I have spent the last two years watching the anime known as Ace of the Diamond in the US or Diamond No Ace in Japan. The first thing you need to know is that it is not a small time commitment. It is currently airing it’s third season. Combined the series currently spans 178 episodes. The second thing you need to know is what it is about: high school baseball in Japan.
Watching this anime has been a very enlightening experience for me as much for what I’ve been able to learn about the Japanese perspective on baseball as for the story it tells. Watching Ace of the Diamond taught me that Japanese high school is only three years, grades 10-12. Also, Japanese high school baseball is no joke. Some of the high schools recruit from the junior highs to build the best rosters they can. Seido, the high school upon which the story is focused, is one such school. According to one episode in the third season the school has over 100 baseball players attending even though they only build two rosters of 20 players each - a first string and a second string. Some guys are on the baseball team for their entire three years without even making it to the bench of the second string. That’s how important high school baseball is to them. For some of the bigger tournaments fans fill large stadiums and root for their favorite teams, players, and moments.
There are other neat little details like the fact that players don’t choose their numbers. If you’re a starter you are assigned a number based on the position you play; if you’re a bench player then you receive your number based on how many other players made the team before you. Needless to say, you won’t feel very comfortable if you wear the number 20. Seido, at least, also puts a lot of emphasis on how much food the players have to eat in order to continue gaining strength despite grueling training sessions. Everyone is required to eat three large bowls of rice - in addition to other foods cooked in the cafeteria - at every meal.
But you also, especially in the first season, get to learn a lot about how they play baseball. Japanese high school baseball is very small-ball oriented. They are more likely to bunt a runner to second than not, if the series is to be believed. Rare are the teams that feel confident enough in their ability to steal a base or drive the runner home with hits, instead. Another interesting difference is while America seems to be chasing the fastest fastball at all levels the Japanese high schools see as much or more value in movement and control. A lot of attention is spent during the series on whether a pitcher can hit the corners, hit his target, and is willing to pitch inside or outside and what kind of movement his pitches have.
In fact, the star of the show is a pitcher named Eijun Sawamura - known to his teammates as Bakamura because “baka” means stupid in Japanese and he’s kind of dimwitted, especially early on. He’s a left-handed pitcher who wants to be the ace of the team, hence the show title, and he doesn’t have a strong arm or good control but his pitches have really good, natural movement. So he’s recruited to an elite high school baseball team where they hope they can coach some control into him. Unfortunately for him, they also recruit a right-handed pitcher named Satoru Furuya who throws as hard or harder than anyone else in high school but also lacks command or movement on his pitches.
The show primarily chronicles their competition to become the starting pitcher, the ace, of the team. As Sawamura learns some control Furuya learns a breaking pitch and so on. It’s a fascinating battle. And there’s plenty of high school shenanigans to keep you entertained in the mean time. The number of episodes and the attention to detail on all of the characters, not just the main two, is really great. Both of the first two seasons left me in tears because I was so overwhelmed emotionally by the events that played out in front of me.
The first season largely covers the first half of the two pitchers’ freshman year as they learn from the seniors who desperately want to take their team to a coveted national tournament. The second season covers the second half of their freshman year after all of the seniors who had led the team lose their eligibility to play at the high school level and shows the two taking and other remaining members of the team taking steps forward to become leaders. In the current season the remaining Seniors from the original team begin to pass the torch of leadership even more to Sawamura and Furuya while they’re still trying to win the battle to become the ace of the team.
The biggest downside to the show is that, during the first two seasons, the focus was often on strategy and game-results to the exclusion of character development. Individual baseball games could last between two and four episodes with maybe a single episode of character development during practice in between. It can be really cool to really dig into the tiniest details of the strategy but it can also be exhausting. By the third season, however, games rarely last a full episode as character development takes more of a forefront to the show.
Ace of the Diamond probably isn’t a show for everyone. For one thing, it has no dub so you have to read subtitles in order to know what’s going on. For another, as previously noted, it’s very long. But it has interesting and amusing characters and also provides some fascinating insight into Japanese baseball culture. If the show sounds interesting at all you can stream it for free on VRV or CrunchyRoll.