Anime Review: Ace of the Diamond

Standard

I don’t normally review a series that is still going, but then again, I also don’t watch a lot of shows that KEEP GOING AFTER TWO YEARS! (Not that I’m complaining.) But a significant amount of this series can be covered in the first six-cour installment of the anime, lasting roughly 75 episodes if you include the recaps along the way. And from what I have gathered from this sports epic that continues to air as of today, I have to say, it is an epic drama about one of Japan’s favorite pastimes (and America’s too), for a sport that goes beyond the scope of the team’s ace.

And so, to beat the summer heat and celebrate a continuing animated series for once, I will be talking about the first six-cour season of Ace of the Diamond.

Intensity

And these guys are fired up about it! Okay, I’m done with hot jokes.

Ace of the Diamond (Diamond no Ace) begins with Eijun Sawamura, an entering high school first-year from a country town, looking for his chance to make it to the coveted Koshien: the national stage for high school baseball in Japan. But while the rest of his team from the country isn’t so talented, he is recruited by Seido Academy, a private school in Tokyo that prides itself on being a baseball powerhouse. Except there’s one problem with this scenario: Seido Academy hasn’t even been to Nationals for several years.

Together with this colorful group of high school students from across the country, Eijun aspires to become Seido’s ace and go to Nationals. And colorful these guys are, indeed!

Tetsuya Yuki

Believe in the Fist that is Tetsuya Yuki!

Now I’m not going to go through the whole roster of guys because there are a lot of them. But I will say that Eijun is going to have a rough time with his newfound team here at Seido, because Seido’s recruitment staff only looks for the best of the best! That means everyone on this team aims to be the strongest individual on field. And while the title of “Ace” is designated for the No. 1 player, the most trusted pitcher on the mound, Seido doesn’t even have a true ace!

You want to be the team’s ace, Eijun? Get in line, because there are four of you guys competing for that same spot! And that’s not including the guys who had to give up being a pitcher to bring about the best potential for the team!

Satoru Furuya

But Satoru Furuya is happy to take your place any time!

Not that anyone else has ever said it, but I like to call this show “Samurai Baseball.” The values that Seido’s team upholds are like bushido tenets, fit for some shogun military organization! Not only are the guys given a strict regimen, they are also trained to perform at their best whenever they take the field, no matter what opponent they face. Of the 100 guys that make up Seido’s team, only 20 get to play first-string for official games. And if there’s even a hint of failure in performance, the team’s General (err… Coach) Tesshin Kataoka doesn’t see any problem in kicking people off of first-string, which is exactly what had happened to Eijun’s roommate, Toru Masuko, at the beginning of the series.

You bet they’re all in high spirits to make it to Nationals. They won’t get a chance to play otherwise!

Coach Kataoka

Yes Boss!

But once the teams are set in stone, the real work begins. And although only 20 players ever make it to the official roster, no one is excused from doing their part to get the team to Nationals. First- and second-year students not on the roster continue to work hard and attend every game as the team’s yell leaders for a chance to make it next year. The remaining third-years, while not obligated to join in, continue to support the team for the struggles they went through in their high school years. For the actual players, taking the field is considered a fight for every last member of the team.

And yes, there are girls in this series. Four of them are the junior managers who support the guys, but their main role in the story is to provide occasional comic relief. What else is there for them to do for a series about a boys’ baseball team?

If you’re looking for romantic content, you should probably look for another series. Most of the fan shippers for Ace of the Diamond go for the yaoi relationships anyway (there are a lot of girls who like this shounen series). That is, unless you support “Reijun,” the forbidden love between an idiot first-year and his assistant coach!

Reijun

But I digress…

As far as technicalities are concerned, Ace of the Diamond is mediocre in explaining baseball. For every game in this series, there are plenty of calls and terms that, on a basic level, is faithful to the atmosphere of an actual baseball game. However, when the players start to use specialized jargon such as all the different kinds of pitches or particular kinds of plays, anyone who is unaccustomed to baseball will probably get lost. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that followed baseball enough to know some of these in detail; but if you’re that curious about it, you should probably look them up yourself.

Haruichi Kominato

Haruichi Kominato swings for another base hit! As a relief batter, he had the highest batting average at the end of summer.

But of course, the real reason to watch this series is for the drama within high school baseball. The animation frankly feels more like we’re watching the colorized version of the manga it’s based on, but that just means we’re more concerned about the story than the sport itself.

But while the visual quality of this series remains debatable depending on personal taste, I think it’s undeniable that the sound effects make up for wherever the animation lacks.

