What They Say:
Eijun Sawamura finally makes his first appearance at the spring invitational! He wants to restore Seido’s reputation as a first-rate team and make them national champions! Seido High School Baseball Club’s new run is about to begin!
Episode 15 – “My Role”
It’s Seido vs Ichidai Third High in the spring tournament semifinals. Up 2 – 0 until the fifth inning, Seido’s starting pitcher Furuya faces an Ichidai rally. Unable to control the ball, his pitching continues to falter. Miyuki trusts Furuya as the ace and does his best to guide him. However, after his third walk in one inning, Coach Ochiai gives Coach Kataoka a bit of advice, helping him make a firm decision to…
Episode 16 – “Only After You’ve Won”
Episode 17 – “Three Months”
Episode 18 – “Something to Find Out”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As before, episode 15 begins in the middle of Seido v. Ichidai Third, where episode 14 left off. It is the bottom of the 5th inning, Furuya is still on the mound, and he has given up a walk, double, and walk in the last three plate appearances. Amahisa is up to bat, with your bullet point recap:
- Miyuki calls for a low fastball from Furuya on Amahisa, which apparently won’t be uppercutted into the stands in Japanese high school baseball as it will in the majors.
- Amahisa powers it for a high fly into left, and it lands just in front of Yuki for a 2 RBI double.
- Yuki has always felt like a player that was absolutely bat first, and is in left field for a reason. His defensive acumen hasn’t caught up with his bat yet, but he might still have the athleticism for the least taxing of the outfield positions. A move to first, like his brother, may be in his future, but at only 15, why not try him out in other positions. Well, the best reason is the previous play, where a more range-y left fielder could have made.
- Furuya gives up a flurry of hits after what was a very exciting 2-1 Seido lead. First a hit just past Kuramochi’s glove, second a bloop fly between outfielders, and third a single into the shallow outfield. Furuya is not himself today.
- The cleanup batter is coming up, the bases are loaded, and there is only one out. As a reminder, it is still the 5th inning. Ochiai nudges Kataoka, saying that the game may truly get out of hand if Furuya stays in. Sawamura comes in, Furuya comes out.
- I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sawamura this intense, this focused on the task at hand. He knows the situation they’re in is dire, but he’s probably most disappointed in Furuya. And he doesn’t want to let his team down like he was Furuya let them down.
- Sawamura’s first pitch is outside for a strike. The next is another outside pitch fouled. And the third is inside for a merciful second out. The next batter is just as elegant, with a changeup outside, a softer pitch outside (probably another changeup), and a fastball outside for the swinging strike. Another batter, and he might have had an immaculate inning.
- In the top of the 6th, Sawamura is the first batter. He shows bunt, being a notoriously excellent bunter, but pulls up and hits above the infield for a hustle double.
- Kanemaru follows Sawamura, showing another bunt. The pitch goes through for a strike, but the catcher checks Sawamura at second and Sawamura is barely safe. Being a good bunter has its perks, but it also means he has barely an idea of what to do once he’s on base.
- Kanemaru throws down two more bunts, before striking out on a foul bunt attempt.
- Kuramochi up, and it’s three pitches, three swings, and one more out.
- Another strikeout ends the inning for Seido, and Sawamura’s hustle is not rewarded.
- In the bottom of the 6th, Sawamura continues dealing with two 4-3 groundouts, one of which ended the inning, and the third out is mysterious.
- Jumping to the top of the 8th, Amahisa is visibly tired, but manages to get through the first out, before…
- The game suddenly ends, with the final score being 5-3 in favor of Ichidai Third. Amahisa threw 142 pitches, which explains why he was so tired.
This game is crucial for Sawamura’s growth. Watching Furuya pitch was painful for Sawamura. He was speechless. While Furuya is on fire, they work off each other well with Sawamura playfully saying that if Furuya screws up, he can come in. But now, he watched his team drop a 2-1 lead into a 5-2 deficit, and his only rival flail to 90, 100+ pitches in only the 5th inning. This isn’t how he wanted it to be, this isn’t how Furuya wanted it to be, and it’s not how Seido wants it to be. Sawamura wants a contest between them both at their best, with Sawamura of course prevailing on merit alone. But if Furuya blows up by himself, then what’s the point?
But he wasn’t just watching Furuya, and thus Seido, fail. Kataoka apologized to Sawamura, for bringing him into such a tough situation. It wasn’t the expectation that Sawamura would strike out both batters he faced in the 5th. Everyone—from Ochiai to Kuramochi—though Sawamura would give up at least one or two runs. But he shut Ichidai Third down. It’s not a recognition of Sawamura’s talent, per se. It’s saying that Sawamura played probably not to, but above expectations. And Sawamura doesn’t want that. He wants the same kind of praise Furuya gets. He wants to be the ace, not the reliever that can save their ass if need be.
