My first reaction when this episode ended was a sinking feeling of doom, because I assumed Daiya no A was going to be on a New Year’s break next week. Happily, it seems that not only is it airing but that it’s going to be a double-episode – which should take us to the end of this game, assuming it doesn’t go to several extra innings. The name of the episode is “Victory or Defeat” and it is the end of the cour, so all signs point to a resolution one way or the other. I’m happy we don’t have to wait two weeks for it, because that would have been a seriously nasty cliffhanger.
Whatever happens from here, this ep was one hell of a tense ride. The highs and lows tend to be a little more extreme with Diamond no Ace than most sports anime, I think, but when it separates the wheat from the chaff and gets down to serious business it’s an intense and gripping show. You could really feel that in the air here – everyone’s nerves stretched taut, with both teams at an emotional fever pitch for entirely different reasons. And yet I notice that even here, with everything on the line, Furuya still can’t bring himself to cheer for Eijun because he’s too busy sulking about being yanked from the game. The guy makes it seriously hard to like him.
Say what you will about Kataoka, but sticking with Eijun was a courageous choice – and I would argue, the correct one. I think it’s very clear he has a fire in his belly that Kawakami does not. What I love about Eijun is that while he’s not immune to the enormity of the moment, his instinctive reaction is to fight through his fear. As the old saw goes, courage isn’t not being afraid – it’s being afraid and doing what must be done anyway. I love the fact that Eijun is determined to do just that, and I love the fact that Miyuki refuses to be negative and cautious even now – he orders his pitcher to throw inside. Aggressiveness sometimes backfires, but any serious student of sports knows that those who are aggressive when the pressure is greatest usually succeed, and those who are tentative usually fail.
The first hitter is a pinch-hitter, exploiting the lefty-righty matchup. After a foul bunt attempt, he hits a nubber to second on a cutter (a very good pitch under the circumstances) and Haruichi makes a great play to throw him out (by the way – someone needs to tell these kids that sliding into first base is stupid and counter-productive). That brings Carlos to the plate, and he reveals Inashiro’s new strategy to deal with Eijun – stand practically on top of the plate and dare him to throw inside. As long as the feet are inside the batter’s box it’s all legal, and it’s definitely a case of psychological warfare – but again, neither Miyuki or Eijun back down. And Carlos pops out to left after being jammed (thank goodness that wasn’t Furuya the butcher out there).
Ah, but that’s when things get rather grim. Shirakawa parrots Carlos’ strategy, which is clearly having some effect on Eijun. This is really portrayed well, because despite his ferocious competitiveness, Eijun’s youth is not glossed over here – the moment is clearly weighing on him. He is scared, as he should be – he’s still a kid, and this is momentous stuff. That his tenaciousness causes him to want to go even deeper inside is to his credit, but he’s still a first-year overwhelmed by the situation, adrenaline on overdrive. And his admirable and courageous impulse leads to disaster, as he hits Shirakawa in the head. It’s exactly what Shirakawa wanted (though I’m sure he’d have preferred a fleshier spot), and thanks to a weird rule in Japanese high school baseball (which I had no idea existed) the pinch-runner for the woozy Shirakawa is the previous batter – the ultra-speedy Carlos. Oy.
This is obviously a bad situation for Seidou, but honestly I’m more concerned for Eijun – and all the more so if Inashiro ends up coming back to win the game. Eijun is clearly shaken to his core, and Miyuki signals Kataoka that he has to make a chance. Putting this game in the dubious and trembling hands of Kawakami is a problem, obviously (though Kataoka has no choice now) but for any pitcher beaning a batter can be traumatic. For a mere babe like Eijun – who may never have beaned a batter in his life – it could be disastrous. It could break him for quite a long time. That’s of more concern to me than the result of the game, though the result of the game itself could have a big impact on just how much this trauma impacts Eijun.
We’ll see how all this plays out. His teammates are supportive – even the always-snarky Miyuki tells Eijun he “has the utmost respect” for the way he pitched. And intellectually, it’s clear Eijun has no reason to feel guilty – he has a responsibility to command the inside corner. By standing on top of the plate Carlos and Shirakawa took the responsibility for anything that happened, and what happened was clearly an accident. But between the horrible image of your pitch hitting a guy in the head (players have died in such circumstances) and the reality that it put Seidou’s season at risk, Eijun is going to be driven by emotion here, not intellect. This is going to be the real test for Kataoka and the third-years (and Furuya, maybe) – how well can they nurse Eijun through this ordeal, whether they advance or not? Sports manga are usually focused on the hero overcoming challenges, so this isn’t a revolutionary development – but it’s certainly a shocking and unsettling one.