Weekly Digest 7/27/14 – Diamond no Ace, Haikyuu!

Diamond no Ace - 41-13 Diamond no Ace - 41-23 Haikyuu - 17 -15 Haikyuu - 17 -18

It was a pretty damn great Sunday for sports anime.


Diamond no Ace – 41

Diamond no Ace - 41-1 Diamond no Ace - 41-2 Diamond no Ace - 41-3
Diamond no Ace - 41-4 Diamond no Ace - 41-5 Diamond no Ace - 41-6
Diamond no Ace - 41-7 Diamond no Ace - 41-8 Diamond no Ace - 41-9
Diamond no Ace - 41-10 Diamond no Ace - 41-11 Diamond no Ace - 41-12
Diamond no Ace - 41-14 Diamond no Ace - 41-15 Diamond no Ace - 41-16
Diamond no Ace - 41-17 Diamond no Ace - 41-18 Diamond no Ace - 41-19
Diamond no Ace - 41-20 Diamond no Ace - 41-21 Diamond no Ace - 41-22

Ace of Diamond isn’t wasting any time cranking up the next rival on the chopping block, but that’s the way Koushien and its qualifying are in real life – games every couple of days in brutal summer heat, with no thoughts spared for fatigue or damage to young pitchers’ arms.  We’re only getting a one-episode interlude between games, and next up is Sensen – though it doesn’t take an esper to see that they’re likely a speed bump on the way to a destined finals matchup with Inashiro.

One thing this series has always managed to do is make the opponents interesting, and considering how abbreviated their introduction is this time around, Sensen comes off as a fairly intriguing foe.  Their coach is Ugai Kazuyoshi, a 40-year veteran of the dugout who speaks humbly of how he can only recruit rejects from glamour schools, but clearly has a shrewd baseball mind and isn’t afraid to openly criticize Kataoka’s judgement (“He trusts his players too much”).  Their ace is Maki Yousuke (Eguchi Takuya) a giant of a pitcher with “the highest release point in Japan”.    He carries a major grudge against Seidou because he dreamed of attending and wasn’t invited – which seems to be a common theme among Sensen players, bearing out the truth of their coach’s words.

I like it when we’re reminded of just what sort of baseball factory Seidou is, because they’re the sort of school that’s normally the villain in yakyuu manga, and humanizing such a team is one of the most interesting elements of Daiya no A.  Again, though, it would be a shock if Sensen wins – they’re here to test Seidou and give Eijun a chance to redeem himself for his self-perceived failure in the Yakushi game.  Kataoka has declared Tanba the starter, and Furuya out because of fatigue (Kataoka is right about that) which means Eijun and Kawakami are the only help Tanba is going to get.  From my perspective, Kataoka’s call also promises to make the game that much more interesting.

Mostly, this is classic sports anime setup episode, with everyone dealing with their nerves in their own way.  The second-teamers build a huge mount to simulate Maki’s height, and Kataoka throws batting practice from on-high.  The Kominato brothers bond and reminisce, and the elder drops a bomb on the younger – only 18 players are allowed on a Koushien roster, not 20 (stay tuned for more on that topic, I’m guessing).  And Miyuki in his usual smart-ass fashion tries to make Eijun understand that it’s his martial spirit that makes Kataoka trust him.  There’s also a long-overdue peek at Wakana, who’s got plenty of time to root Eijun on since Eijun’s old team has, as usual, been eliminated in the first round.

Haikyuu!! – 17

Haikyuu - 17 -1 Haikyuu - 17 -2 Haikyuu - 17 -3
Haikyuu - 17 -4 Haikyuu - 17 -5 Haikyuu - 17 -6
Haikyuu - 17 -7 Haikyuu - 17 -8 Haikyuu - 17 -9
Haikyuu - 17 -10 Haikyuu - 17 -11 Haikyuu - 17 -12
Haikyuu - 17 -13 Haikyuu - 17 -14 Haikyuu - 17 -16
Haikyuu - 17 -17 Haikyuu - 17 -19 Haikyuu - 17 -20

Whatever else one might say about this episode (happily, I should think it would be good things) it would have been a worthwhile experience just for the bit of animation when Asahi is about to execute his back attack late in the episode.  My God – what a fantastic piece of art.

Haikyuu has certainly given us an interesting match now that things really matter.  Dateko is the perfect foil for Karasuno in their current state, and it’s a real display of how much Kageyama and Hinata have grown as players since the series began.  My only quibble is one I’ve had for a while – those freak quicks of Hinata smell suspiciously like a Prince of Tennis move to me, and they’re not getting any more believable as they get freakier and freakier.  Fortunately volleyball is not a sport I’m super passionate about so it’s not a deal-breaker – if we were seeing the equivalent in a basketball (cough) or baseball series I would have a very tough time looking past it.

