I have no idea how long this series is going to run, but there’s a growing sense that we’re going to be here for a while. I certainly hope so, because the anime is really making no bones about the fact that everything about this story, not least the arcs of the major characters, is in its infancy. I think it’s fair to say that most of the interesting battles have been internal so far, and that none of the battles with actual opponents have amounted to much – the real opponents are teammates. That may be about to change, though.
No question, for me Daiya no A is most interesting when Eijun is directly involved in the action himself. Nothing against Furuya and Tanba (not to mention Kawakami) but I find them somewhat drab as stand-alone figures. Indeed, Furuya is interesting, but mostly because he represents such a total contrast to Eijun in every aspect – personality, pitching style, approach to the game. His so far one-sided battle with Eijun isn’t just the most important storyline in the series so far – it may well be for the series’ entire run (unless one of them were to transfer out, it’s hard to see that not being the case).
Eijun only got one inning of work, but as is usually the case with him it was eventful. I misread the situation last week and thought we were in the fifth inning when Eijun entered the game – thus meaning it was potentially the final one – but it was the fourth, one too early for the 10-run rule to kick in. Still, it was – as Miyuki says – the “perfect situation” to bring Eijun into the game. Not only was there minimal risk to the team, but it wasn’t an easy scenario for him in facing a desperate opponent with nothing to lose, and thus a good opportunity to see how he handles the pressure.
While the initial returns were dodgy – plunking the first batter in the back with the first pitch – the overall result was a positive. It’s a measure of just how desperate Maimon is that their coach has the second hitter bunting despite being down 15-0 – this is a team playing for pride. Chiba realizes that it’s he that’s underestimated the opponent, not Seidou – but with the frank admission that the gap is simply too wide, there’s no less desire to let his third-years finish their careers with dignity. But pride goeth before the fall, and the attempted bunt is too hard, right back to the pitcher (a result of Eijun’s “sneaky” velocity), and the plucky freshman starts a brilliant double-play. Chris-sempai understands Eijun perfectly – playing with this kind of emotion is the only thing Eijun can do. It doesn’t mean he’s scared – it just means he’s in the moment.
While there’s no question it was a rocky opener despite not giving up any runs or hits (two walks followed the double-play) I think Sawamura made a net-positive impression on Kataoka. Even Haruichi (his new idol status cemented by the fact that he “looks like a girl”) got into the act, with an RBI single – obviously getting all the first-years their first game action in a blowout was a smart move – and Kawakami finishes the game with a scoreless fifth to complete the shutout. The new weapon in Eijun’s arsenal is a straight – a four-seam fastball. As Chris says, a straight is just another kind of moving pitch for Eijun, because everything else moves so much – and there’s the added bonus that the four-seamer gives him a velocity boost. It’s a testament to just how raw Eijun is that he’s never even been coached on how to grip the baseball (hell, he thought “four-seamer” was an American rapper), but between the new option the four-seamer gives him and the way he hides the ball, he really is sneaky fast now – it’s just a question of learning how to throw the ball where he wants to throw it.
Was it merely a careless moment for Takashima-san, calling Furuya “Ace” while Eijun was in earshot, or was she trying to light a fire under him in addition to stoking Furuya’s confidence? With Tanba on-course to return for the quarter-finals (and it turns out a reunion with the ace of his middle-school team, “Manaka-boy”) this may be a moot question soon enough – but only for this year. And there’s still those two games in-between, games in which I suspect Furuya is going to run into considerable trouble. He still hasn’t faced a team that can lay off his high fastball (clearly the hapless third-round opponent was aware of the need to do so, but lacked the chops to pull it off), but surely he soon will – and then it will fall to either Eijun or Kawakami (or perhaps both) to save the day. That may come as soon as the next round, where we may finally meet an opponent worth paying attention to – a pitching technician from Taiwan named Shunshing Yeung, who unless my ears deceive me is played by Uchiyama Kouki. I have no idea if the hitters on his team are any good, but the opportunity to use the contrast he provides to highlight just how far Furuya still has to go seems too good for Ace of Diamond to pass up.