As I’ve said already, we’re extremely lucky to have two sports series as great as Yowapeda and Daiya no A airing in the same season (along with Hajime no Ippo and Kurobas). I love Yowapeda for the reasons I’ve described at length in the series posts, but this show is a different animal altogether. You’ve got two of the best studios in the business, both with a long track record with sports anime, and a very solid writer and director, all to go along with a manga that’s as old-school and rock solid as it gets. This is straight-up, pure sports shounen at its very best.
There were so many spot-on moments in this episode that it’s really hard to single out one or two. The focus at first is on Zaizen, the old middle-school rival of Chris, and not unexpectedly he get a little back-story which humanizes him (though he’s still a douche for what he did to Chris). He has a classic battle with Eijun – one which starts with Eijun foiling a suicide squeeze attempt by throwing an un-buntable ball in the dirt. As Chris says, the instinct is spot-on – though in the majors they teach you to throw directly at the batter’s head (it’s an easier ball for the catcher to catch).
The second out thus tucked away, Eijun is freed up to focus on Zaizen, as no trickery is going to bring that baserunner on second home. It’s here we see him take a huge leap forward – the kind youngsters his age with great raw talent and little experience often do. He improvises a new delivery on the spot, a sort of hybrid of his old form and Kataoka’s “build a wall, hide the ball” motion – and strikes Zaizen out with by far his best fastball ever. In fact Chris later says (to himself) that it was “the best pitch I ever caught”.
As good as that was it’s here, for me, that the episode gets really special. First off I absolutely loved Furuya’s reaction when Miyuki needles him about Eijun’s scary potential. “Never once…” Furuya says softly, “Have I thought I was better than him.” Talk about a leap forward of a different kind – Furuya’s stature as a competitor rises several levels right there. But the big story is that Kataoka has made his decision – he knows who the two players joining the first-string will be, and he calls a team meeting to announce it.
Materially, this goes exactly as I predicted last week. Hariuchi is a given – he’s simply too good to pass over. And Chris just isn’t a good gamble, as he is now – Eijun’s potential (and left-handedness) makes him the better pick. But the reason this scene is great is that the focus turns to the forgotten guys – the third-years who busted their asses for three years trying to make it, and lost their last chance. The coach keeps them behind and delivers an emotional expression of gratitude to the lot of them, and they let the pain of the moment come out. This is the truth of competitive sports – for every spot the hero wins, he takes it from someone else. And while Eijun (and Haruchin) are just beginning their journeys, for these guys (apart from Chris, with his massive talent) it’s effectively over. And that really hurts.
It’s important here to remember what we learned about Eijun in the very first episode – for him (and for Ace of Diamond) this is all about the team and the teammates. He came to Seidou to succeed on behalf of the teammates he left behind, and that’s exactly what he’s tasked to do now – most especially for Chris. Eijun is utterly distraught at this turn of events – without a doubt he would have been happier to see Chris picked than himself. But his teammates remind him that it’s not respectful for him to wallow in self-pity or try to resign – he was chosen, the others weren’t. His responsibility is to go forward. And it’s here we see the thus-far rarely seen Yuuki step up and take charge – he’s the one who lays it out there for Eijun in starkest terms.
Eijun will, of course, deal with this and move on – there wouldn’t be a story otherwise – with Chris acting as a coach for the pitchers and catchers. And this wouldn’t be a sports anime without a training camp, which we’re told is coming up. It seems that Chris’ role at the center of the story is over, and he became a far more arresting character than it seemed at first – a true mentor for Eijun when he most needed one. But it’s now full-circle and back to Miyuki, who’s going to have to develop a rapport with Eijun once more. They started the series as a battery in the very first episode and it was always going to come back to that – and to the growing rivalry between Eijun and Furuya to wear the coveted #1 jersey.