(This is a spoiler-free review adapted for this site)
[Synopsis]: After failing to take his middle-school team to Nationals, Sawamura Eijun (Osaka, Ryota) decides to enroll at the prestigious Seidou High in order to pursue his aspirations in baseball. The story follows him and the Seidou team as he trains and practices to become the ace pitcher of the team and they try to restore Seidou to its former glory after it’s 6 year absence from the Koushien championship.
As is the case with many sports shows, Diamond no Ace has an impressively large cast of characters and so I will address the cast mostly as a whole entity with some focus on the most primary characters.
Despite there being multiple characters, such as Furuya Satoru and Miyuki Kazuya, who also recieve a good deal of the narrative spotlight, I think that Eijun is the indisputable protagonist and the show concerns itself first and foremost with his experiences at Seidou. With this being the case, I think one’s enjoyment of the show can be either amplified or hampered by their level of enjoyment of Eijun though there are plenty of other characters who they might attach themselves to. He is strong-willed, boisterous, and at times obnoxious in his often overenthusiastic approach to things. He is extremely motivated towards reaching his goal of becoming the ace pitcher for the team as well as winning the summer tournament and attending Nationals. While Eijun has a few skills to start out with, his knowledge of pitching and of the sport is mediocre and so his learning as a first-year doubles as character progression for him and explanatory insight into the strategy of the game for the viewer.
Along with Eijun there are a few other first-year characters (and one second-year) who show notable growth throughout the series. Furuya Satoru is a highly talented pitcher who often acts as Eijun’s rival on the team, Kominato Haruichi is the skilled younger sibling of one of the third-year students, and Miyuki Kazuya is an all-star catcher who enjoys manipulating and reigning in his unruly pitchers. The Seidou school accepts a great many skilled players however the most important of them belong to the First-String – primarily the third-year players and those skilled enough to win tournament games (the top 20 players for the summer tournament). While these people are the most often featured throughout the show as they play in all of the important games, they are a little slow to be explored initially and not every player is as memorable as the next even on the main team.
As for the characters not part of the main team, because it is impossible to present an entire team that is foreign to the audience with the same level of intrigue as the main cast, the opposing teams most often feature between 2 and 3 characters of note – one usually with slightly more backstory or context than the others. In this way, the teams themselves are not very memorable however they can be identified easily enough by means of their noteworthy player(s). These characters are usually interesting enough however I found that a good deal of the opponents were not as memorable as I might have wished with the exception of a select few. Overall, the method used here is both sufficient and necessary and certain viewers may gravitate in interest towards one interesting player or another.
I found the art and animation to be highly consistent throughout the show despite its 75-episode length and at no point did I find there was a notable drop in quality. The character designs are pretty subdued as the show comes off as fairly realistic in its approach and so the players look normal while each appearing different enough to be distinguishable from one another. I myself was felt underwhelmed with the art style if only in that it felt like a pretty standard approach to things and didn’t feature anything particularly adventurous however it works perfectly well for what it tries to do and I have no actual qualms with the designs or animation. It was well done however was not done so in such a way that I would actively list it as a strength of the show. In the same vein of the unadventurous approach, I thought that the comedic scenes and comical faces and animations were pretty run of the mill and I didn’t think any gag save maybe 2 really did much for me throughout the show.
One of my biggest gripes with the show appears in this category and that is its rampant overuse of the ‘white background’ effect. In moments of intensity or drama, it can be visually helpful to have the scenery and setting fall away in place of the character’s reaction or realization and add to the emotion or excitement of the moment however in the case of Diamond no Ace I found it made such excessive use of this technique that it felt exhausted after just a handful of episodes. There are plenty of cases within the show where it uses the white background successfully however with its appearance 4 to 5 times an episode for 75 episodes, its usage firstly comes off as a bit boring and secondly somewhat tarnishes what could have otherwise be well executed uses of the technique in later scenes. What I want for the show in the future is for it to allow the scenes and sentiments stand on their own from time to time while avoiding the usage of a potentially good concept.
