It’s a complete change-of-pace for Ace of Diamond this week. We bid a fond farewell to Yeung and Akikawa, obviously, but also largely set the main characters to the side in favor of a focus on the game that will determine their next opponent. Diamond no Ace has proven by now that it can handle that crucial task for baseball anime, supplying interesting and distinctive opponents – but here it takes that a step beyond the norm by showing us two interesting potential opponents for the price of one.
First off, we have Ichidai (“Big Number One” – ROFL) a team we’ve seen bits and pieces of before. A quarter-finalist at the national fall invitational tournament and a legit power school. The main focus of interest here is Manaka Kaname (Toriumi Kousuke – we’re just not trying for authenticity at this point) who of course is Tanba’s old friend and the guy who held the ace position at their middle school. They also feature a coach calls everyone “Boy” in English and a lineup of sluggers that more or less mirrors Seidou’s, especially their captain Oomae (Uchiyama Kouki) – who really gets Yuuki’s blood boiling.
Kataoka pointed Tanba towards the matchup with this team for his return, knowing he’d be amped up to face his old friend and rival. I like the dynamic between Tanba and Manaka – they’re genuinely good friends, but Tanba went his own way so as not to have to continually walk in Manaka’s shadow. It seemed as if this was a fated result, with the opponent, Yakushi High School, strictly cannon fodder. But that appears to have been a pretty effective feint, because Yakushi makes quite a first impression in their own right. Enough so to sow legitimate result as to the outcome of the game.
Ichidai plays the role of the conventional powerhouse here – everything in order and expected. Yakushi is the ragged, rude outsider – a no-name school that never bunts and throws three first-years in the middle of the order despite never having used them in a game previously. The main attraction here is Todoroki Raichi (Ono Kenshou) and boy, is he a piece of work. Sawamura immediately sees a sort of kindred spirit here with the brash loudmouth that gets yelled at by his own teammates when he goes into baka mode, but Raichi soon stamps himself as far more of a loose cannon even than Eijun.
There’s a very effective contrast set up here between these opponents – order vs. chaos, proper Japanese dignity vs. unseemly roguishness. After Ichidai scores six in the top of the first it seems as if the game is a mere formality, but Raichi hits a tremendous two-run home run in the bottom of the inning that clearly shakes Manaka up (let it be said, in American baseball any hitter who reacted after a homer the way Raichi did would face some serious chin music in his next at-bat). The #5 hitter follows with another home run, Manaka gets chased out to right field, and a slugfest ensues – 11-9 Ichidai by the sixth inning. But inside the Yakushi dugout disorder is rampant. The shady-seeming coach – who happens to be Raichi’s father – threatens his son with no dinner if the team loses. Raichi curses his father for his debt and the two get into a rather comedic brawl in the dugout, clearly not a rare occurrence judging by the reactions of their teammates.
I still figure Ichidai comes through here, but I give Daiya no A credit for making it a little suspenseful. And I confess, I would love to see Yakushi win – I like teams that upset the too-perfect rigidity of Japanese schoolboy baseball, and Raichi is way, way more interesting than the choir boy Manaka. But I think Manaka vs. Tanba has too much narrative gravitational pull behind it, and ultimately I don’t think this is the sort of sports series that would endorse the way Yakushi plays the game (and behaves generally). If things do go that way, we still have the interesting question of what Kataoka decides to do with his pitchers – Tanba would, presumably, get the start against his old rival (who returns to the mound in the eighth inning to finish off Yakushi) but there’s likely no room for three relievers to have a role in a single game. I could easily see Furuya as the odd-man out here, but that drama is still to be played out.