Really, the Sensen game has from the beginning been a process of them sliding over and making way for the teams that matter. It’s all about Tanba and Eijun and how they perform, and Sensen was just the testing ground. Still, the way Ugai and Maki were dispatched by the plot was probably the most clinical we’ve seen in Diamond no Ace so far – basically a reaffirmation that they’re not good enough, that their self-doubts are justified, and a “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”.
On balance I think it’s fair to say Eijun passed his exam with flying colors. Once the initial run was surrendered (again, without him giving up a single hard-hit ball) he stopped the bleeding without further damage. The key of course was the at-bat with Maki, who hit a couple of laser-bean fouls for strikes. That raised the spectre of Raichi in Eijun’s mind, but as Miyuki said “his eyes were still alive”.
The headline here was the unveiling of Eijun’s new signature move – normally a red flag in sports shounen, but at least in this case it’s a real thing. Generally but not exclusively the domain of southpaws, in their case it involves stepping towards third base, dropping down sidearm (or close) and whipping the arm across the body. It creates more deception (hiding the ball even longer than Eijun already does) and more velocity, often at the loss of control. It had to have been a pure instinct move by Eijun to use it here, but that fits his nature to a “T” anyway. And it successfully ties up Maki on the inside corner (which was Miyuki’s plan all along) leading to the critical strikeout Eijun needs. And the only run the rest of the way is allowed by Kawakami, after Seidou has built a safe six-run lead.
I can do without the constant abuse heaped on Eijun by his unlikeable sempai – especially Kuramochi – but I liked the reunion scene with Eijun’s middle-school buds (complete with tsun moment by Wakana) an awful lot. I don’t think Haruno liked it much, but that’s something I don’t really expect to get much focus for a long while at least. Especially amusing was the fact that Eijun had no idea that the next game was for a trip to Koushien until his pals told him – that momentarily seemed to faze him, which had me worried he was starting to think too much (bad idea) and feel the pressure, but it seems he’s up to the challenge. “One pitch at a time” is definitely the best approach for a freshman in that sort of pressure cooker.
The focus now is on Ichidai, which will presumably dust their cannon-fodder opponent Sakurazawa quite quickly. They’re notable for being the only public school in the semi-finals (guess they don’t know their place) and for having a coach who appears to be a 1.8 meter-class titan.
Haikyuu!! – 20
I was spoiled about what was going to happen at the end of this episode, so sadly it didn’t have as much of an impact as it should have considering as how it’s kind of the moment I’ve been waiting for since about the fourth ep. Still, it’s nice to finally see Sugawara in action when it matters, though I suspect it’s going to be a small window of opportunity.
Haikyuu isn’t big on surprises, so it’s not as though this turn of events was entirely unexpected. It was plain to see that Kageyama was taking this matchup with Oikawa way too personally, and that’s rarely a good thing in what’s so intrinsically a team sport as volleyball. It’s pretty realistic, too, because Kageyama’s transformation to team player seemed to be a little too seamless for someone who’s been a “me first” guy for his entire playing career. And the fact is he’s not an equal match for Oikawa – he may have more natural talent, but Oikawa has both experience and the right sort of humility for a setter. His ego is just as bloated as Kageyama’s, but he’s smart enough to realize that it’s his job to give the spikers what they want – and when they look good, he looks good.
Still – this is a sports shounen, so the headline story here pretty much has to be Kageayama learning from the experience and levelling up. That means he, not Sugawara, has to be on the court in the crucial moments – and unless the series is going to progress to the eventual showdown with Nekoma without the third-years, it means that Karasuno has to win this match. What I’m expecting to happen is for Kageyama to see Sugawara doing two things – slowing down the match, and pushing the spotlight onto his teammates. He won’t be goaded into rushing things the way Kageyama was, and his nature isn’t to try and do everything himself. With the first game probably a lost cause anyway, it makes sense to use the occasion to give Kageyama a chance to cool his jets and for he and the entire team to calm down.