The show starts a little slow as it introduces us to Eijun and subsequently the structure of Seidou High. While this pacing is retrospectively not an issue within the context of its 75-episode length, it is quite slow by other standards. I felt it took nearly 20 episodes to start rolling which can be quite demanding if someone is trying to get into the show. The show has a good deal of drama however I thought that at least the early episodes came off as a little melodramatic whereas the later parts of the show address more interesting and legitimate problems and dilemmas.
The pacing of the games was actually quite an interesting element of the show. At times the games would start off with the first at bat and play out for a good while from there however there were plenty of instances where the show would launch into a prospective game after a couple innings. I found this allowed the games to focus around the compelling parts of the game while avoiding perhaps some of the more typical moments. It also allowed for the show to setup certain situations without having to spend time prefacing itself – the game could start with 2 runners on base and a full count and you are immediately brought into the excitement of the moment. The end of the games were also sometimes subject to this approach in that, after resolving the key drama of the game or watching a major game-changing play, the game would end as expected and it would skip ahead to the celebration or the aftermath. Overall, I found this kept things fresh and cut out things that otherwise may have seemed grating and so this narrative technique I found to be a strong point within the show.
The show is, to a degree, pitcher-centric which is somewhat to be expected given the main character’s vocation and the way baseball is played – it simply wouldn’t be as interesting if it focused on left field or the shortstop. Because of this necessary focus, we spend a good deal of time, especially in the early half of the show, with the pitchers of the Seidou team. They each have their own unique style; for instance Eijun is known for his unwieldy and aggressive but hard-to-hit pitches whereas Furuya throws an incredible fastball. The show features good progression in the way of their pitching styles and approaches however because each pitcher has a lot of ground to cover, the pitching styles start off rather stark and simple. This can be problematic in the first half of the show because the lack of a dynamic strategy within the main focus of the games can come off as a little boring and it takes a while before things start to mix up.
Lastly, because the show takes a long time to get moving and must introduce a lot of different players on the main team, the highlighting of the opposing players starts off a little lackluster whereas the show gets much better at presenting these characters as the show progresses. As Seidou faces tougher and tougher teams in either tournament games or scrimmages, the number of interesting opponents on any one team gradually grows slightly which I felt helped the opposing teams seem more formidable. The progression from one team with a single outstanding player towards one with multiple was an interesting way to evolve the gameplay without making certain players seem unnaturally good or other teams much worse than they were – each team feels like a legitimate challenge at some level.
The music is good enough however I felt it was almost non-present in the early episodes of the show as far as impact is concerned – it was discernible but dialed back. The music was decent when it came around however it didn’t blow me away with its appearance despite adding to the scenes successfully. As the show progresses into the later half of the episodes I found that there were maybe 2 to 3 recognizable songs that would play repeatedly in accordance with the big action scenes or dramatic moments. They worked well however I felt the show was somewhat lacking diversity in this area and I would have liked a few more songs of note to have appeared in this same manner and with similar levels of execution.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Diamond no Ace is a show that accomplishes what it sets out to do. It does baseball well and the characters and plays are appealing enough that one can easily find themselves interested in the outcome of things. Some areas where the show loses some points for me are the sometimes obnoxious nature of the protagonist, the somewhat uninspired art approach, the overuse of certain dramatic visuals, and the slow to start pacing of the show. I also felt that the comedy was pretty lacking despite its frequent presence in each episode. It came off as very bland both in terms of the gags and the character reactions and really didn’t further my enjoyment of the show in any way.
I gave the show a 7 because, either by way of its high points or its consistent appeal, the show was enjoyable. It falls short in a few regards as discussed above and many of those things are fairly subjective to me and so it’s perfectly reasonable that anyone who finds themselves more engrossed in either the main character or the beginning of the show will enjoy the show a good deal more as it only gets better as it continues.
I would recommend Diamond no Ace to any sports fan as I think it does the genre well. The show has good dramatic moments that usually come with the territory of sports and so I would recommend it for that reason as well. Those interested in inter-team rivalry would do well to watch as there is a fair amount of competition in this regard which is not something I see in every sports show.