To start with, since I know you’re all thinking it I’ll stipulate to the fact that there’s no way that kid could have gotten out of the hospital so quickly and come to the match, even if it was just a temporary release. It was an unrealistic moment (it happened in the manga, too) in a series that has very few of them, and like the occasional off-model anime character renderings and wonky lip-synching, it’s something I wish didn’t happen. But it did, and as much as I hate such cheats from drama’s sake, it does indeed add to the drama.
“Dramatic by Nature” is the perfect title for this episode, because it sums up Ide-kun in a nutshell. I’ve known guys like that both as an opponent and as a fan, and they can be irritating as hell. Sometimes there’s a good measure of intentional gamesmanship to it, but I don’t see a lot of that with Ide – this is just who he is, a guy who thrives on chaos and feeds on crowd energy to drive himself. Still, I can see where one might think some of what he does comes pretty close to poor sportsmanship – there can be no denying he plays to the crowd in a conscious manner, knowing how vital their support is to psyching himself up to his best performance.
It’s hard for me to watch this match without commenting on the manga, because I was frustrated as hell when I read it and waiting for new chapters was agonizing. I was frustrated with Ide’s fans, and frustrated with Maruo’s fans for not fighting back. I was frustrated when that kid showed up out of the blue, and when Ide pointed at him after winning a point. This is totally unfair for Ei-chan, no doubt about it – he’s the real good guy here, because he held Ide-kun’s fate in his hands and let him survive disqualification and play the match. And the thanks he gets is a hostile crowd and a circus atmosphere. But sports, like life, is rarely fair – and learning to deal with BS like this is all part of the journey.
“What can I do to win?” It was really heartbreaking when Ei-chan said that to himself, because it’s the essence of frustration for an athlete – you go to the well, and there’s no water there. As meticulous about preparation as Ei-chan is, how could be possibly have prepared for what he’s facing here? The chess match does go well enough for a while, because he’s built a two-break cushion in the first set and even if his holds are tough, Ei-chan still holds serve twice and closes out the set 6-2. But it’s pretty clear the tide of the match has turned, and this is one of the problems in facing an opponent who thrives on adversity – if you get on top of them, in a way you’re playing into their hands.
It was interesting hearing Ide’s thoughts on tennis as a “lonely game” – he’s being honest when he says that for him, it’s not. In his mind he’s taking from the crowd and paying them back with entertainment, a purely symbiotic relationship. For a player like Maruo it’s different of course, and in a sense that makes his job harder. But since he gets his strength internally, from determination and analysis, he’s not reliant on anyone else – it’s just a matter of tuning out the distractions and letting that strength guide him where he needs to go.
At long last, Himeko-san finally breaks through the impenetrable wall of Japanese stoicism and screams out her support for Ei-chan (though it had to be bittersweet for her, given the “Is she Maruo’s girlfriend?” shout from the crowd), and Kageyama tentatively follows suit. It’s too late to save the second set, and the third set is Ide-kun’s comfort zone, but there are other faces Ei-chan knows in this crowd – Nabae has arrived, laptop in-hand, and Nat-chan seems not far behind him. Ultimately, whatever Ide says, tennis is about the two players on the court – and it’s Ei-chan’s job to reduce the match down to what really matters and apply his unique skill set to solving the puzzle that’s facing him from across the net.