First Impressions – Daiya no A

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So far, Fall 2013 has a distinctly old school flavor to it – at least the tiny corner of the schedule that overlaps with my tastes, anyway.

OP: “Go EXCEED!!” by Tom-H@ck featuring Masayoshi Ōnishi

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I love sports manga, and the anime that come from them.  Not all of them, not by a long stretch, but as a genre it’s one of my favorites and one that gets almost no attention in the West.  So naturally I was pleased to see a relative cornucopia of sports manga adaptations this Fall (much like the Spring featured mecha), especially given that this is a genre that’s become less prominent in anime even in Japan, while it’s maintained its powerhouse standing in manga.  Among this season’s batch there are two that especially interest me as a fan of the manga – Yowamushi Pedal and this series, Diamond no Ace.

I’ve been asked many times “What series is Ace of Diamond Like?”  People want to know if it’s like Cross Game, or Major, or Touch, or Oofuri.  I suppose it’s natural to compare baseball titles, but the best answer I can give is that Daiya no A is like Daiya no A.  If you will, this is a sports series for fans of sports anime.  Adachi’s works (which I love) tend to focus on the personal stories, using sports as a mirror to hold up and reveal character.  Major (which I love) is about the heroic exploits of one boy and man, Honda Goro.  Oofuri (which I like a lot) is an idealized view of teenage ballplayers that accents the sensitive side of their nature.  Diamond no Ace has elements of all of them, but the star of the show here is the team.  This is a story of what it means to want to succeed with the friends you’ve fought and bled and cried with, and what it means to trust a teammate as much as you trust yourself.

What Ace of Diamond definitely is not is a Shounen Jump-style sports manga – or at least what that’s come to mean in recent years, with their straight-to-Comiket pairings and superhuman special moves.  This is a pretty gritty story, though it certainly does contain exceptional talents.  The series has been running in Japan since 2006, 37 volumes strong, and as a co-production of legendary studios Madhouse and Production I.G. it figures to be a high-profile show with solid production values.  How long it will run is still anybody’s guess – five or ten years ago this is the sort of show that could go for a year or more, but given the realities of today’s Blu-ray and DVD-driven marketplace and the way non-fujoshi sports titles tend to perform in it, it seems more likely to me we’ll get two cours, maybe three – though boosting already strong manga sales are surely a big part of the equation.

I can say with some confidence that how you reacted to the first episode is likely to be a good measure of how you like the series as a whole.  The premiere is very much in-line with Ace of Diamond both in tone and substance, a rough-around-the-edges story with a rough-around-the-edges hero, Sawamura Eijun (Ohsaka Ryouta, playing against type a bit).  His middle school, Akagi, is about to be torn down and he’s just lost his last game as the captain and ace of the baseball club – just as he’s lost every other game he’s played for the no-name school.  When the victorious opponent mocks his tearful lament about not making it to Koshien during the post-game bow (a pretty grievous faux pas in Japanese schoolboy baseball) Eijun loses it and goes off on the opposing team (and the umpire).  In the process he severely dents his chances to get into a decent high school, especially a problem as he’s not exactly an elite student.

Eijun’s Akagi teammates don’t get much focus in the premiere, but they are a major driver of its story.  Eijun’s plan is to go to the same high school as his teammates and do what they couldn’t do in middle school, so when a recruiter for an elite Tokyo school, Takashima Rei (Uchimiya Yumi) comes-a-calling, Eijun isn’t especially interested – much to the horror of his parents and Grandfather.  This is a pretty classic sports manga scenario – the plucky kid from the sticks disdains the elite Tokyo school with their hired-gun recruiting and top shelf equipment – but it’s pulled off in very entertaining fashion here.  Eijun’s trip to Tokyo to see the school leads to a confrontation with heavyweight slugger Azuma (what is it with sluggers named Azuma in baseball manga?) Kyokuni (Hiyama Nobuyuki).  This encounter says a lot about Eijun – what bothers him more than anything at the school is Azuma mocking the young teammate throwing batting practice, because he believes in supporting teammates all the time, no matter what.

Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous to hear Hiyama-san playing a high schooler – though no more so than Sakurai Takahiro playing the snarky catcher Miyuki Kazuya who takes an interest in Eijun – but these guys are clearly having a lot of fun with their roles, and frankly I could listen to Hiyama and his trademark rising inflections all day long.  There’s a lot of yelling in Daiya no A but there’s a lot of yelling in baseball too, and that’s the sort of series it is.  Eijun gives the series its personality – blunt, direct, spirited and honest.  There are elements of contradiction that will become apparent in his character (starting as soon as next week) – he, like several cast members, is subtly quite complex.  But basically, this is who Eijun is – the kid who’ll take on the feared third-year slugger aiming for the pros despite still never having thrown a hardball in anger, simply to defend the honor of a kid he’s never met.  Not his teammate, but someone’s teammate – and it’s the honor of being a teammate that Eijun feels compelled to defend.

Certainly, this is not going to be a series for everyone.  There are other less traditional sports series on the schedule this season (and one equally traditional chestnut in Hajime no Ippo Rising), and my other top sports pick for Fall, Yawamushi Pedal, is a quirkier and more edgy show in many ways.  But if you’re a fan of baseball, baseball series, or sports anime in general I don’t think this is a show you’ll want to miss.  It’s a classic of the type we don’t often see make it to the screen anymore, full of plain-spoken feeling and GAR spirit, and with the studio and staff behind it (Director Masuhara Mitsuyuki is a good one, just having finished Shirokukma Cafe) I expect the excellent first episode to be a sign of good things to come.

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ED: “Seek Diamonds” by Yōko Hikasa

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  1. t

    sports (manga and anime), one of my favourite genres.
    finally those last days bring us some good sports anime, starting to HNI, kuroko basket and now Daiya no A. plus yowamushi pedal tomorrow. there's another one about wrestling but it seems totally fanservice shit type.

    anyway, Diaya no A is a really good manga, you described it well, that it's not right to find another sports anime to be alike, cause Daiya no A is simply Daiya no A.
    first episode was good and faithful to the manga. to see two big names, madhouse and IG, combines together for that?it's the dream for every sports, shonen anime.
    we could really see in this episode, how much importance the word "team" has. this will probably be some sorta a focus element in the sports.
    Eijun is indeed a complex character.but in a good way. we are gonna see many sides for him and probably others too.

    we really can see the variety of sports this season. HNI is on top because it's the best and most epic sports IMO. then there's also kuroko which is good sports but too much irrational.
    and there's Daiya no A. a very unique one.
    I also like the pedal manga, we'll see tomorrow what type is that one.

    I haven't read yet any announce that this gonna be 2cour. I hope so, and even for more than that. cause before real games/tournament will start, there are other things like practice (and more practice) and other good stuff before the real fun begins.

  2. m

    even though you say that sports anime generally don't get that much attention compared to other genres, sports anime recently are still done in really good quality (in my opinion) and that's a good sign, isn't it? i think anime just needs to attract more mature viewers, is all.

  3. i

    I've been looking forward to Yowamushi Pedal since Spring so its a given that I'll watch it but it has unexpected competition in AoD (the hiragana for 't' sounds is pretty similar to those for 'd', but I think I like d more).

    I love sport anime, even ones that fujoshi lap over like KnB and Oofuri is easily my favourite of the lot. In truth beyond 4 and 5th grade I had no interest in baseball, being a soccer fan and track member. But it was anime that planted, grew, harvested and brewed a liking and even knowledge of the sport. And on this premiere I think that liking will age into a love with Ace of Diamond.

    Its loud, brash, fun and honest. Maybe Araki should have directed something like this. The best thin about sports anime is that it can be both subtle and touching while being loud and fun. The other thing is that all sports anime are all in part stories of characters that grow and fight to realize their dreams (well except the moe ones) and that at least means my biggest gripe with animes, annoying characters, is well cared for. I really hope it goes on for a while and as its on HxH's old slot so I think the producers think it might too.

  4. i

    I hope manga adaptations increase because unlike games or LNs, if I really like one I could say… go through 4 volumes after watching the first episode. Diamond no Ace is awesome.

  5. e

    Evil episode cliffhanger is evil.

