Any way you slice it, the Seidou v. Ugumori matchup feels like a stop on the journey, not a real destination. When you consider that this is a game against a secondary opponent – a preamble – and part of a secondary tournament at that, it’s remarkable just how exciting the series has been lately (maybe its best one-month stretch since the Inashiro game). That just goes to show how important Eijun’s personal arc is to Diamond no Ace’s dramatic horsepower.
Still – this is clearly not a game Seidou is going to lose. Inashiro is ano natsu de matteru, and presumably Yakushi awaits as the climactic opponent in this tournament. So this is a pit stop albeit an important one, and this episode is a setup for the actual pitstop. And it again focuses on the semi-anonymous trio (Watanabe is the only one whose name I remember), who are at most secondary characters in the overall picture. Put it all together, and this is definitely a breather episode in every way.
At least now it’s clear why the story of Watanabe and his pals is in here at all, which was quite a mystery to me. It’s here to highlight the fissure between the captain and the boy who probably should have been the captain, and call Miyuki’s overall authority with his teammates into question. When Miyuki drops the bombshell to the other 2nd-years that Watanabe-tachi are thinking of quitting, Maezono takes extreme offense at the way Miyuki responded (effectively, “If you want to quit I won’t try and stop you”). Maezono feels this is unbecoming a captain, and indeed if he were captain it would have been unthinkable behavior. But he’s not, and Miyuki is a very different sort of leader.
I get where ‘Zono is coming from here, and indeed I incline more to his style of leadership – empathy-driven, with the view that a failure by a team member is really a failure by the leader. But I think Miyuki sold himself short in recounting what happened – I think he did project considerably more empathy than he implied to the others, and having Watanabe scout the Ugumori-Inashiro game was his awkward way of trying to tell him he was still needed. But in the end I think ‘Zono has a valid point about Miyuki – he was a guy who came in as a hotshot and never had to struggle with not playing or worrying about getting a number at all. Maybe understanding what motivates the kids who do isn’t his strong suit as a captain (and I don’t think he has all that many).
Meanwhile, Ugumori seems loose and relaxed, taking their cue from Umemiya – though it’s clear that Nao is the real inspirational leader. As for the Seidou first-years, they’re spared the drama the juniors are dealing with though they have a little of their own – Furuya has been declared the starter (as expected), and between that and losing his grudge match with Inashiro Eijun is feeling pretty pissed. His pals take him (along with Furuya and Haruchin) up to their room to show him some new stretches – something called “Mae-Ken” that’s supposedly good for the scapula (shoulder blade) before pitching. This is a pretty funny scene as-is thanks to Eijun’s lovable bakayaroucity, but try this – watch the bit where the guys are watching the workout DVD with your sound turned down and subtitles off, and I defy you to tell me it doesn’t seem like they they’re watching some weird Japanese horror flick…
There’s a pretty amusing encounter between Umemiya and the Seidou grommets in the men’s room (this series seems to have a fixation with stadium bathrooms) that reveals more of Umemiya’s affable but brash nature. How will his taunts effect Furuya – will he be able to channel his irritation into focused performance, or will he display his usual immaturity and try too hard, shooting himself in the foot? We’ll see – but it’s clear that head games are a big part of what Umemiya is all about. Those sorts of things don’t impact Eijun much of course (he rarely troubled by excessive thought) which would make a matchup between he and Umemiya even more interesting. We’ll get it sooner or later, though I suspect not before the late innings.