Apart from that, these game episodes are a joy to watch because Haikyuu just nails the animation and choreography.  There’s a bit of volleyball education going on here, stuff like “read blocks” that don’t get talked about during Olympic volleyball coverage.  You’ve also got the added bonus of Miki Shinichirou being added to the mix as Dateko’s coach, and it’s pretty much impossible for him to be involved in a series without making it better.  The cat-and-mouse between these two very different teams is fun to watch, especially the intense rivalry developing between Hinata and Dateko’s giant A-1 blocker Aone (Matsukawa Hiroki).  Indeed, it’s Hinata’s unpredictability that’s making him into the decoy he needs to be for Asahi to be effective – and for Karasuno to have a chance.

I suppose Karasuno needs to win this match (and a few more) in order to set up an eventual showdown with their real rival Nekoma, though if narrative armor weren’t a factor I’d have said Dateko was still the favorite.  One thing’s for sure – on paper at least Karasuno needs to win the first set more than Dateko does, because they’re using every trick in their bag to try and ride surprise to victory. Lose that first game after doing that, and it’s hard to imagine them winning three of the next four.

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6 comments

  1. S

    Thanks for still blogging Ace of Diamond, though I don’t actually read them, since I watch the episodes per match/arc.
    Out of the many recent sports anime, I consider Ace of Diamond to be the best one. No other sports show gets me this excited for a match. It started off slow, but the quality increases with each upcoming match-up. The games are beautifully constructed with many momentum shifts, cool action and an insight in tactics and player’s psychology. The game progress and result never feel like a cheap plot device (like winning comebacks from 10 – 0 down with grandslam homeruns ) but one that feels realistically. Also, while the characters aren’t particularly noteworthy (I can’t remember half the names of Seido’s team), the losses of the Korean pitcher and recently Raichi made me really emotional, something I didn’t expect to happen. The opponents get their moments to shine and it results in amazing matches in which I root for both teams.

    This series really deserves more episodes than the planned 52.

  2. And it may just get them. We can hope – there's 3 OVAs at the very least.

    I don't rank Diamond as high as Baby Steps or Yowapeda (or Ping Pong) primarily because once you get past Eijun, Miyuki, Haruchin and Chris I don't think the cast of Seidou players is very interesting or well-developed. I love the series but that is a meaningful weakness to me – and it really bogs down the episodes that focus on them.

  3. S

    @Sylpher, I cannot disagree more, but I suppose we're different that way. I like my sports anime character based, and I really feel like Ace of diamond has too many important characters made of cardboard. I find the match action very slowly paced and repetitive, especially when they are milking reactions from every stone for every pitch. Baseball is also one of the most boring of sports to watch, beating only cricket. But Cross Game was one of the best sports anime ever, so I don't think it's the sports fault in this case.

    Haikyuu!! is miles better in every aspect

  4. S

    @Enzo, I’ll give you Ping Pong thanks to its very unique approach of a sports anime. I’ll agree with Baby Steps only if the manga is considered. I just can’t get into the anime due to the lackluster animation, Natsu’s behavior and lack of cool gameplay/moves. I would’ve agreed with Yowapeda after 15 episodes, but not anymore at this stage. While I think Ace Diamond gets better with each arc, the reverse happens with Yowapeda. The Inter high days take way too many episodes, most characters fail to remain interesting but the biggest problem is the unrealistic, forced plot devices: Onoda passing 100 men after a fall while riding on a small railing and three cyclists finishing at exactly the same time. It all feels fake instead of organic.

    @Stot, I also think that real-life baseball is pretty boring to watch. Too many time-outs and time taken between pitches which downs the excitement. In anime, however, it can be pretty exciting. I’ve seen my fair share of baseball anime: Some are great (Cross Game, One Outs, Ace Diamond), some average (Major) and some downright terrible (Big Windup, Touch). What I like about Ace Diamond are the gameplay and insight on tactics and player’s psychology, the characters themselves are less of importance.
    And regarding Haikyu, I actually consider it the worst out of all the recent sports anime. Can’t stand the characters or the games.

  5. S

    That entire sequence leading up to and after Asahi's spike was absolute bliss. I totally teared up (apparently, so did Divine) That was Yowapeda level of brilliance, without a doubt.

  6. The level of straight-up artistry in the technical side of Haikyuu is truly impressive. I feel very little for Asahi, but that moment almost made me tear up as a fan of animation.

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