Sawamura did premier his new and improved cutter, or “cut ball kai” as they say in Japanese. I believe he only threw one, but it was enough to throw off the Ichidai batters. The only one that saw it said it appeared as if the ball disappeared before reaching the plate, which probably means it must have some mean cut in it.
Amahisa, being apparently an interesting guy, is interested enough in the pitch to reach out to Sawamura after the game and ask him about it. He wants to know what it is, whether they can chat over LINE, and other such nonsense. But Sawamura is having none of it. He doesn’t want to help a rival, and especially not one that’s just beaten his team. It’s the kind of moment of levity the show needs after such a heartbreaking loss, even if the stakes aren’t Koushien.
Both the Inashiro v. Teito semifinals and Inashiro v. Ichidai games were sped through rather quickly, but here’s a bullet point recap of both’s most important moments:
- Taiyo Mukai is Teito’s ace, and he’s another southpaw. Mukai has a screwball, and Teito has apparently one of the best defenses in the region, or at least enough to get a nickname out of it: The Iron Wall. So their pitchers probably pitch to contact, as Sawamura.
- Narumiya is perfect through at least 3, and only gives up one hit through 5. Teito isn’t a pushover, Narumiya is just that good. He’s closer to Furuya’s style in power, but he’s got the finesse of Sawamura.
- In the 6th and 7th, Inashiro finally breaks through both The Iron Wall and Mukai’s pitching, with two and one runs respectively.
- In the bottom of the 7th, Teito’s middle-aged-looking catcher blasts a solo home run off Narumiya.
- Narumiya loses his cool and throws two straight balls after that, but recovers quickly and finishes both the inning and the game the victor.
- For Inashiro v. Ichidai Third, neither ace starts the game. Narumiya starts in left, and it’s unknown whether Amahisa was even in the game.
- With neither ace of the field, it’s a duel between hitters rather than pitchers, with both pitchers putting up crooked numbers.
- By the 7th, Inashiro was winning and Narumiya is brought in. He immediately gives up a double, but nothing else. And Inashiro wins the spring tournament rather anti-climatically.
I understand both the need for showing these games and also the desire to not show too much of them, but I think there’s some better point than where most of them are now. As it is, it just feels like information is spat at the audience trying to enjoy a baseball anime, when a simple score could be shown and we could be done with it. I imagine it’s more palatable in the manga, where it’s maybe a few pages spanning several panels, or maybe it is truly a whole chapter or two that goes on about an inconsequential game. But as an audience, it’s just kind of boring.
The interesting thing happens in the stands of the Inashiro v. Teito game, which immediately followed the Seido v. Ichidai Third match. The regulars watch from the stands, but Sawamura takes a higher perch, intently watching the game. He’s both considering the game he’s just played in and taking in all the information from this one, with two lefties on the mound. He sees Narumiya shake off two catcher calls, and that sticks with him. He wants to know more about how a catcher calls a game, because all he was doing was throwing exactly where Miyuki’s mitt was.
So, that night, Miyuki goes through a clinic of pitch sequencing v. game calling, and how the littlest of details can change a game. These kinds of changes are more easily evident in MLB games when you’re there, because of the regularity at which the shift is employed. Every count, every out, and every baserunner affects where players are positioned. And of course all those things affect which pitch the catcher calls. As an example, if there’s a base stealing threat on first, the catcher might be more inclined to call a fastball to get the ball to the plate faster for a throw out. But if there’s two outs, the catcher will want to call it normal, and prey on the batter’s weaknesses despite the base runner.
There’s also a few moments near the end of the 18th episode with Okumura. He finally sees Sawamura on the mound, and caught for him in the last batch of episodes. But he realized he doesn’t really have the skill necessary to catch Sawamura’s moving pitches yet. He just hasn’t had to deal with anything so weird yet. He says he won’t catch Sawamura anymore…not until he’s made it to the first string and proven he’s ready. They don’t quite get along yet, though Sawamura wants to more than Okumura, but they have an understanding of each other.
This is a new era for Seido. The loss in the spring tournament taught them all something, especially Furuya. Kataoka is throwing out all the jersey numbers and retooling the entire roster before the summer tournament.
Games like Ichidai Third are incredibly interesting, if not immensely disappointing, because of how much characters grow because of what they experienced in those kinds of losses. Even Sawamura, who can count the game as an individual victory, has a lot to learn from it. These moments are sports anime at their best, and how they can surpass real life sports in storytelling. This isn’t just about Seido, no matter how much it feels like it. It’s about Sawamura and Furuya struggling to learn everything they can about pitching. There can be long-term stories that can be told about a pitcher—Lucas Giolito comes to mind—but the kind of game-to-game narratives that are available in sports anime and sports manga are a completely different thing. It’s what I enjoy about them. I want to see these idiots grow. I want to see them in victory. I want to see them in defeat. And I want to see everything in between.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
Equipment: LG 47LB5800 47” 1080p LED TV, LG NB3530A Sound Bar