Review by David Cirone
Enraged by the sight of Enatsu (Yusuke Kamiji) and his thugs holding a beaten and bloody Hiyama (Yosuke Kawamura), Aniya and his team rush in to defend him, but Hiyama stops the fight before it can begin, reminding his teammates that fighting will end their journey toward Koshien. Instead, he taunts Enatsu that the baseball team is better now that he’s gone, and they’re sure to surpass him in every way.
Enatsu won’t take this open challenge to his ego, and drops his baseball bat towards Hiyama’s skull, only to be stopped by Kawato (Ryuta Sato). Kawato gives Enatsu a fierce stare-down, adding a judo flip to one of his goons for good measure. Eager to keep his students from fighting but smartly keeping them from losing face, Kawato challenges Enatsu’s ego even further by challenging his elite baseball team to settle the score with a game on the field instead of a parking-lot brawl.
Okada (Takeru Sato) and Yufune (Shunji Igarashi) check out their new opponents in a baseball magazine and realize that they’re about to play some of their childhood heroes. Short on confidence, they plan to ditch the game rather than risk embarrassment. Kawato is doing some scouting of his own, clumsily spying on Enatsu’s team. The school’s coach catches him in the woods, and he offers Kawato the starting lineup, hoping for an honest, good game.
Kawato senses his players losing confidence, and he fires them up with a speech about confronting and defeating the ghosts of their former selves. Vice Principal Ikebe (Kazuyuki Asano) gets involved, too, sharing his strategies from his high school days. But speeches and diagrams aren’t enough, and Okada and Yufune’s abesence might cost Nikogaku the game even before it starts.
HE’S ALL HEART
When Kawato invites the opposing coach to meet the team, the boys are nowhere to be found. Kawato takes the opportunity to hand-wash the boys’ practice uniforms, delighting in the smudges and stains that bear witness to the team’s hard work and long hours of practice. As explains each boy’s strengths, his sincere love for them shines through his beaming smile. Sato’s portrayal here is as sincere and heartwarming as it gets, and his love for his students is so strong that it erases all doubts from the eavesdropping kids.
FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET
Kawato missed his calling as a cross-metropolitan sprinter, because he regularly crosses city blocks in mere seconds to get to the scene of a fight. Going back to the first episode of the series, you’ll see that he starts the story running, and I’m amazed at his speed.
SERVICE WITH A SMILE
Maybe this episode was a bit too talky, or not enough fighting made it to screen, so the producers serve up a quick, barely-justified scene where Sekikawa (Akiyoshi Nakao) gets his shirt ripped off and he spends a good amount of time flexing his muscles. Smart move.