    Tee eeeh. This made me laugh way too much since the slapfest sound effects. My shonen kokoro side approve of this MC. And Ms. Recruiter totally managed to bait him *insert more grinning here* .
    Baseball in Italy has never really taken off, unlike basketball and more recently rugby. But our P.E. teacher maaaaany years ago in high school made us try pitching and batting a few times and we sorta tried playing. Emphasis on sorta. More like try to hit the ball then run and touch as much bases as you can, ahah.
    Batting was fun. But I couldn't hit a thing with the metal bat – my movements slowed down too much – while I was fine with the holy wood one (Homerun Eli at your service 8D). So… uhm what was the point of sharing this? I never develeped some deep baseball knowledge but I'm more than ready to enjoy watching it in anime form. Daiya no A is off to a good start and as my watchlist was basically sports-oriented this season with everything else depending on reviews so far I'm quite happy.

  6. A

    I really enjoyed this, but I can already tell it's not going to be that popular with western anime fans. As far as I've seen, shows like Major and Cross Game aren't that popular in the west (Though I've heard great things about them from their fans) so I can't see this being much different. There's just not the bishounen or outlandish superpower appeal which seems to almost be a prerequisite for sports anime to get a good following over here. I don't have much experience with baseball series – Basically just the manga Rookies and One Outs' anime adaptation (Which was more of a gambling series, honestly) But Ace of Diamond shows a lot of promise, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more.

  7. Cross Game actually did pretty OK. Developed a subculture on Western forums and even got the manga licensed. But Adachi is a bit of a unique case.

  8. x

    Yayyy for sports shounen. I came in knowing that really nothing could have not made me like this series. I love Eijun already, his personality is so fresh.

    Nice subtle references about Kuroko no Basuke BTW, but please it's way more than just the Comiket pairings and superhuman special moves. It gets insanely better and more interesting pretty much right after where the first season adapted to. (Teikou arc was nuts) And with Yoshihiro Togashi as the editor of Kuroko no definitely includes hints of his flair and plot decisions, only making it better.

  9. He's not the actual editor BTW, that's a mistranslation of an interview question. But yeah, KnB is fine (and it's not the only series I was referring to in that line), I just don't really think it's a manga for someone who's a hard-core sports manga geek.

  10. z

    As a hard core sports manga geek, I don't think that's true, Enzo. One of the oldest and most fondly remembered Sport Manga in Japan is Captain Tsubasa, and that has power level that is over 9000. I love sport manga of any kind, be it realistic or unrealistic. Because in my opinion, the charming part about sport manga has to be the competition, passion, hard work, and constantly pursuing to become better. You don't need realism to depict that. Although I have to admit do prefer things grounded on real life to some extent because it's awesome how educational sport manga can be.

  11. e

    Zeiva has a point. Oooh Captain Tsubasa. It's would not be that unrealistic to say that that series – and its many many rebroadcasts duting the years – have nurtured legions of soccer fanatics here in Italy and it's one of those childhood-defying series for a lot of people here, ahah. I remember it fondly myself. In spite of the reality-defying moves, neverending matches, and glowing balls travelling basically at lighspeed it was still pretty watchable. And a lot of us girls had a soft spot for either Tsubasa's frenemy Kojiro 'bad boy' Hyouga (he of the perpetually rolled-up sleeves) and/or the number 10 with the heart disease Misugi Jun…
    In terms of contributing to the popularity of a sport for kids born in the '70s/'80s is up there with the Attack volleyball trinity ( Attack Number One <—- mind the sexy breathy singing and the audioporn at 00:38. It imprinted a generation 'gomme americane noccioline gelati *breathy borderline moan* aaaah aaah' :p ; Ashita E Attack and Attacker You), Hikaru no Densetsu (rhytmic gymnastics <—- as for the link above, earworms openings didn't hurt either. And in key episodes the charades was a joy to behold), and the tennis classic Ace O Nerae! <—- gotta love the '70s aestethics :,)
    Tsubasa was the Dragon Ball of the lot sports-wise btw, with HnD and AoN falling on the realistic end of the spectrum.

  12. e

    typos :,) : duting–>during defying—>defining

  13. S

    Hah, what a flashback, Enzo!
    And by that, I mean this particular style of writing you're doing, not the anime itself. I think whenever you're a long time fan and have already read the manga in advance, you take it upon yourself to explain the manga/anime/franchise to your audience.
    It's like Mirai Nikki all over again, and I'm not huge fan of it. There's nothing wrong in particular with your writing, I just don't like the feeling of you almost being on a pedestal talking down to me.

