Diamond no Ace – 37

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Hey – with all this soccer, don’t forget it’s still baseball season.

In the eternal war between soccer and baseball – two spring sports that vie for the hearts of schoolboy athletes and couch potatoes both in Japan and America – the beautiful game scored a blow over the national pastime last week when the World Cup pre-empted Diamond no Ace.  But baseball’s current representative on the anime landscape is back in the mix this week with one of its best episodes, reminding us of why baseball is such an arresting subject for manga and anime.

This is the sort of episode that Daiya no A really excels at.  It’s entirely focused on the drama between the lines and between the ears, taking place virtually in real-time.  This is a sports series with the focus on the sports, and it has a great understanding of what it is in sports – especially youth sports – that we find so dramatic.  As shounen as it is I actually find some similarities with a seinen manga, and a soccer one at that – Giant Killing.  That series was more ambitious in terms of looking at the entire experience of sports, from the fans to the owners, but they’re both very sure-footed when it comes to depicting the mental side of the game itself.

The one-week break was all the more irksome because, of course, it came on the heels of a cliffhanger – that cleat on the dugout step.  Turned out it wasn’t Kataoka, though, but Haruichi creeping out to the mound on little cat’s feet to bring a message to Eijun – and while we don’t hear it immediately it’s clear enough that it’s something like “Go get ’em” (in specific – “I’m staying with Sawamura this inning”). Truthfully, this was the decision I expected – it made sense both from the strategic and dramatic perspective.  And it amounts to a real show of faith by the Boss in Eijun – though as usual Eijun completely misreads the situation and embarrasses the bench in the process.

Not much really needs to be said about the showdown between Eijun and Raichi – it’s extremely tense, exciting and ultimately a bit of a shock.  Just good, rock-solid sports anime here, hard to do it better – the bread and butter of Ace of Diamond.  Eijun does everything right here – he gets ahead in the count 0-2 without throwing a strike, and when Miyuki calls for a straight-o waste pitch high out of the zone Eijun throws right to the glove, his fastest pitch of the entire series.  But with great players, sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t matter – they can defy the bounds of normal logic and turn a good pitch into a mistake.  And Raichi is definitely a freak – he muscles the pitch out for an opposite-field home run, a ball that just keeps carrying a carrying the ways balls seem to do when a really elite power hitter swings the bat.

As good as this confrontation is, the aftermath is equally spot-on.  Raizou watches Eijun on the mound and says “So young…  I can see right through your heart.”  It’s satisfied, a little smug – but not unkind, the words of a man who was that boy himself once.  Everyone is kind and encouraging to Eijun (even Furuya says “Domai”), Miyuki blames himself – and that makes it worse.  The wheels start to come off – a one-hop single to left, a 4-pitch walk – and Kataoka has no choice but to give the ball to Kawakami.

This is the first time we’ve seen Eijun fail in a situation where it really matters, and it’s pretty brutal.  Boss has finally expressed outright confidence in him, and he’s failed.  That hits Eijun really hard, and after all he’s just a first-year – and it’s at times like this when the youth of freshmen really shows itself.  Kataoka handles it perfectly – he tells Eijun that the home run was the best pitch he’s thrown all day, and that he never expected only perfection from a first-year player.  “You’ve gained valuable experience – now make something of it.”  Chris’ words are simple – “What’s important is how you responded to it.  You tried so hard to stay calm that you lost yourself.”  It’s a sort of left-handed compliment, I suppose – fittingly enough – but perspective is a tough thing when you’re 15 years-old and feel as if you’ve just let everyone in the world down.

This kind of stuff is what sports anime is all about really – it’s as primordial as it gets.  Eijun’s recovery from this is going to be the stuff of future episodes, of course, but for now the focus is on Yakushi.  The crowd is now wildly backing the underdog (if it weren’t for Eijun I’d probably be rooting for them, to be honest) and only great defense and a lot of luck prevents Kawakami from giving up the lead altogether.  I suspect we’re going to see Tanba before this game is over and done with – and there’s one more interesting moment, which is when Raizou asks Sanada “Can you still go?” after the inning.  We may be on the verge of finding out the mysterious reason why Yakushi’s ace doesn’t take the ball from the beginning.

One last note – interestingly enough, Diamond no Ace’s second volume sold almost 5000 DVDs (it’s DVD-only), which is an increase of over 300% from the first.  That kind of jump almost suggests Oricon screwed up the numbers on one or the other volume, but it’s certainly notable – and seeing that, I wondered if Daiya no A might be more of a hit than I realized with the same crowd that tends to buy certain other sports anime on disc.  Testing my own theory on the relationship between doujinshi and disc sales, I checked a couple of doujin aggregator sites and sure enough, the series has a surprising number of doujinshi – so perhaps I was wrong in dismissing DnA as an anime that can achieve commercial success in its own right, and not just as a manga booster.  And if so, it’s not entirely impossible that we could see it extend beyond the 51 episodes already announced.

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  1. l

    There's more than enough manga chapters out now for the show to have a second batch of 51 episodes to catch up.

    This bears repeating, Raichi is a batting monster.

  2. R

    The one-week break makes this episode all the more exhilarating to watch. Masuko's save was so much needed, but now that the gap was closed, next episode is going to be another intense one. I expect to see Tanba's prowess as the ace of the team, but before that, I most wish to see the strength of Seidou's batting — which doesn't seem to be the case according to the preview.

  3. m

    How could soccer, or anything in this world, ever make people forget about baseball? It's the world's greatest game, and, to me, the best thing in this world period. The World Cup is a bigger event because the WBC doesn't have the same importance, and the WS isn't a world competition. But baseball is, again to me, the best sport because of it's subtlety. I don't think there's another sport that could suit the writing style of Adachi-sensei so perfectly. Cross game, touch, and H2 wouldn't have the same impact if they were playing soccer. I know people often find baseball boring, but it's the fact that it's slow paced and has more of a mental battle between batters and pitchers that makes it so great. It's those moments on the mound, how each pitch feels so important that gives all the weight to the in game moments of Cross Game, H2, and Touch. The subtlety of a pitcher's relationship with his catcher has been one of the things Adachi has captured so perfectly. Along with the personalities that you see when you get a look inside the head of someone when he's on the mound. That's why all of the MC of those works have been, and could only be, pitchers.

    What I love about DnA is the way it gives you this view into the world of baseball. Not just into the mind of one character, but into what it's like to play HS baseball in Japan, and play it seriously. It gives you a true understanding of what it's like to battle for a spot amongst your teammates, and not just from one player's perspective. I'm glad to hear that DnA is selling well (hopefully anyway) and even if it's from doujin I can live with that. Anything that shows baseball in a realistic manner like this deserves to do well, and hopefully this could lead to the whole manga being adapted. Nothing worse than a sports anime that leaves off in the middle.

  4. Z

    I don't like games involving bats.

  5. A

    Oh man, I can't believe you didn't mention that great double play towards the end of the episode, that was beautiful.

  6. I did! "Great defense and a lot of luck".

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