Honestly, it’s episodes like this one that make sitting through all the rough patches in Diamond no Ace worthwhile. “What is this feeling I get, when Eijun is pitching?” Haruchin basically sums up the appeal of this series perfectly with that question, because the atmosphere of the series completely changes when Eijun takes the mound. The dichotomy the series has built with he and Furuya is an effective one, but it’s strange – I don’t think I’ve seen another example quite like it in sports anime.
I really wish Daiya no A had shown some restraint with Ochiai’s character and not made him into a moustache-twirling (almost literally) baddie, because the situation with Furuya in this episode called out a very legitimate philosophical divide in approach to developmental baseball. Furuya has the raw stuff to be a stud pitcher, of that there’s no question. And the best way for a young pitcher to get better is to pitch through his struggles – not to be yanked when things start to go bad. If a coach was taking the long view, he could very legitimately have concluded that even if Furuya had lost focus, to best thing for the Seidou program was to let him learn from the experience and try to get it back. But if one was primarily interested in trying to win the game, it could actually be argued that Kataoka actually left Furuya in too long – it was clear from the start that he’d completely lost his mojo after the rain delay, but Kataoka left him in long enough to give up a run (and it could easily have been two).
Furuya is a tough nut for me to crack as a viewer and reader. It’s a bit of a strange dynamic in sports manga for the guy who’s basically the teki (I’ll let you decide whether to use the “rival” or “enemy” reading here) to be a teammate of the hero. But there’s no question that it’s Furuya who provides the great barrier for Eijun to overcome. He stands in the way of his achieving his dream, and he does so in pretty obnoxious fashion.
Furuya lives in a bubble of his own creation, utterly unconcerned with anyone around him. His behavior after the rain delay was pretty egregious – first he misses a bunt sign, costing his team a run. Then he completely drops signal on the mound, missing his locations with every pitch and neglecting to back up home plate. And when Kataoka finally yanks him, he won’t even walk off the mound on his own – he has to be dragged back to the dugout. Frankly to me this is completely unacceptable – he’s basically the worst teammate imaginable, and acts as if rules don’t apply to him. And it seems as if Kataoka has one set of rules for his ace and another for everybody else, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else getting away with the shit Furuya does without being disciplined.
The contrast with Eijun could hardly be more stark. Eijun never stops shouting, to the point of being obnoxious. He tries to talk Furuya through his struggles, and even to remind him how to bunt. Eijun has no delicacy or restraint, but you see palpably see the difference in the attitude of the team when he pitches – everyone is in the same bunker, fighting the same fight. When Furuya is pitching they know they don’t even really exist to him – Furuya is fighting a one-man war with blinders on. These guys are nervous when Eijun pitches because the kid is so unpredictable, but they’re living and dying with every pitch as if they were the guys throwing it.
There’s more than one way to make an ace, and the ways Furuya and Eijun are doing it are both very real scenarios. But Eijun’s sure is a lot easier to root for as a viewer. The gap, of course, has been in results – but Eijun seems finally ready to go to the next level as a pitcher, and he immediately pitches out of a nasty jam (even inheriting a 2-0 count and still striking out the batter). That “creepy grin-relax” routine seems to work for him – he’s commanding the outside corner, and his velocity has ticked upwards. His demeanor immediately earns the respect of Teitou’s cynical coach and boy ace, and the tenor of the game changes. The question, now, is whether he can take the next step and pitch inside again – and if he can, it will obviously be far more effective now that he owns low-and-away.