Weekly Digest 8/24/14 – Diamond no Ace, Haikyuu!!

Diamond no Ace - 45 -8 Diamond no Ace - 45 -19 Haikyuu - 21 -8 Haikyuu - 21 -12

Sorry, but anyone who doesn’t realize Sugawara is the best Crow fails at life.

Diamond no Ace – 45

Diamond no Ace - 45 -1 Diamond no Ace - 45 -2 Diamond no Ace - 45 -3
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Diamond no Ace - 45 -17 Diamond no Ace - 45 -18 Diamond no Ace - 45 -20
Diamond no Ace - 45 -21 Diamond no Ace - 45 -22 Diamond no Ace - 45 -23
Diamond no Ace - 45 -24 Diamond no Ace - 45 -25 Diamond no Ace - 45 -26

I swear I had no idea that the coach of Sakurazawa Technical was referred to as “Professor” (Kyouju) when I referred to him last week as a titan (Kyoujin).  He just looked like one of Isayama’s titans to me, but it really galls me that one of the best puns I’ve ever come up with in a lifetime chasing them was a complete accident.

Setting that aside, this was a terrific episode, and it really plays into the strength Diamond no Ace has at creating interesting opposition.  I referred to Sakurazawa last week as Ichidai’s cannon fodder opponent, but they were the most interesting thing in this ep.  Underdog stories work incredibly well in sports series, and here’s another one – a brainiac public high school that never even won a scrimmage in 20 years until the aforementioned professor, Kikuasawa Sanae, took over.  And he can’t even hit a baseball for infield practice.  But he loves the game, and he seems pretty knowledgeable about it.  But it was the arrival on the scene of three freshman that signalled the beginning of a turnaround, especially pitcher Nagao Akira.

The knuckleball is indeed a strange phenomenon in baseball, a great equalizer.  It is a gimmick pitch in the sense that it can take a guy without much conventional talent and make him a star, and having such a star can make a nothing team dangerous.  But very few guys throw it because it’s incredibly hard to master – one of the hardest things in baseball sounds so simple, to throw a baseball with no rotation.  It’s also a hard pitch to throw because normally one needs big hands and strong fingers, and not many boys Nagao’s age – never mind Japanese boys – would have hands big enough to be effective with it.  There’s almost no record of any Japanese pitcher throwing it at the professional level, in fact, though Oka Tomo did try and crack the majors with it (unsuccessfully) four years after retiring.  The episode did a great job of explaining the knuckler and depicting it realistically, with this possible exception.  But it does make a hell of a good story.

On the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum is “big number one” Ichidai.  They’re the epitome of the big dog – the defending champs of West Tokyo, the favorites, and they feature the best pitcher in Kanto in Narumiya Mei (who of course we already know).  This is a good fit for Kaji Yuuki, a kid who’s supposed to be annoying, in a role that requires him to be neither too somber or too comedic.  And it makes for a fascinating matchup – the powerhouse with the fireballer who strikes out most of the hitters he faces against the limited team that knows their limits, with a knuckleball pitcher on the mound who relies on his defense to take care of all the balls the opponent weakly puts in play.  I’m going to try not to get too caught up in pulling for Sakurazawa because I know my heart is going to get broken if I do, but it’s not going to be easy – they’re impossible not to like, and Kikuasawa-kinjou seems to be genuinely kind and positive man who loves his players.

Haikyuu!! – 21

Haikyuu - 21 -1 Haikyuu - 21 -2 Haikyuu - 21 -3
Haikyuu - 21 -4 Haikyuu - 21 -5 Haikyuu - 21 -6
Haikyuu - 21 -7 Haikyuu - 21 -9 Haikyuu - 21 -10
Haikyuu - 21 -11 Haikyuu - 21 -13 Haikyuu - 21 -14
Haikyuu - 21 -15 Haikyuu - 21 -16 Haikyuu - 21 -17
Haikyuu - 21 -18 Haikyuu - 21 -19 Haikyuu - 21 -20
Haikyuu - 21 -21 Haikyuu - 21 -22 Haikyuu - 21 -23
Haikyuu - 21 -24 Haikyuu - 21 -25 Haikyuu - 21 -26

This episode of Haikyuu!! is pretty much the one I’ve been building up to since the series really got started, and that can be a dangerous thing for a series.  But it really lived up to the anticipation – this was one of my favorite episodes of the series so far.

