I’m of mixed mind about the current direction of Ace of Diamond, and this episode pretty clearly illustrates why. On the one hand we’re finally seeing Eijun get a handle on his psychological trauma and re-emerge as a factor on the mound – indeed, perhaps even as a true rival for Furuya at last. But the entire subplot with Ochiai is a complete whiff for me. I dislike cartoon villains in almost every instance, but in a modestly realistic sports series like this one, they do the narrative a real disservice.
First things first, and that’s Maezono. He’s not the most dynamic character in the world, but he’s the guy most of the Seidou team would probably want to be captain if they were honest. And it’s he who’s forced to step up after Teitou walks Haruichi intentionally to load the bases for him. As weak as the Seidou order is, Maezono pretty much has to be a run producer if they’re to have any chance to be a factor – which is why Kataoka sticks with him in the 3-hole despite his abysmal performance thus far.
For that reason (among others) it’s a pretty big deal for Seidou when ‘Zono comes through with a bases-clearing double (thrown out at third) on a 2-2 pitch. It comes on a rare mistake by Taiyou-kun (I wonder if he bit his tongue), relaxing on what he thinks is a waste pitch off the inside corner. Taiyou was still in the game after 120+ pitches, because Okamoto-kantoku thinks an ace has to learn to pitch through situations like this. It’s a valid philosophy, worthy of debate – and it could be very interesting from the Seidou perspective if Ochiai were treated as a balanced and competent character. But of course he’s not, so the contrast is largely wasted.
As for sealing the win, Kataoka turns to Kawakami – and every time I see that sad sack take the mound, I groan inwardly (or audibly). Seriously, they really need to give up on this guy already and get Houjou on the mound, because as far as I can make out Kawakami has never been any damn good. It was he, not Eijun, who really blew the Inashiro game – and that’s only one of a litany of atrocious performances he’s authored. The guy has no self-confidence, but give him credit – he’s absolutely right not to. He sucks. He does manage to hold on by the skin of his teeth thanks to a very hokey bit with the sun breaking through the clouds, but giving up a run and leaving ’em loaded is hardly a dominating inning.
What’s next? Well, my hope is that we see a true rivalry form between Furuya and Eijun for the ace role now. That’s Kataoka’s hope too, because his counter-argument to Okamoto and Ochiai’s ace-rearing theory is that it’s rivals who push a player to get better. I think Eijun is doing his part – you can really see his confidence growing, and that of the team in him. As for Furuya, we’ll see. He’s pissed off at seeing Eijun pitch well, no doubt, but does he really get it? He needs to acknowledge Eijun as a teammate and a rival before he can truly surpass him and gain the unbending support of the team as a whole. Is he capable of that? We’ll see, and maybe soon – Inashiro (likely a little logy from their hectic post-Koushien schedule) awaits one more round away. And one year away, it seems, is the blondie middle-school catcher who’s been planning to join whichever team wins the Seidou-Teitou match – Okamura Koushuu (Uchida Yuuma, who plays Sonic the Monkey in Kekkai Sensen).