Daiya no A finally has something it’s been missing since the beginning – a really interesting opponent. Compelling opposition is an integral part of good sports manga, almost as much as compelling protagonists (see the forthcoming Baby Steps for a series that delivers amazing opponents, though the main character is even better). Success can be had with the evil variety, the ones you love to hate, but I tend to prefer it when we’re given complicated antagonists with their own stories to tell – players or teams that are the sort that make you feel sad when they’ve lost, even as you celebrate the hero’s victory.
Segue to the current situation, where things have been a bit stagnant dramatically with the Seidou gang (at least for me). It’s kind of a double-barrelled reason why I’m rooting for Furuya to get hammered against Akikawa Academy. Most obviously that would make it that much more likely that Eijun gets into the game – all the more given that Akikawa has seven left-handed hitters in their starting lineup. But it would be good for Furuya, too – he’s a bit boring, true, but setting that selfish concern aside he’s also getting rather full of himself. And frankly, I like the idea that a pitcher who feels he has to do nothing to win but throw high fastballs gets taught a lesson that baseball is a lot more than that.
There are definitely signs that Furuya could be riding for a fall. He’s struggling with the heat, which Miyuki finally deduces is due to the fact that he’s just come down from Hokkaido (the one place in Japan that isn’t miserably mushi atsui in the summertime). In fact we’ve never seen Miyuki as serious as he is this week – despite winning their second game 10-0, once again in five innings, Miyuki is clearly worried about the team’s future depending on Furuya. In Koushien it’s one loss and you’re out, and Furuya doesn’t seem to grasp the significance one mistake could make. Of equal importance, he shows no signs of adjusting the way he pitches.
There’s undeniably a bit of chauvanism in the way Shunshin “Clockwork” Yeung (actually played by Ishikawa Kaitou) is introduced – as a Taiwanese boy so impressed by Japanese pitchers ability to stifle a top Taiwanese hitter (groan) that falls in love with Japanese baseball. But apart from that he’s quite an interesting addition. I know in the big picture he’s a speed bump, but he and his team add something interesting to the dynamic. Yeung doesn’t throw in the bullpen – he gets his work in with 200-pitch batting practice marathons in which he pounds the hitters’ weaknesses and forces them to adjust. Yeung is a technician – he only throws 130 km/h, but he can paint the corners at will (think Greg Maddux – or Mihashi Ren if he wasn’t a crybaby who hates himself).
Akikawa’s coach, Ogata-san, is interesting too. He’s quite humble, openly admitting the team usually lost in the first round of qualies before Yeung arrived. The boy refers to him as “my Japanese father”, and Ogata-san has an interesting verbal tic of inserting “Te iu ka” (one of those Japanese expressions that doesn’t translate well, but means something like “in other words” or “you know”) in front of every sentence. He has his boys facing 160 km/h pitches from a pitching machine – not because they’ll be able to hit them, but to help their eyes adjust. He knows that as hard as Furuya throws, he doesn’t throw 160 – and that the key to beating him is going to be to force him to bring the ball down.
Put it all together and you have an interesting matchup – and one where I find myself hoping Shunshin holds down Seidou’s fearsome lineup and Ogata’s strategy teaches Furuya a lesson in humility and forces him to become a pitcher and not just a thrower. I’d like to see Eijun in there when the game is really on the line, and with Tanba scheduled to return by the quarterfinals of the Tokyo tournament this may be Eijun’s last and best chance to do that. We haven’t seen Seidou put under pressure in a game that matters yet, and I’m very interested to see how they handle themselves.