Maybe I’m a sap for liking Sugawara as much as I do – maybe it’s just too easy – but it is what it is.  The guy is the friend and teammate every high school athlete dreams of having, and he’s zero flash even when he’s not being compared to Kageyama.  I like Grinchie well enough, but his tortured genius riff is pretty standard stuff (so is Shouyou’s plucky chibisuke routine if I’m honest, but he’s much easier to root for).  I find much more pathos in Sugawara’s situation – a guy who’s entire appeal is in his simple and unpretentious decency, and who suffers in silence when he loses his job to a rookie rather than become a cancer by rallying the third-years around the injustice of it.  This is the end of his athletic career he’s watching play out while he’s forced to stand and watch a couple of first-years angst over looking cool, but Sugawara never rocks the boat.

As I mentioned before, niceness is a good thing and too much gets you absolutely nowhere (Sugawara Koushi and Samwell Tarly – two Crows too nice for their own good). And there have been times when I wondered if Sugawara was too nice.  Maybe this taste of what it’s like to feel the thrill of battle again will shorten his patience, and there’s no denying he was an effective change-of-pace when he entered the game.  There are elements of the setter role which he clearly understands and Kageyama does not, as is evidenced by his first moments on the court, before a single ball was served.  His attacks may be “textbook”, but he knows his teammates better than they know themselves.  And he actually managed to get the ultra-instinctual Hinata thinking about what he was doing – though one could very legitimately ask whether it’s actually beneficial to have Hinata thinking about what he’s doing in this situation.

I thought the episode did a very fine job of showing why things picked up for Karasuno when Sugawara entered the game, and why his effectiveness started to wane as Aoba Johsai adjusted.  The fact is that Sugawara and Kageyama are totally different sorts of setters, and their impact on the team so different that it’s always going to throw the opponent off – like a basketball team with two point guards, a speedster deadly in the open court and a technician brilliant in half-court sets.  Basketball teams often employ two point guards on the court, and there are many formations in volleyball that use two setters – especially in this instance when Kageyama is athletic and tall enough to be both a blocker and spiker as needed, I’m a bit puzzled as to why Ukai isn’t even considering it.  In any event it seems for now as if the match is back in Kageyama’s hands, but that Sugawara’s role as a spark plug is a permanent one – a real competition for the job, but one who’s winner has in truth already been decided.

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13 comments

  1. K

    I like Sugawara but I couldn't say who my favorite is on Karasuno as I think they are all great. Probably the only one I don't love is Tsukishima. His character type just isn't one that works for me. Although as long as he isn't been mean I am fine with him.

  2. e

    'one of the best puns I've ever come up with in a lifetime' aren't you a modest terrier :p.
    It's so very tempting to root for Sakurazawa – they are depicted as a bunch of pretty decent and nice guys and honestly I find knuckleballs quite a fascinating phaenomenon. Plus Mei is a brat XPP – here but eh plot reasons 99% point a Seidou-Ichidai as the match of fate. May the Sakurazawa guys fight and lose with honour to the last.
    —-
    Aw Sugawara :,) . I LOLed at his pseudo- karate-chopping his mates as he entered the court… then with Noya's he switched to high-fives with flowers. Ahah. And he really gets his teammates. This crows has claws.
    Two setters playing at the same time. It must happen. Please make it happen (although I'm dreading this will happen during Sugawara's last match as a 3rd year… a bit like he went out with a bang – well, a point scored – in this episode on his last action).

  3. Please don't comment with "It gets mentioned later in the manga". I'd rather have not known what is or isn't going to happen.

  4. c

    One of my favorite things about Sugawara is that he dearly loves the play but he also wants what is best for the team — and this episode reinforces that sometimes? The best thing is him.

    I hope to see more tag-teaming setters in the future. Both Kageyama /and/ Sugawara are valuable members of the team, both on and off the court.

  5. w

    It's not just you – this was definitely one of Haikyuu's best. Suga's not even my favourite (though he made a very good grab for it this week) and I can see that. Soooo good. Probably the best character moments it's managed.

