It’s all about separating the wheat from the chaff on this week’s Daiya no A. Everything in Japanese high school baseball is about getting to Summer Koushien at any cost (it’s probably the most popular single sporting event in Japan, including the Olympics and World Cup) so it’s no surprise that the schools are as obsessed with it as their fans. And this series is proving itself to be pretty meticulous about showing all the intermediate steps leading up the main event, none of which are critical in their own right but each of which are a part of a critical process.
After a rare nugget of voice-over narration, we launch right into the first game of the double-header – a round-robin featuring Seidou against two other Tokyo schools, Inashiro and Shuhoku. Both of them are presumably very good programs, but it’s Inashiro that gets most of the spotlight here – and in doing so, the likely honor of being the inevitable “fated foe” that Seidou must overcome (and probably won’t this year) to get to Koushien. We know they’re good because they made it to Koushien last season, and they also feature a pitcher who seems likely to play a major role as a foil for several of the Seidou players, albeit for different reasons.
I’d expected Kawakami to play a major role in this episode, because I’ve felt he was a sleeper to play a major part in events later on. But his game (a loss to Inashiro) is glossed over pretty quickly. Indeed, the most interesting part of it for me is that it once again plays up a major difference between the Japanese and American view on pitch counts – Kataoka is only interested in seeing whether Kawakami has the intestinal fortitude to finish the game, no matter how many pitches he throws and how badly he’s beaten up. In modern American ball – especially youth ball – there’s so much focus on pitch counts and their impact on injuries that this would be a very unusual occurrence, but everything in Japanese high school baseball comes down to balls – and not the kind they count on the scoreboard, next to strikes.
On that front, there is a rather amusing moment when Miyauchi – who starts off pissed that he’s been assigned to catch the #2 and not the ace – visits the mound when Kawakami is getting pummeled in the 8th inning. Once there he performs what I can only call the “Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show” move – and holds it for far longer than Kawakami finds comfortable (understandably). Apparently he got the right answer because the second-year does finish the game, though he takes the loss. Haruichi’s debut gets even less fanfare than Kawakami’s effort – we see him once or twice so we know he played, but there’s no indication of how well he did (or indeed how Furuya fared, playing left field).
Between games a pair of Inashiro players approach Eijun as he’s cleaning up the dugout – their catcher and their ace pitcher, Narumiya Mei (Kaji Yuuki). All Mei wants to know about is whether Furuya is going to pitch – which of course pisses off Eijun, who starts to brag about his own exploits before Miyuki and Isashiki show up. This is a obviously a pretty dumb move considering the lengths Kataoka has gone to keep his freshmen hurlers a secret weapon, but Mei proves himself to be equally dumb later on by showing off a pitch he wasn’t supposed to during his domination of Shuhoku (which gets him a quick hook from his pissed-off coach). Mei is clearly the face of the enemy here, the fated rival among fated rivals – and he’s a force on the mound, with four pitches and 148 KMH velocity. Kaji does his usual shtick, which is fine in this role – and while it strikes me as a very typical Kaji character, I can’t recall another instance where he’s played a major role in a sports anime, which is sort of interesting.
Watching Mei is an abject lesson for Furuya and Eijun about just how far they have to go, and they get another one when Tanba takes the mound for his finest performance of the series. The first-years are amazed that Miyuki “acts like a catcher” with Tanba, but there are multiple facets to this. In the first place, that’s what happens when you have a pitcher with multiple pitches and the ability to control them. But there’s also the complicated (and still difficult) relationship between Tanba and Miyuki. Tanba makes no secret of his dislike for Miyuki or his preference for Miyauchi, but these two are going to have to get on the same page if Seidou is going to have a chance. Tanba is being a brat here, it seems to me – though I realize Miyuki isn’t easy to love especially for a sempai. Perhaps Miyuki’s willingness to unleash Tanba’s forkball – and his ability to catch it – will start to thaw Tanba’s icy resistance.