There are few things I treasure more in manga than the ability to surprise me on a page-by-page basis. I love Yuuji Terajima’s Ace of the Diamond, and this chapter did a pretty good job reminding me why, building tension around a straightforward confrontation using clever Eyeshield 21-style visual feints.
One of the major appeals of Ace of the Diamond as a baseball manga is the way it deals with injuries. Unlike in other series with a smaller pool of protagonists, there are plenty of players on the team capable of stepping up when one gets hurt. There’s also plenty of ways the non-starters can be mixed and matched to fill the field, something that injury issues make even more deliciously complicated. The four pitchers on the team’s roster have all seen significant amounts of time on the mound to this point, and the way the team’s coach manages their skills and personalities to pull out victories is nothing short of genius.
The specific reason I liked this chapter centers around a specific spread page, and explaining why I like it requires a short examination of action manga in general. One of the biggest challenges facing mangaka in any action series is that, in order to keep the tension maximized, they benefit from maintaining an uncertain outcome as long as possible. On a macro level, this is easy (though not trivial) to write. Just establish the two sides as fairly competent on a micro level and make their confrontation a back-and-forth affair. On a micro level, this is actually really hard. The problem is that the storyboards/layouts have to set up for an outcome, but will often give away an outcome one or two pages before; this indication they give may be minor, but it’s still fairly easy to catch.
This micro-spoiler problem is less of an issue in battle series, where confrontations can sometimes take 4 chapters of mange or more. But for sports manga, where some confrontations can begin and end in spans sometimes less than 4 pages? It can pretty drastically break up the rhythm an author is going for. So how does one get around it? The key is something Yusuke Murata mastered in Eyeshield 21 – drop red herrings, and write every page that leads into a major clash such that both sides could conceivably win.
So when Ace of the Diamond was setting up a confrontation between one team’s ace batter and the other’s first-string pitcher, how did Terajima handle it? Well, after setting up the decisive pitch with a passed strike, a strategic ball, and a dangerous-looking foul ball (all great writing choices, by the way), he showed the decisive pitch like so:
Now, dialogue in that scene may be hinting at one outcome, but take a look at just the layout of the page. Would you be surprised if either one of those character won out when you turned the page, based just on the way this spread is laid out? I’m guessing no. That’s how you pull off clutch setup for a face-off without getting repetitive. And repeated success with this is one of the reasons why, aside from its ultra-realistic handling of pitching staff, the 2007 Shogakukan manga Award committee, the 2010 Kodansha Manga Award committee, and I love Ace of the Diamond so much.