    I think Ukai not trying for two setters is just a case of too much talent. They don't have room on the team for the two of them. The Crows would have to sacrifice either a lot of defence or offence for it to happen.

  6. Frankly, if I were going to bench anyone I think it would be Daichi. But I suppose that really can't happen.

  7. Or sub Shouyou out right before he's supposed to serve…

  8. w

    Yeah you can't really bench Daichi since he's the only one besides Nishinoya who can reliably receive. I'm not sure you'd be allowed switch Hinata out like that either, something about it sounds sketchy. And anyway wouldn't you just then end up with Sugawara serving? I don't think that'd be his best position (going by the eyecatch anyway..).

    They really should be switching Suga in and out though, since he seems to be the best at reading teams.

  9. m

    The Knluckleball is a messed up pitch. They say it can change direction more than once, but apparently it's an optical illusion. The ball rotates only does a 1/4 rotation from mound to plate and it's slow enough to see the seams, but your brain can't process the slight roatation of the seams with the ball's movement speed which causes an optical illusion. That's not verified though, just what one scientist thinks. It's weird bc aside from Dickey's 2012 season Knuckleballers haven't had very many stand out years. It's easier on their arms, and helps them throw for a lot more years, but when it doesn't knuckle its a meatball and generally they have ERAs in the 4s. I've heard Dickey was somewhat unique for a Knuckler in that he averages 78mph with his "fast" KB when the normal one is around 65mph, but he does also have a sinker and a 4seam to go along with his fast and slow KBs. They have that Pitchf/x system that tracks every major league pitch and apparently a KB doesn't move more than once and generally has a very smooth trajectory (only a fraction of an inch more than a fastball or a curve), but it's unpredictable and the strange view of the being able to see the seams but also seeing them move is difficult for the brain to process at the speed of the balls overall movement. Though batters will all say it moves more like a butterfly. From that description anyway, it seems like a KB is a lot more similar to what Eijun throws: a slower moving pitch that has unpredictable movement.

  10. There have been plenty of standout years by knuckleballers before Dickey. There are knuckleballers in the Hall-of-Fame… Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, other terrific pitchers like Wilbur Wood. It's an incredibly hard pitch to master but for the few that do, age is almost meaningless.

  11. m

    Sugawara is great, and he really is the ideal teammate with his attitude and how he helps out kids who "took his spot so to speak". I think it stands out a lot more in an anime, or at least a Japanese HS sport, bc in America there is basically no notion of playing time being deserved bc of age or seniority. In American sports it is, and always has been, about who is the best. Yeah the veterans are the leaders here, but the idea that someone who isn't even close to as good as someone younger having the right to start is just ridiculous to me. If he acted that way, and worse if people actually agreed with him, that would be absolutely pathetic. Kudos to him for handling it like a man, but I'm not sure how much credit to give someone for not doing something bad. Extra bonus points awarded bc its Japan and in accordance with Japanese HS sports he has every right to make that argument, but objectively in regards to who deserves to start in sports, he has no right to complain. In Cross Game when Mishimia sat for that 3rd year guy (who was a baby) it drove me up the walls. That a coach would submit to some punk kid throwing a tantrum is proof of him not being qualified to be a coach. As if some kid would quit and never play HS baseball again if he didn't sit the other player? Not a chance. I like Sugawara for how he finds a way to help his team off of the field, even if it means he has to suffer for it. That makes him a great teammate, but as far as not throwing a fit about it goes he doesn't have a leg to stand on to begin with. If you don't want someone to take your spot then its simple: get better. if you can't then tough shit. There's nothing more annoying then people with a sense of entitlement who aren't willing to do the work required to deserve the thing they desire.

  12. L

    Most college and pro teams use a 5-1 formation with 1 setter only for continuity. Some High school teams do use 6-2, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see this soon, especially since kageyama has already showed he is an excellent attacker as well.

  13. R

    Oop, I meant that in the same sense that libero rotations or attack patterns are mentioned in that its mentioned in an explanation for the readers about different team formations. Since sports manga always explain the sports rules and details for the sake of new readers, I didn't think it'd really count as a spoiler. My main point was that originally I thought perhaps the mangaka might not be familiar with the setup, but since he explained it to the reader, he in fact is aware of it.

    I probably should've worded that better

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