Make no mistake about it – Eijun is why Ace of Diamond works as a series when it’s all said and done. And everything about why he works so well as a protagonist can be summed up in one line of dialogue: “I have no idea what Koushien is like. But I know one thing for sure – I’m not scared.” That’s Eijun in a nutshell – to be faced with a situation packed with ridiculous amounts of pressure as a first year, and not be scared. Nervous? Shit, yeah – nervous as hell – but not scared. The special athletes are the ones who always want the ball, but never more than when the pressure is at its greatest.
I give credit to Diamond no Ace for setting this game situation up rather more cleverly and subtly than I realized. Over the course of the last several episodes (when did this game start – 10 eps ago?) it’s become clear that there’s a difference between Seidou and Inashiro, between Miyuki and Masa. Part of it is no doubt of function of Inashiro being the favorites and how their last season ended, but they’re playing not to lose (because in a sense, they have more to lose). There’s a creeping negativity to their outlook, which doesn’t manifest as long as they’re going well (which they are most of the time) because of their general air of confidence. But when trouble creeps in, they (most obviously but not only Masa) are thinking of all the bad things that could happen. Seidou is just trying to find a way to win, somehow – and in that sense, having three first-years too young to know better may just be an advantage.
The cliffhanger from Episode 58 was, in truth, not all that much of one – it seemed pretty likely Yuuki was going to get a hit. He did so off a changeup, a pretty decent one that was just a bit too high. He strokes it for a double and Seidou takes a 4-3 lead, but the best part of all this for me was the way Mei reacted. He was totally calm on the most, giving Yuuki his props, then blew up once he got back in the dugout and got it out of his system (which is how the big boys do it). That was nicely staged, a rather encouraging sign for Mei in the long-term despite his short-term crisis.
Taking the mound with a one-run lead, of course, is Eijun – and this is really the moment the series has been building-towards. This is when the great ones want the stage and the lesser ones furtively search for the shadows. Eijun lives for moments like these, and he does his job right from the start, inducing an easy fly to left that Furuya (who was poorly positioned thanks to Ishigaki) misplays into a bloop single. Here’s a thought: should Kataoka have considered taking Furuya – who’s clearly a poor defender – out for defensive purposes? That’s complicated – not only is Furuya and his big bat due up second in the top of the 9th, but he’s also still an emergency option to pitch as long as he’s in the game.
What follows is one of the most exciting moments of the series. Inashiro tries to bunt the runner over, but Eijun makes a spectacular but risky play, darting in front of “Ugah” and firing a sidearm missile to second to force the lead runner. It was a play only a first-year would likely have tried, but again, a fearless one – and brilliant, to boot. The looks on his sempai’s faces tell the story – half-wanting to rip him a new one, half in awe of his sheer chutzpah. And Eijun follows that up by inducing a double-play ball (turned by Haru-chin) on a great cutter, one so good even the hyper-critical Miyuki can only offer awed praise. How can a green 15 year-old make the best pitch of his life in that situation? Simple – that’s what separates the men from the boys, and age has little to do with it.
There’s the matter of Seidou’s ups in the 9th, which could feature some real drama after Miyuki’s leadoff double. Eijun may get a chance to actually swing the bat, and there’s the question of whether Mei will finally be pulled from the game (he’s clearly running on fumes by this point). But the real drama is what Kataoka will decide to do for the bottom of the ninth. Will he let Sawamura finish the game, or turn to Kawakami – who he’s told to be ready at any moment? It’s not an easy decision, but I would want to ask – could Kawakami truthfully makes the same statement Eijun did about not being scared? I’m not so sure he could – and that’s why if I were Seidou, Eijun is the one I’d rather have on the mound.