    Anyways, I quite enjoyed Ace of Diamond. Like Mirai Nikki, I'll just enjoy it on it's own, without your otherwise great reviews as a side dish.

  14. S

    Take it as a complement, and/or critique, or whatever you wish. You can't appease them all, I suppose. And like Mirai Nikki, you can't unsee Ace of Diamond. Cheers!

  15. H

    Definitely not a fan of the baseball obsessed culture in Japan – the equivalent of football/rugby in other countries I suppose. I shared the kid's disdain for the hired-gun elites, but he was pretty obnoxious at the same time. Personally I wish Madhouse were focusing their efforts on HxH and Ippo.

    I also checked out the latest Ippo. It was a decent first ep, but the execution/directing lets it down a bit. Nishimura's faultless precision is missing, and his sense of timing is unmatched, visually the show is weaker too. Shozo Iizuka fills the shoes of Kenji Utsumi very well as coach Kamogawa.

    It's good to have these shows domineering a sizable chunk of the season rather than moe and highschool romcom.

  16. A

    Another thing about the Ippo episode is that they completely gutted all of the pre-fight buildup. I dunno if you've read the manga or not, but the fight no longer feels like it has much weight to it because of that. It's like Ippo's just fighting some random schmuck whereas the manga had a lot more tension. I still have high hopes for the season because there's some great stuff to come, but I hope they don't cut out much else.

  17. H

    I haven't, but I sensed that was the case. The first season at least was very meticulous about building tension.

  18. t

    Well my optimism says that since this airs on TV tokyo on sunday mornings it shouldn't be a slave to the BD market,as long as it gets ratings it'll keep running.

    I'm still on a high from yesterday's A's win against the Tigers which reminded me why I love baseball so much, so I was in a real baseball mood today and enjoyed every second of this episode,resisting the temptation to check out the manga to see what happens.

  19. Z

    I don't know, it felt plenty shounen to me. With requisite hothead MC and flame effects.

  20. T

    I'm shocked people liked this. This was incredibly over the top and generally quite bad. Just awful in my opinion. Shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as Big Windup and Cross Game.

  21. R

    I don’t have any genre preferences, but there are a few sports series that I totally fell in love with. They make my heart pump faster, my voice go louder, and my tears flow out unstoppably — it’s no difference than watching Sidney Crosby shoot and score the winning goal for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Themes like team and comrade are so totally overused — especially in shounen — but when they are built up nicely through believable and engaging characters, they can make a story from good to great. I think what makes a sports series great and themes like team and comrade a breath of fresh air depends on how good the story is composed and the characters are developed. This is what I look forward to finding out the most from Daiya no A — no difference from any show of any genre, actually — on top of those fluid action scenes.

    When I read your preview post, Daiyo no A definitely piqued my interest. I was curious to find out how a show produced by the two studio giants would turn out. I was attracted to the award-winning source material. As for the premiere, I can’t say that I’m impressed. It’s very shounen, but then it’s based on a shounen source. I like the character design and the fluid animation, but that’s all I can draw from the first episode. It’s really too early to tell — I will stay on for a few more episodes and keep my hopes up.

  22. M

    I don't find the main character inspirational at all. He's incredibly self-righteous and bratty. But of course the cast and audience are expected to fall in line with him because shouting "teamwork!" makes you a fabulous beam of light.

    I imagine he'd get more flack if he were voiced by a certain other trendy seiyuu.

  23. Z

    Speaking of which, Eijun did remind me a little of a certain character (voiced by a certain other trendy seiyuu) during the crying scene at the beginning.

  24. M

    "There's a lot of yelling in Shingeki but there's a lot of yelling in dark fantasy too, and that's the sort of series it is. Eren gives the series its personality – blunt, direct, spirited and honest."

  25. M

    >what is it with sluggers named Azuma in baseball manga?

    Did you notice EIjun's childhood friend is named Wakana? I first misheard it and though he called her Wakaba. Maybe it's intentional, huh?

  26. Well, I guess it could be – Adachi is obviously much-revered among mangaka here, especially those with a sports theme.

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