The Sensen semi-final saw its first pitch this week, just as real-life Koushien qualifiers are wrapping up. But the big news with Diamond no Ace came “off the field”, as Shounen Magazine announced that the anime would be continuing, uninterrupted, for an additional two cours past the scheduled September finale. That will take us up to 75 episodes total, plus the three OVAs that have been announced over the last couple of weeks, and if the series is successful enough for that one wonders if the production committee might not just decide to adapt the entire manga. It’s a well-deserved success story for an old-school sports manga titan.
On the field the drama is pretty low-key. Maki is doing a masterful job shutting down Seidou under the watchful eye of Coach Ugai (Itou Kazuaki), while Sensen has managed an early run off Tanba. He’s soldiering through relying on his curve, as his fastball doesn’t have a whole lot of life, and by the fifth inning he’s showing extreme signs of weariness. But Seidou’s bats wake up in their second turn through the order, and they start to get their hacks off Maki and his notorious high release-point. Good defense and a smart intentional walk to Miyuki (don’t pitch to that guy with runners in scoring position) save them in the fourth, but it’s clearly only a matter of time before the dam breaks.
The dynamic seems pretty clear here. Ugai is obviously knowledgeable, but his “lack of trust” in his players is obviously going to bite him in the end. As an opponent Sensen doesn’t have the same kind of development or intrigue as Seidou’s prior rivals, and seems more of a foil than anything else. More interesting for me is that Wakana-chan and Eijun’s middle-school friends have made the long trip to Tokyo to see him pitch, and they (after getting off at the wrong subway station) eventually make their way wide-eyed into Jingu Stadium, disbelieving that Eijun (“I’m always ready!”) could actually pitch in such an environment, never mind in such a close game. Wakana chooses not to greet Eijun on the grounds that his performance would be thrown off if he knew his old teammates were present, which I think is a rather wise decision.
Ugai’s reference to Maki turning into a “kaibutsu” put me in mind of the issue of overuse of pitchers in Japanese high school baseball. At long last it’s starting to be discussed openly, the final straw being kaibutsu Anraku Tomohiro throwing 772 pitches in little over a week last year (he’s since injured his elbow). But the forces arrayed against change are strong on this issue – the ideal of self-sacrifice up to and including destroying your arm is at the absolute heart of Japan’s schoolboy baseball, and – while it isn’t much admitted to – so is the fact that the countries’ adults cherish the spectacle of the boys suffering through brutal summer hear and physical abuse in Koushien and its run-up qualifiers (press reports on Anraku’s use were uniformly glowing, with no media outlet criticizing his coach). When it comes to limiting this abuse I’ll believe it when I see it, but Japanese parents and doctors are finally starting to rebel publicly and that’s a “baby step” at the very least.
Haikyuu!! – 18
I’m pretty sure that in U.S. high school volleyball (it was this way when I played in gym class) you aren’t allowed to intentionally play the ball with your feet. Maybe it’s different in Japan – I’ve been trying to remember if I ever saw anyone do it in the Olympics and I don’t recall seeing it happen, but maybe it’s legal there too. In any event I can only assume what Nishinoya did was legal because no one on Dateko complained, but it sure surprised the hell out of me.
Surprises are pretty rare for me with Haikyuu, and that was probably the only one in this episode. As usual it’s more about delivering the mail in style, and while there was nothing as tear-inducingly stunning as the animation for Asahi’s spike last week, Haikyuu can pretty much always be relied on to do that. One might argue it’s a surprise that Karasuno defeated a supposed power like Dateko as easily as they did, but the plot armor was strong with this one so the result at least was expected. And the post-match conversation between Aone and the captain seems to indicate that this wasn’t considered an especially strong Dateko team.
The real headliner for this portion of the series is Aoba Johsai, though I assume there will be at least one more opponent defeated before Karasuno plays them – it seems likely the match with Aoba Johsai will end the season (and that there will be a second season – and more – has never been less than a biblical certainty). That means more Namikawa Daisuke as Oikawa, a role which he’s definitely pulled from the Hisoka section of his enormous vocal repertoire, and that’s always a good thing. As for Nekoma and the inter-high, I assume that will be the stuff of the second season.
The bromance moments (mostly surrounding Asahi) were fine as usual, if perhaps laid on a little thick this time. But the moment that stood out for me was when Sugawara actually expressed regret that he’d played no part in the revenge match against Dateko. As Daichi was, I was pleased to hear Sugawara still has the will to fight – he’d given up his place on the team all too willingly, at least by appearances, and it was making him come off as a bit of a pushover. Niceness is like patience – a little goes a long way but too much gets you absolutely nowhere, and if a little selfishness and petulance gets Sugawara back into the realm of relevance, I hope he turns into a bad-boy of Bieberesque proportions.