Dear God, he really is named Luigi…
I was tempted to say something to the effect of “I didn’t know Mitsuda Takuya had a series like this in him”. Major 2nd really deals with some complex and difficult issues, both in terms of how they relate to baseball and not. But looking back on it Mitsuda took Major to some pretty dark places and tackled some pretty deep problems, so I guess this isn’t actually all that surprising. I think the main difference is tonal, largely because we’ve gone from a protagonist whose default state is cocky and brilliant to a grinder who’s humble and always wrestles with self-doubt.
Just so I get this clear – I guess Hikaru is an asshole now? I hope it doesn’t come down to that, but it’s hard to draw any other conclusion from the events of this episode. There were times in the first series when Toshiya seemed to go to a dark place for a while, so maybe it’s in the genes – even if Hikaru’s name is “Sakaguchi” now. I don’t know what’s been going on with him in the two-plus years onscreen since we last saw him, but I see his behavior towards Daigo on the field here as pretty much inexcusable. Even setting aside the personal hurt he was causing, relying on gamesmanship like that to beat a team you gave a 10-run handicap to? That’s just bush league stuff right there.
Sakaguchi is a good catcher, no question about that. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s a natural athlete and full of self-confidence. And he immediately brings Mario to heel, even after the hotheaded first-year deliberately crosses him up and throws what he assumes is going to be a wild pitch which embarrasses his catcher – and allows a run to score. Mario fully expects Hikaru to rip him a new one for that, and frankly he would have been justified. But no, Hikaru turns it into a learning experience – and a humbling one – for Mario. Million dollar arm, five cent head…
That’s all well and good, but Hikaru’s behavior towards Daigo here is utterly disgraceful. I don’t know exactly what his motivation is – maybe he’s been harboring resentment, or maybe purely trying to win the game – but frankly I don’t care because it wouldn’t mitigate the offense. Sure, Daigo should be tougher than to be so unmade by such cheap tricks. But the clear and obvious truth is, he’s never gotten over what happened to Hikaru – never forgiven himself. And that’s not surprising, given that he got next to no help from the adults in his life in dealing with that crisis. For Hikaru to use that against someone who considered him his best friend is truly reprehensible.
Be that as it may, Daigo is indeed seriously derailed by this new trauma. Forget about spacing out and seeing the game get away – honestly, Tsujidou probably would have done that anyway. The bigger problem is that being condescended to and called “mediocre” by a seemingly spiteful Hikaru has broken his bubble of quiet confidence that turns out to have been extremely fragile. Rather than double down, he seems to accept that Hikaru is right – and that Fuurin can’t realistically have lofty goals as a team. He may even be right, but they certainly don’t have much hope if the heart and soul of their team loses the will to fight.
This highlights – and rather beautifully, I might add – what’s really the elephant in the room in Major 2nd. In terms of competitiveness we see the cream rising to the top here – Sakura soldiers bravely on, trying to fill the gaping void Daigo’s detachment leaves in the club. Akira rededicates himself to proving his old coach wrong for deserting him – not necessarily because he thinks he has a chance, but because he has to try in order to feel right about himself. Anita – who’s emerged as Daigo’s biggest supporter among the first years – seethes with rage over what happened and longs to work ever harder to prevent a repeat.
But the hard truth is, Tao may just be right. Sakura didn’t get a single Tsujidou first-teamer out. They made mincemeat out of Akira’s pitches, too, and Fuurin couldn’t touch Mario once Hikaru set him straight. As painful as it is, there does come an age where a team full of girls can’t compete with a strong team of boys (“men”, as Tao calls the Tsijdous). Only a very, very exceptional female player (only Yayoi really qualifies here) can fight on that level. How does Mitsuda tackle this problem going forward? Takumi coming back into the squad is a start, but only that. Even setting aside Daigo’s crisis of confidence, this is a huge plot hurdle for Major 2nd – and while I give Mitsuda full credit for not ignoring it, I have no idea how he’s going to address it.