There’s a great moment of self-parody – no one does self-parody quite like Adachi – in Cross Game (only the manga, sadly) where Aoba is recuperating from her broken leg in the hospital and Ichi-nee comes in saying “I brought the baseball manga you asked for.” Aoba takes a look at it and says disgustedly “This one? His manga aren’t really about baseball all that much! I knew I should have asked for Major…”
Aoba, Diamond no Ace would have done just fine, too, I think. Every one of the elite sports anime carrying the current anime schedule has their own nice carved out, but there’s no question about it – Ace of Diamond is a sports series for purists. It covers that most classic of manga sports, baseball, and does it in such a way that it wouldn’t have seemed out of place 20 or 40 years ago. It has heart and intensity, the characters really matter, and it gets the sports right to an admirable degree. But fundamentally this is a series about delivering exactly what you expect in a timeless way, and none of its episodes demonstrate that better than this one does.
After last week’s unfortunate recap blip we’re right back in the thick of the action this week, and that’s what this episode is – well-portrayed in-game dramatics between two interesting opponents. We finally get to see Sawamura in battle with the stakes at their highest, but first it’s a matter of seeing the implacable Yeung finally crack a bit. The first real sign of it is the walk he issues to Yuki after a screaming first-pitch foul with Taichi already on second after a tomahawked double down the left-field line. It’s a smart baseball move, but the circumstances betray a pitcher who’s finally feeling the moment – he’s at war with an opponent the likes of which he’s never faced before, and the David vs. Goliath aspect of this game is inescapable even to Yeung here.
I’m definitely pulling for Eijun and it’s great to see him do well, but I find it impossible to root against Akikawa here (which I consider a sign of good writing). This is an underdog, unheralded team trying to win one for the little guys everywhere – and with the revelation that because he attended high school for six months in Taiwan before coming to Japan this is Yeung’s final year of eligibility, it’s all the more gut-wrenching knowing his career will end with this game (which Akikawa will surely lose). There are no tricks or gimmicks here – this is a genuinely likeable team with a charismatic and interesting star player, and a coach who loves him like a son. How can you root against a team like that, no matter who the opponent is?
The most fascinating battle of the episode is between Yeung and Miyuki (after #5 hitter Maezono has surprisingly bunted the runners to second and third). This shows why some catchers can be very good hitters – Miyuki understands the art of pitch sequencing, and he’s been studying Yeung for the entire game. Yeung makes nothing but good pitches to Miyuki, but Miyuki (who as we know is nails with runners in scoring position) looks for the pitch he’d ask for himself – and laces the 0-2 curve to left-center for a triple. It’s a great piece of hitting and ties the game, but Yeung gets his own back by making a great glove-hand toss to the catcher on a failed suicide squeeze attempt to nail Miyuki at the plate and preserve the tie.
As for Eijun, his debut (though he did technically face one hitter two weeks ago) doesn’t disappoint. Again, there’s no forced theatrics or trickery here – Eijun succeeds here because he shows he’s genuinely good. He throws harder than it appears, his pitches move like crazy, and despite his youth and inexperience he rises to the occasion and focuses under pressure. This is what Kataoka saw in him, and it’s truly wonderful to see it rewarded with a 1-2-3 inning. He even manages to get in Yeung’s wheelhouse, prompting a grudging compliment from the precise machine after he pops out to second (Eijun’s “Onii-san!” here is hilarious). “He’s not just some pitcher in to kill time. He’s a real game-changer.” And when Yeung says it, you know it means something.
Next week’s ep promises to be another exciting one, though also a sad one if it finds Akikawa’s journey ending. Kataoka has sent Tanba to the bullpen – not because he intends to let him pitch (when Eijun gives way, likely to Haruichi as a pinch-hitter, it will be with Kawakami entering the game) but to put pressure on the opponent. Very clever – and it’s going to be very interesting indeed to see Haru-chin finally get his chance to shine when it counts. This is really good stuff – nothing fancy, no tricks, just believable and exciting game action between two teams full of interesting characters. Sometimes, there’s just nothing like the classics.