I’ve talked about Ace of the Diamond before. It’s my second-favorite baseball manga of all time*, and it is so because it a) is not about a team of scrappy underdogs, which allows for b) one of the most interesting dynamics in any sports manga – 4 highly skilled pitchers with alpha dog personalities competing for one starting spot on an elite baseball team. When that dynamic gets folded into competitive baseball matches, the result is a fantastic two-level narrative. This week, we were reminded who was alpha dog prime, and why. Before I go any further into how amazingly unique Tanba is as a character, here’s his “I logged a K against the other team’s ace with the tying run on third and two outs” face.**
Which might as well be the rest of my column, but I like to write
A little bit of background helps when trying to really understand Tanba’s character. As I mentioned before, the Seidou High baseball team has 4 pitchers, each with their own streak of alpha-male toughness. There’s the main character, Sawamura, a hell-raising firebrand freshman who was by far the only good player on his middle school team. There’s his fellow freshman, Furuya, a quiet but stubborn kid who played for a good middle school team and already had made something of a name for himself going in. There’s perrenial bridesmaid Kawakami, who’s pitched relief behind Tanba for a while and has gotten used to being under pressure. And then there’s Tanba, who, though in a slump when the series began, is demonstrably the best pitcher on the team in terms of both skill and mindset.
Three of these pitchers have major weak spots, though. Furuya throws killer fastballs that are as exhausting to throw as they are hard to hit. Sawamura lacks composure and pitch control, a relic from being part of a middle school team that gave him little chance to develop. Kawakami has less charisma than the others, and has trouble energizing the team when forced to . Each of these weak spots become fairly evident over a 3 month stretch when Tanba is recovering from a shoulder injury. And so, after rehab, a long blank, and 7.5 innings played by the other three against a powerful batting team that’s left the team up only one run (with the tying run on third, no less), Tanba goes out to pitch for the first time.
So after a sequence of pitches involving some tense foul balls, the count is 2-1 and Tanba is in position for a strikeout. Unfortunately, that same sequence of pitches showed that Tanba’s control and precision still isn’t at 100%. Tanba knows this; the catcher had to move his mitt around quite a bit to make some of these catches, and also had to do this:
Not exactly the kind of thing that makes you comfortable if you’re a fan of the team. But the resulting pitch is almost an anticlimax insofar as Tanba just goes full-on zen master and pitches a tight strike 3. I loved that moment so, so much. Yuuji Terajima has done a very, very convincing job of creating a convincingly in-charge veteran. Unlike a lot of series, this leader doesn’t exist to be dethroned by the designated main character, but rather stands out all the more for the supporting cast he unquestionably leads.
*My resume is thicker than nothing (read Cross Game, Big Windup, and a few others), but there are still some gaps in my experience, notably Kyojin no Hoshi and Touch. Fyi, number one is One Outs because I love that sort of thing and it’s tantalizingly close to a revenge fantasy for Pirates fans wherein Gerrit Cole bankrupts Bob Nutting while leading the team to the world series. Some of which is now actually happening.
**For everyone reading this post who doesn’t follow pro baseball, a K is shorthand for a strikeout.