Not to be lost in the cavalcade of premieres today, Diamond no Ace leads off its third inning with a new OP and ED, and remains a refreshingly realistic take on anime baseball. And as it appeared last week, in Akikawa we finally have an opponent strong enough to give Seidou reason to worry, which takes us to the point where the series can focus on something more than players jostling for position on the team.
As a baseball fan this is definitely an intriguing matchup for me. Not only are we looking at two pitchers whose styles are completely opposite, but two teams who couldn’t be more different. Akikawa is clearly punching above its class here – if it weren’t for Yeung they would be no different than the cannon fodder Seidou pulped in the minimum five innings of their first two games. Their coach – while an interesting and clever fellow – is obviously star-struck himself, and seems to have trouble grasping the notion that his boys are hanging with Seidou (a bad sign, to be sure).
Indeed, it seems that in addition to his pitching prowess Yeung is also the only batter in the Akikawa lineup capable of doing real damage to Furuya. Ogata’s wait-em-out strategy to run up Furuya’s pitch count is a smart one, but it was always likely to have its limits. It’s clear from the moment he steps into the box that Yeung is up there to do more than watch, and he and Miyuki immediately launch into a verbal sparring match. I wasn’t keen on Miyuki’s “Great Japanese!” comment – it smacks of racism to me. Yeung’s response is what it should be, though – rather than taking the bait he starts talking to himself in Mandarin and promptly deposits Furuya’s second pitch – a splitter – into left-field for a single. And because of the aggressive play of the left fielder (a tactical if not statistical error in the first inning) it’s misplayed into a double, allowing the second runner to score.
On the mound, we can clearly see just what sort of pitcher Yeung is. What we see happening with the umpire here is completely realistic – when pitchers consistently hit the mitt, umpires expand their strike zone (Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine feasted for years on the wide outside corner they consistently got due to their reputation and pinpoint control). This is clearly a well-prepared team – they’ve researched, they can field beautifully, and their pitcher is a cerebral tactician. But as with their offensive strategy there are limits to how far this can take them, and it’s clear they haven’t faced a team like Seidou before – even Yeung is surprised by what they’re able to do with pitches he’s previously used to toy with lesser hitters.
We have a heavyweight vs. a middleweight here, and there’s a reason boxing doesn’t let middleweights fight heavyweights. Sooner or later superior talent is going to win out here and Seidou will assert their dominance (indeed, the most significant moment of the ep may be when we’re introduced to the seeming next opponent), but it’s fun to root for Akikawa in the meantime (sorry, I know that’s not what I’m supposed to do) and the real question is, which pitcher will be on the mound for Seidou when it happens? Furuya settles down admirably after Yeung dings him, but he’s still Furuya, and this is still August in Tokyo. How long will he last (24 pitches in the first inning isn’t catastrophic, but it’s not ideal) and will it be Kawakami or Eijun who gets the first call from Kataoka? Sooner or later Eijun is going to get a chance in this game – the lefty-lefty matchups and simple narrative requirements demand it – and I find myself hoping it happens sooner rather than later, as neither Furuya or Kawakami interest me all that much as characters. There are definitely moments when Eijun needs to just STFU, but I find his relentless honesty and emotional openness much more appealing.
ED3: “Mirai e Tsunage” by DOOP