If there’s one thing Daiya no A gets right, it’s the losing moments – this is about the third time I’ve come pretty close to tearing up. And that’s a might important element for a sports series to nail down, because if anything the losses tend to be more emotionally climactic than the victories.
That, however, points up an interesting element of Ace of Diamond. Those losses and their emotional impact were losses by the opponents, not the protagonists. Is it a problem, necessarily, for a sports series to have opposing teams that are more interesting than the main character’s team? Or is it simply a statement that it’s doing a very good job making sure there are no throwaway rivals? I think it’s more the latter, though for me there is a certain weakness among the Seidou cast – more of them are pretty two-dimensional characters. This is the second time in a row (the first being Shunshin Yeung and Akikawa) that I was way more engaged by the opponent.
As I said, Diamond no Ace is a show that fundamentally gets the sorts of moments we saw this week. There is a huge different between a first-year and third-year high schooler, and we really saw that play out in the way Raichi and Tanba handled the crucial moment. No matter how much of a baseball genius he is, there’s only so much pressure a 15 year-old can take without tightening up, and feeling the weight of his entire team on his shoulders was too much for Raichi. Tanba fared much better – though it did take Raichi’s tightness to allow him to escape unscathed after serving up a 2-0 meatball. This is a double-edged sword for Seidou, as they still to a certain extent have to depend on first-years themselves given Tanba’s reduced condition. I think it’s a safe bet we’re not going to go back to Tanba throwing complete games anytime soon, so presumably Eijun and Furuya will get their chances – I sure hope so, as Tanba isn’t exactly a compelling presence.
As for Yakushi, they were a great addition – a bunch of scraggly outsiders not concerned with the endless list of proper behaviors expected from a Japanese high school team. I would have liked to have seen some direct consolation from Raizou towards Raichi at the end, but I wasn’t really expecting it – that would have been out of character. With a second-year ace and mostly first-year batting order they’re obviously going to be a force for future seasons, though whether we’ll see that in the anime is highly dubious. We did get an announcement of no less than three OVAs this week though (the first will be a side-story about the Kominato Brothers) and that’s a good sign that the anime is meeting its financial expectations, which is reason enough to hope we might get another season someday.
Haikyuu!! – 16
Losing is definitely the theme today, and Haikyuu does its part by focusing on Ikejeri’s doomed Tokonami squad and the Karasuno girl’s team. It was pretty obvious from the way things were going last week that both were going to be exiting stage left, and one thing Haikyuu rarely does is defy expectations.
This is a very different sort of episode from Diamond no Ace’s, but then this is a very different sort of series. With Diamond no Ace the protagonists are the big dogs, and in many ways it’s the underdog opponents who get the deepest characterization. Haikyuu’s home team is a peanut gallery of charismatic oddballs and misfits, and they have no real need to share the spotlight. The most important rivals are similarly larger than life teams crafted for fan appeal more than pathos, so there isn’t a whole lot left for poor schlubs like Ikejiri and his mates – without any buildup it’s hard to feel all that much for what they’re going through, and the out-of-nowhere snapshot of the girl’s team feels a bit perfunctory. That said, the episode strikes a very respectful tone towards the also-rans, making the point that just because they aren’t exceptional athletes doesn’t mean they feel things any less deeply, and as such it works well as a general ode to average kids whose athletic career ends painfully too early.
The real beginning of the inter-high is next week, with the matchup with the fearsome “Iron Wall of Date”, who come complete with an Engrish cheer. As such it’s a battle for redemption for Asahi, who let his humiliation in their last meeting drive him out of volleyball altogether. Unlike with Daiya no A, there’s really no slippage with Haikyuu when the focus is off Hinata and Kageyama – not that it is very often – because the rest of the crows are more than capable of carrying the narrative. That said I keep waiting for Sugawara to get his chance to shine on the court, but it doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen anytime soon.