Score one point for each side in the Eijun-Furuya battle, but I’m pretty sure the southpaw would gladly trade his passing marks on his finals for the starting nod in the opener of Koushien qualifying (or to put it another way, he’d be thrilled to take make-up exams if it meant starting that game). As I’ve noted many times Ace of Diamond is less fixated on its star than most sports series – it’s the team that’s the focus here – but that doesn’t mean the long waits between opportunities for Eijun to shine can’t sometimes seem endless.
It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the Summer Koushien is the thematic centerpiece (or at least of a factor) in as many manga as any other annual event in Japan. It’s hard to describe just how mythically important Koushien is in Japan – yes, it’s the most popular sports event of the year but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. It’s a cultural institution unlike any other and a torture test for the athletes involved – especially the pitchers. It’s the stage on which legends – both real and fictional – are made.
The preparation for Koushien is intense for a reason. With even a team like Seidou (which as a power school gets a bye in the first round) forced to win seven games in less than three weeks to survive the Tokyo Qualifier every live arm is going to be needed sooner or later. And in watching Daiya no A, it’s impossible to miss the fact that the priority here is on Furuya’s preparation. Eijun scores a small victory in passing his finals while Furuya flunks, but I suspect that missed practice time will be a minor factor in Kataoka’s mind. Eijun’s an X-factor for sure, but at this point I think a relatively minor one in Kataoka’s mind. Furuya has one simple thing going for him – he can throw really hard, and a 150 KMH fastball is fast no matter what age the guy who’s throwing it is. Surely this isn’t lost on Eijun, who as dense as he can be is every bit as competitive to make up for it. He’s in a struggle to stay relevant, and he knows it.
The first order of business is the passing out of the numbers (and giving the managers uniforms, too), and there are no huge surprises here. Kawakami draws #10 and Furuya #11, while Haruichi and Eijun are relegated all the way to #19 and #20. It’s a thrill for a freshman to get a number at all, no doubt, but this isn’t a totally insignificant moment. Kataoka’s announcement that Furuya, not Kawakami, will start the first game isn’t a major surprise. The excuse is that Kawakami is better-suited to the “at a moment’s notice” relief role, while a green rookie is better served knowing when he’s going to pitch – and there’s merit in that argument. But no matter what the dialogue says, my sense is that Kataoka doesn’t have much confidence in Kawakami – largely because Kawakami has no confidence in himself. The rookies will be nervous, for sure, but they won’t be carrying the same weight of self-doubt. In that sense I think there’s more pressure on Kawakami than either of the first-year hurlers.
As for Tanba, he’s back with the team (head but not eyebrows clean-shaven) and itching to return to practice. Kataoka (somewhat arbitrarily, it seems to me) tells him to get himself ready for the quarter-final, roughly two weeks off. That gives Furuya and maybe (we’ll see – I would think he has to pitch at least once) Eijun four games to prove their mettle under fire. The first match is against Maimon West, a public school with a focus on pitching and defense – a certain sacrificial lamb. I’ll also be interested to see if Haruichi gets a chance to show his stuff – he’s clearly good enough, but stuck behind an established veteran who happens to be his brother. As for Eijun, there seems one last chance for him to level up – Chris-sempai is at long last going to tinker with his grip. An all-important factor for any pitcher, but for an inexperienced kid with no breaking pitches it’s really the last chance for Eijun to do something to catch the coach’s eye.