Now that’s how you rebound from an off week. I wasn’t too worried about last week’s off episode because Ace of Diamond has been pretty darn consistent, but nevertheless it’s great to see the show follow it up with one of its best yet. Part of it was surely the focus on Eijun – who for me at least is simply the character I feel most invested in – but the stuff with Furuya was much better than last week as well.
One of the things that’s always drawn me to Daiya no A, even in manga form, is that this is a baseball series for baseball fans. It has both an obvious respect for and an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, and never resorts to “Shounen Jump moments” to extract itself from narrative jams. There’s plenty of irreverence and character development, but the baseball stuff is treated with seriousness that never descends into ponderous reverence.
And there was plenty for baseball geeks like me to geek out on this week. Starting with Furuya, we see both his inexperience and natural ability come into play. His first attempt at a forkball comes out like an eephus pitch – which is fine, as Miyuki only wanted him to throw it as a showpiece for the opposing pitcher and clean-up batter. But the second time around, he’s already got the feel despite never practicing the pitch – and it comes out like a modern split-fingered fastball (Japanese ace Tanaka Masahiro, who helped Rakuten win its first Japanese title with a 24-0 record this season and just signed with the Yankees, has the best in the world) and dazzles both teams.
Furuya is interesting in that things certainly do come easier for him on the field than for Eijun – he’s a great athlete with a rifle arm and has huge hands – but he’s shown a real intensity when it comes to refusing to accept inevitable struggles placidly. I also liked the focus on the Osaka ace, Tachi, who despite looking like something out of Shingeki no Kyoujin is shown to be a great player who genuinely loves to compete and has fun on game day. And that’s the truth of the matter – practice and lifting and running is a bitch, but the games are insanely fun. If they’re not, you shouldn’t be playing.
Furuya gives way to Eijun – though not before hitting a hone-run to accentuate his strong final inning pitched – and the serious drama begins. This is indeed the first time Eijun has thrown a pitch in anger to Miyuki since the very first episode when he struck out Viral, and it’s arguably the biggest moment in the series so far. Eijun is, as always, wound up tighter than a taiko but Miyuki is, as always, smiling his Cheshire grin and emitting irreverence from every pore. Kataoka reveals that this game is Eijun’s only real audition for the summer season – if his moving fastball can be effective against a power team like Osaka (as Kataoka says, with good hitters moving fastballs are generally ineffective against metal bats because the hitter can drive the ball even if he doesn’t square it up) it can work against anyone. But if not…
It’s certainly no surprise that Eijun struggles right off the bat (no pun intended) against this powerhouse, but the two hits he gives up are on a Texas-leaguer and a dribbler. This is Eijun’s game – his hiding the ball and movement means his pitch is hard to make solid contact with, but it relies on a little bit of luck as to where the ball is hit. Again, we see the drama rooted in solid baseball geekery – first the pick-off move than Chris has taught Eijun, which he unfortunately bungles by crossing his right leg in front of his left for a balk. Then, the slide-step (also presumably taught by Chris) which messes with the timing of both the baserunner and the hitter. And lastly Eijun showing his strong growth in terms of composure – he smothers the one-hop smash right back at him, freezes the runner at third, then fires a perfect strike to second base to start a double-play. It is, as Chris says, unconscious – but that’s what happens when a pitcher keeps his head and understands the situation.
Really, this is just great stuff. I love the way the overwhelming mental challenge of pitching in game situations for a first year is depicted in both Furuya and Eijun. They make great bookends, being so opposite in terms of strengths and weaknesses. It seems Furuya is guaranteed to be a factor in the Koushien qualifying for his bat if nothing else (Kataoka as much as tells him so when he moves him to LF after his stint on the mound) but Eijun is really fighting for his baseball life as a first-year here. We know Seidou isn’t likely to make it this time around, but it still wouldn’t be much of a story if all Eijun is destined to do as a freshman is watch from the bench. It’s hard to say just what Kataoka’s threshold to be met is, but it seems as if Eijun is off to a pretty good start in making his case.