The game against Ryuou has been one of the better things we've had in
the last ten episodes or so as its brought back some of what's made the
show so enjoyable. Realistic, progressive ball playing where the players
are getting better without going over the top or even amazingly well.
They're growing in skill and playing as a more cohesive team, even if
the focus is on just a couple of characters. With the game against
Ryuou, which enters extra innings here, Ko has really been able to play
well and go at it all out. The problem comes in that he hasn't done this
in a game before nor has he played so consistently well throughout it
on purpose which means that the extra innings could wear him down since
it's not something he's used to.
And that realistic style applied to the series is what makes it so engaging The struggle is there, the pain is there for all of them, but even though they put in the effort, they aren't guaranteed a victory in the slightest. The struggle they go through is what defines them and makes them better. While you want to see them win regularly, you also want to see them play and experience the game as most teams do, with ups and downs and close games that you can feel the victory snatched away from you at the last moment even though you've done so amazingly well. The heartache of it, the feeling of that loss, understanding it and coming to terms with it, is played out in simple form here but the effects of it are beautifully done, especially when dealing with the older players who are experiencing their last year of play.
The focus on the post-game downtime is alright at best in a way because it's pretty laid back and involves the kids just going about their lives. Ko's expecting the beat down of course but doesn't get it and he along with Azuma continue on with going through the motions. There's an interesting aspect to all of it in that you see many of the characters looking upwards repeatedly throughout the post-game part of the episode which is pretty uplifting in a way as it has them looking towards the future. But the key moment comes when Azuma quietly calls out Ko on his mindset in that he's playing the game for his long dead childhood girlfriend to bring her dream alive. It's served him well to this point, but Ko is in need of something more to get him moving further along to figuring out what he really wants out of life.