As much as I love Daiya no A, one thing it hasn’t had much of is surprises. This really isn’t the sort of show that thrives on misdirection, but rather on delivering more or less what’s expected in a compelling way. But it’s too easy to minimize a series based on its general tendencies, and this one is no exception. I certainly didn’t expect Yakushi to end up beating Ichidai, nor did I expect the endgame to be depicted as it was. But that’s a good thing – even for a show that’s fiercely old-school in a genre that’s equally old-school, it’s nice to be surprised once in a while.
Of course, it’s also a good thing for me because I wanted Yakushi to win (and I certainly predicted they wouldn’t). Pretty much everything about this team is interesting – the ragged, unkempt nature of the team itself, the way they’ve disrupted the orderly flow of the narrative, and what their presence might say about Diamond no Ace mangaka Terajima Yuuji’s baseball worldview. I still feel as if Seidou is going to be used as an instrument to teach Yakushi a lesson about how to comport yourself on the diamond (and off), and act as a sort of avenging angel for Manaka and Ichidai. But we’re on unpredictable ground now, and I like that.
After the considerable build-up this matchup was given, it was also surprising to see it end completely off-screen. We find out, in fact, when Inashiro’s scout breaks the news to them (after another shutout win). Inashiro and arrogant ace Narumiya Mei are almost certainly awaiting the survivor of the Seidou-Yakushi bracket, but that’s a ways off yet. Indeed, the only thing we see of the ending of the Yakushi-Ichidai match is Raichi hitting a screaming liner off an 0-2 fastball (after two sliders in the dirt) that hits Manaka-boy full on the shoulder. He throws out Yakushi, but his day is done – and so, unceremoniously, is Ichidai’s. Yakushi chips away off their fourth pitcher and wins 13-12 on a walk-off.
Yakushi is certainly an odd bunch. Their coach doesn’t even use his ace and “secret weapon” Sanada Shunpei (Kamiya Hiroshi for some reason) until the team is down 11-9 (we never actually see him pitch). There’s not much likeable about any of them but I quite like the subversive nature of their mere existence, and that makes me root for them to keep upsetting the rules of decorum and order so treasured in high school sports in Japan. I’m also intrigued by the seemingly very dysfunctional nature of the relationship between Raichi and his father, Raizou (Nishi Rintarou). Bluntly, it seems as if father has been grooming son as a cash cow since he was a child – thus explaining the “money tree” bat Raichi swings when practicing. Frankly I find the way he treats his son despicable and nauseating and no matter how Raichi acts, I can’t see him as anything but a victim here. I sincerely hope Diamond no Ace digs deeper into that, giving us some background – I don’t want to see Raichi simply tossed off as a comic villain, because this is some pretty twisted stuff his father is pulling here.
Raichi is arrogant, no doubt, but it seems pretty clear where he gets it from. I quite liked the scene (though it was a bit too convenient) where the three Seidou first-years run into Raizou & Son while looking for their bus. Not knowing he’s being watched Raizou gives his next opponent some serious bulletin board material, motivating Raichi by telling him that the “only pitcher still worth facing” in the Tokyo bracket is Narumiya. That certainly fires up the peach-fuzz pitchers, and Tanba is already jacked at the prospect of taking revenge for Manaka not only being beaten but injured. Not that there was anything wrong with Yakushi doing either – accidents happen in baseball, and they owe no one an apology for being a great hitting club.
The finale of the ep is classic Daiya no A martial spirit, old school sports manga GAR complete with flame effects. It’s hardly the most interesting face the show has to offer and we have seen it a thousand times, but there’s no denying the authenticity this series brings to the part – that sort of stuff is fundamental to what the series is. Tanba asks the third-years to take him on in a simulated game to get the feel for pitching back, and of course they don’t go easy on him. Just what role Tanba – and by extension the rest of the suddenly-flush pitching staff – will play in the Yakushi game is the next great secret to be revealed. I assume the third-year ace will start, but with Yakushi’s firepower the game could be such a war of attrition that all four are needed. It seems like the worst possible matchup for Furuya, though – he’s not going to tame these beasts with pure power.