Make no mistake about it, as much as I like Daiya no A, this is one of the more frustrating sports anime I’ve followed. It’s hard not to ask why it is that a series capable of episodes as good as this one has so many outright clunkers peppered through its lineup. It can be easy to lose sight of it sometimes, but the good weeks really do outnumber the bad ones by a pretty big margin – but I wish Ace of Diamond weren’t such a streak hitter.
For my money this may very well have been the best game episode of Diamond no Ace that didn’t directly involve Seidou. It had all the ingredients you’d want – Yakushi, the most interesting team with the most interesting coach in the series. Kimura Ryouhei voicing the ace of the opposition. Probably the most fascinating material yet involving Ochiai – who for all his unsavory narrative traits, has turned out to be a pretty fascinating character. And an excellent game on the field, nicely grounded in realism.
Let’s start with the running conversation in the stands between Ochiai, Kataoka and Takashima. It starts out with a rare joke from Ochai, who pronounces himself “bitter” that the other two haven’t noticed him standing behind them. What we really have here is a fascinating contrast between the two men – Ochiai is clearly a baseball genius, a whiz at analytics and observational skills. Kataoka is a “go with the gut” kind of guy, who’s portrayed as “leading from the heart”. It’s pretty clear we’re supposed to see Kataoka as the one who’s ultimately in the right here, but it sure isn’t that simple for me. There’s no doubt that Ochiai’s strength isn’t in reading the psyche of his players, but I find myself agreeing with his assessments more often than not.
That includes his take on Todoroki – namely, that you’d have to be nuts to pitch to that kid. He frames it as “the pride of the ace vs. going for the win”, though of course it’s not quite that simple. It seems pretty clear that no one else on Yakushi can do much damage against Kousei, but he’s yet to get Raichi out. Pride doesn’t enter into it – pitching around a kaibutsu like Raichi is a completely valid strategy. Especially when Raichi goes about providing his idiocy extends to his baserunning skills.
This really is a riveting game – so much so that it manages to make me forget about the Eijun-Furuya cliffhanger for almost the entire episode. I really like Yakushi, and I really like Raizou – I like the way he doesn’t talk down to his kids, the way he doesn’t stand on formality and tradition, the way he lets his players play. And when the time comes, he’s smart enough to bunt in front of Raichi in the 8th inning with his team still down 2-1 and a runner on 1st – you’ve got to get the game to Raichi that inning at all costs, and that means avoiding the double play. And when an overanxious Kousei hits Miss-shima after the successful sacrifice (honestly, the worst possible time for a hit-by-pitch) the stage is set for the showdown the entire game has been building towards.
I think it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen in this sense – Kousei is going to challenge Raichi, because it’s what Kataoka would do and not what Ochai would do. Personally I’d walk him intentionally and load the bases (which would admittedly be against the book) but that’s not going to happen. As far as what the result of that decision is going to be, well, that’s a lot more uncertain – and I have to give credit to Diamond no Ace for setting this game up with enough subtlety that it’s not easy to say who’s going to win.