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
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.