it’s first major storyline. Things are worrisome enough for Kataoka-sensei that he actually has to consider letting the first-years play – which means forming a team out of them to take on the big boys, in order to see which of the youngsters has what it takes to contribute right away. There’s no secret what this really means – the beginning of a long rivalry between the lefty who can’t throw straight and the righty who throws pure heat. But as anyone who knows sports manga (and fans of Chihayafuru, though not its CR translator) knows, teki is a very complex concept, a relationship that transcends friend or enemy and becomes something else entirely. And without it, it just doesn’t feel like a sports anime.