Managers

Watching this series has a very different experience from listening to it.

Unfortunately, I can’t illustrate the sounds this series offers, but during each game, sound effects capture the very experience of the game itself, as well as the perceptions of players’ minds throughout the story. In the scene above, we pan to Seido’s junior managers and yell leaders, as the crowd around them cheers loudly for the opposing team. The very intensity of the game’s mood changes depending on who controls the field, whether they are defending the field from additional runs or getting hit after hit to increase their score.

There are also moments where that same crowd is drowned out by the musical score for this series or by complete silence, which brings a different kind of tone to the drama going on. But even these moments add to the intensity of the drama.

Run

Another run for Inashiro Vocational. This can’t be good.

Everyone seems to play a part in bringing the drama of Ace of the Diamond together, from our home team to rivals, from old friends and family to mentors and coaches, from managers to cheer squads. But one pair of regulars on this show often go silent in most people’s conversations about this series, and those are the journalists, Fujio Mine and Akiko Owada.

Journalists

Mine (left) and Owada (center) interview Coach Kataoka after the final game during the summer prefecturals.

As observers of these high school baseball games, the reporting duo have a unique position in seeing all of the games and their players from an outside perspective, giving us the appearance of each game as is, with minimal bias. Both of them have observed these games for several years, and they have more insight about which players will likely be recruited for pros in the future, as well as explain how each game’s direction had gone and why.

But even as reporters, they are also looking for the same thing we are: a miracle play that will change everything we know about baseball. Because even though there are plenty of statistics about baseball and plenty of predictions that can be made for every game, even they don’t know when the game will change in the nine innings that are played! Mine and Owada often report games without bias, but there are moments throughout this series where it seems they are looking out for Seido Academy too.

Kazuya Miyuki

Say what, Miyuki!?

But while the focus of the series is the entire Seido Academy team trying to make it to Nationals, the heart of this series really goes back to the boy we started with: Eijun Sawamura. There may be plenty of rivals, injuries, and psychological roadblocks ahead for our idiot first-year, but these challenges are just a part of his journey to becoming, no, being the ace of the diamond.

From an outsider’s perspective, Eijun has no chance to ever stand out as Seido’s ace. A kid with an inconsistent record, an average throwing speed, and who can’t throw anything but fast balls to save his life is probably not a very good pitcher! But for Coach Kataoka and the rest of Seido, baseball is about more than just individual strengths in players and getting results that will bring a small few into the limelight. For all of Seido Academy, everyone matters on the team, and Eijun believes in that, even from the very first episode when he wrestles with the very decision to leave home.

And yet, there is something about Eijun that other players recognize is very unique. As Seido’s southpaw (left-handed) pitcher, his signature pitch is the “moving fastball,” a regular fastball that has an unpredictable change in direction when it reaches the plate. It’s a volatile technique, and it has often gotten Seido more often into trouble, but even then, Eijun has something that every player on the team and his rivals can recognize.

If there’s anything that this idiot of a player has over other pitchers, it’s his spirit. And I don’t mean focused energy that can make the perfect pitches every time, because clearly he can’t do that! The rest of the team may be annoyed by his loud, obnoxious calls or anything but mellow personality, but they can’t deny that his spirit does have an effect on the very morale of the team. And whether Seido wins or loses, it seems Eijun brings out the best in his teammates. It may not be obvious to simple spectators, but those who have ever met him know that he’s the game changer.

Eijun Sawamura

He’s not the best pitcher, but he’s the pitcher we want to see move forward.

As far as I’m concerned, Eijun Sawamura is the Ace of the Diamond, not because he can be reliable on the field (because clearly he’s not), but because he brings energy to his team and to the very spirit of this series. Baseball has plenty of statistics on individual players, but baseball has and will always be a team sport. And when it comes to this series as a narrative for not just an individual but for an entire team, one unspoken mantra comes to my mind:

To be the ace of the diamond doesn’t mean to be the best pitcher on the mound.

The ace is the player who can rouse the spirit of an entire team to compete at their best, in achieving a common goal, where individual strengths can be utilized to their full potential for one unit. A player that can bring that energy to a team is worthy of being called the Ace. And as the anime and manga continue, Eijun continues to make progress in being that Ace.

diamond-endSo if you like baseball or like shows that get to the spirit of a team, watch Ace of the Diamond. And in case you were wondering, yes, I am also continuing the series, but further discussion about it in my seasonal highlight reviews has come to a halt, seeing that the show is very long.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Anime Review: Ace of the Diamond

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s