The peculiarity of Daiya no A, no doubt, is that it practically grinds to a halt every time the focus turns to one of the Seidou third-years – yet it still manages to be a pretty compelling series overall despite how often that happens. This episode is a perfect example of that – it has a black hole named Isashiki in the middle, sucking dramatic tension into oblivion, and ends with a focus on a complete cipher in Yuki. Yet it still manages to be a very good in-game episode.
How is that? Well, the most obvious answer is that the first part focuses on Haruichi, which is an incalculably better idea. And there’s no question his segment is good (those bashful fist-pumps never get old) but in truth, it’s mostly over in five minutes or so. It’s a darn good five minutes, with a flashback to the first time he bought his wooden bat – over his brother’s objections, naturally. But as Ryou says, “If you can master the wooden bat, you’ll be a truly exceptional hitter”, which is true for more or less the reasons I discussed last week. I like Haruchin’s reasoning here – if he wants to surpass a brother two years older (and to boys, two years is like two centuries) than he has to do something in an exceptional way.
I hope Haruchin has another bat, because one of the reasons kids don’t use wooden bats much is that they break, and money is an important consideration in supplying youth baseball. But he manages to muscle a bloop single to left despite Mei breaking his bat, once again baiting an older pitcher to throw inside by standing on top of the plate. I’m not sure why the runner (I still can’t remember his name, which tells you something about Daiya’s weakness with secondary and tertiary characters) didn’t score, as he should have been off with the crack (literally) of the bat with two outs. But he didn’t, which left Haruichi standing on first, apple-cheeked, and Furuya actually so excited he’s mimicking Eijun’s “Yosh!”.
Isashiki draws a walk (after a thoroughly tedious flashback with another character I don’t care about) and clears the stage for Yuki with the bases loaded. Here’s where the episode really should have broken, because Yuki, too, isn’t terribly interesting. Despite being the clear best player on Seidou, we’ve gotten almost no opportunity to get into his head – even compared to the other third-years, he’s gotten almost no real development and exists more as an image than a character. But it actually works pretty well, because in fact Mei and Masa are way more interesting than Yuki. And this moment ends up being more about them than the batter. This dynamic has saved Ace of Diamond on a number of occasions, and though it’s hardly the first series to develop opponents more than some of the heroes, it’s rarely quite so stark as it with this one.
We have our answer as to why Mei doesn’t throw the changeup more late in games – as he tires, “each one is higher than the last”. While based on a sound principle this is a bit silly taken to this extreme, and the same weariness that causes him to hang changeups would also effect his forkball and slider. Nevertheless it explains Masa’s strategy – use it often to get inside the hitters’ heads, and then have them expecting it when Mei is no longer using it. But against Yuki, Mei really has no choice – he starts shaking Masa off, presumably because he wants the change but perhaps because he wants to challenge Yuki with the fastball. Which he does, to the tune of a couple of fouls – but it’s clear he can’t close the deal with that pitch (and can’t risk throwing it for a strike). It all comes down to one pitch, when Masa finally gets the coach’s OK and calls for the change – and though this is only the 8th inning, one gets the sense that the result is pretty much the game.