The unspoken mathematical elephant in the room finally got spoken this week. Two spots, three players – something had to give. Perhaps that something was Chris’ shoulder, but that remains to be seen. There was plenty of drama leading up to that, including Sawamura’s adjustment to his new delivery, Chris’ display of his baseball prowess, our first villain of the series and the arrival of “The Animal”.
The doubutsu in question is Chris’ father, who we’ve met before, but it turns out Chris invited him to watch this game (indicating, perhaps, that Chris suspected what might happen). When he arrives he’s recognized by all but referred to as the “famous comedian“, which has just a slight edge of condescension to it but we’ll let that slide. Here again we see sports manga take on that question of whether it’s right for a young player to risk his future by giving it all for the school. We’ve seen boys as young as nine (Goro Honda) sacrifice their bodies and have that portrayed as heroic and justifiable, but it’s a troubling aspect of the Japanese approach to youth sports for me.
Adding to the murkiness of the issue here is the fact that Chris’ father is an American, and America has come to view youth sports quite differently than Japan (though there are still mavericks who abuse young pitchers, especially – though it’s now against the rules in Little League). He got his nickname, apparently, because he went all-out and drove himself to exhaustion trying to make an impression in his new culture. If indeed Chris’ shoulder isn’t healed he really shouldn’t be playing IMO (sorry, Eijun) and that’that’s what Animal thinks at first, but predictably his attitude changes after he sees the passion involved and his memories kick in.
The highlight of the episode for me, easily, was Namikawa Daisuke’s voice breaking when he shouted orders to the team – a classic example of how a great seiyuu can sell a moment. Tough-guy, stone-faced Chris got so worked up his voice cracked – it says so much about the character and about the situation, and it may be the best moment in the series so far. And Chris is indeed caught up in the moment, doing a great job for Eijun – gunning throws all over the field, working his pitcher in the bullpen, getting hits (to be bunted into scoring position by Eijun and driven home by Haruchii). The ump is squeezing the plate on Eijun (common with wild pitchers, as Chris notes) but things are going well enough before the villain enters the picture.
That would be Zaizen (Terashima Takuma), an old rival of Chris’ from middle school. The question that leaps out for me is why he’s playing with the second-string, but that will wait for another day – for now, he tells his teammates to relentlessly bunt. We’ve seen this strategy used in sports anime to mess up the pitcher, but the target here is Chris – get him to throw so often that his still-weak shoulder gives out. It’s a cold-hearted and brutal way to attack, but it seems to work – which suggests to me that Chris never should have been playing in the first place. But then we wouldn’t have had an arc, would we?
Everything pretty much boils down to simple arithmetic here. It would be a shock if Hariuchi isn’t called up to the first-string – he’s clearly a phenom (maybe better than his brother, Takashima muses) and the only possible reason not to promote him would be not to mess with Ryousuke’s head. That leaves only one spot, and if Chris really were healthy it’s hard to see an argument against calling him up – even Miyuki seems almost anxious to lose his starting role to Chris. But this is Eijun’s series – he’s the lead, and for his rivalry with Furuya to kick into second-gear he needs to be on the first-string. The math doesn’t look good for Chris here, if you ask me – I fear we may be seeing his final game as a high-school player. But if we are, he’s definitely making it count in a big way.