I called Tokyo Ghoul “the most vexing show of the season” – for obvious reasons – but I’d have to say Daiya no A comes in second. Being a fan of this series has always been about taking the bitter with the sweet. When it’s good it’s phenomenal, but it can also be pretty darn bad – as it has for the last few episodes. There are bad habits and tendencies that are inherent in the writing, and which I suppose will never go away no matter how long the series runs. But there’s a beating, old-school shounen heart there too, and it can lift Diamond no Ace to real heights when the elements are in alignment.
The funny thing is, this series telegraphs its punches so much that you can pretty much always tell when the good episodes are coming, and the bad ones. The tendency to focus on certain characters and situations is an inescapable clue, and the rocky stretch which just finished was easy to see coming. But it was just as easy to see that this episode was likely to mark a turnaround, and indeed it did – it was excellent. May it be the start of a trend.
There’s only one character I’m going to miss from this bunch of departing third-years (hint: it’s not Ugah) and that’s Chris. But these guys get a hell of a sendoff this week, and it recalled arguably the show’s best – and certainly Kataoka’s best – moment, which was when he told his team who would make the Koushien squad and who wouldn’t. That latter group included a lot of third-years, and there were a lot of tears in the room (and one or two in mine) when Kataoka showed genuine humility and contrition for not making their dreams come true. It’s fitting that this ep literally recalled that moment via flashback, because the bittersweet quality of the third-years leaving without having achieved their goals called up similar emotions.
It was also fitting because this ep also featured Kataoka’s best moment since then (and there have been a lot of awful ones in-between) which was refusing to let the game with the third-years end in a tie. Ostensibly it was to give all the third-years a chance to play, but make no mistake – seeing Eijun pitch under pressure was a big part of it, too. And given the real purpose of the game, which was to rouse the underclassmen out of their funk, letting it end in a draw would have felt hollow and unsatisfying.
It seems Eijun did pretty well there – he shut the seniors out for four innings before he (or one of the other first-year pitchers) allowed the winning run (how the hell did the underclassmen fail to score off Ishashiki??). But however it ended we can say for sure that Eijun got Chris out, and did it using the tailing low-and-away pitch Chris taught him. Chris is everything Miyuki and Kataoka are not – supportive, patient, detailed – and however far Eijun gets, he can thank his lucky stars Chris was there to save him from their incompetent mentorship. He’s gotten Eijun’s mind off his mental black with inside pitches at last, and simplified the game for him – “Just think about my fingertips”.
As Chris says, once Eijun gets his inside pitch back, he’s going to be a far tougher pitcher (are you hearing footsteps at last, you arrogant bastard?). For a pitcher without overpowering velocity especially the ability to move the ball inside and out is crucial to success – you can never let the hitter feel comfortable standing at the plate. We’re a long way from Eijun being a real threat to Furuya’s role as the ace, but it’s all about (heh) baby steps here – just getting back to being an effective relief pitcher is a good start.
So all in all, this was an excellent way to cap the season. What’s interesting is that this ep felt very much like a finale – if indeed Diamond no Ace had ended here, it would have served that role more than admirably. It makes me wonder, especially given the lateness of the continuation announcement, if Madhouse and Production I.G. knew when this ep was written that the series would be continuing without a break – it sure felt like a last episode. But perhaps that’s just a reflection of the fact that although the anime is continuing, we’re at a major transition in the story – the third-years are presumably pretty much out of the picture now, and the torch is fully passed to the kids.
So where does that leave us with the new season? We don’t know how long it’ll be, for starters, but there’s plenty of unadapted manga left – about 170 chapters, and the anime is working through about three per episode. We’ve come this far and the series is more popular than ever, so there’s no reason to think all of the manga won’t be adapted eventually – though perhaps there’s a break coming in two or three seasons to give the manga some lead time. For now, the focus is going to be on the Fall Tournament and saving Kataoka’s job, which I’m hoping means lots of Yakushi and a chance to see Eijun grow to the point where he’s a true threat for Furuya. And was that our friend Shunshin Yeung from Akikawa I saw at the drawing of the brackets? I thought his subplot was one of the series’ best, and while he’ll be gone before the next Spring Koushien it’d be nice to see he and Akikawa return to the story one last time.