‘The Days of Diamond’ Sheds Light on Issues Surrounding Baseball Prodigy

The cover of the first volume of “Diamond no Kozai” (“The days of diamond”) by Ohashi Hirai published from Shueisha, Inc.

Diamond no Kozai (The days of diamond)
by Ohashi Hirai (Shueisha)

Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani made headlines in December when he signed a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth a total of $700 million (¥101.5 billion). The deal, hailed as the highest in sports history, is beyond astonishing and even awe-inspiring in a way. Talented young athletes are often described as “diamonds in the rough,” and that is only becoming more and more true. Ohtani has proven that tremendous talent can fetch a tremendous price. Everyone has started to look around feverishly for a similarly talented person, a diamond yet to be uncovered or, in other words, a “second Ohtani.”

Manga “Diamond no Kozai” (The days of diamond) tells the story of Jiro Ayasegawa, a fifth-grade elementary school student who has a natural talent for sports, outperforming others in everything he does. Jiro himself is laid-back and not competitive at all. All he wants is to have fun while being physically active. However, Jiro’s overwhelming ability eventually isolates him from his peers. But what if he opts out of individual sports and instead participates in team sports that can’t be played alone? Jiro joins a struggling local baseball team, determined to just have fun playing as a pitcher. But his fastball is too fast for the catcher, and the adults don’t let him just enjoy the game. Jiro is almost forced to join Japan’s national team for the U-12 Baseball World Cup, where he shows his unfathomable, monstrous skills again and suddenly finds himself on the mound in a game to decide the No. 1 team in the world.

This unique baseball manga has been very popular and often talked about since last year. It has almost none of those refreshing and invigorating elements of friendship, hard work and victory — supposedly the lifeblood of a hot-blooded sports manga. Instead, the story cruelly depicts children who break down in the face of a prodigy their own age and adults who lose their minds over the brilliance of the diamond-like child.

One could say this work is almost a horror manga, but it is not doing this just to stand out. It questions whether the mantra that, “One has to develop children’s talents,” is anything more than an outpouring of adults’ egos. Can excessive elite education really make children happy? This manga also touches on universal themes beyond sports and has many must-read pages. Mangaka Ohashi Hirai apparently used to play baseball as a boy. His storytelling is so skillful that it’s hard to believe this is his first long-form serialized work.

Ohtani, too, was one special “diamond in the rough.” He received training and education for gifted child players and could throw balls over 100 kph when he was a fifth-grade elementary school student. He’s surely the inspiration behind the characterization of Jiro. Ohtani has become a player who shines brilliantly like the sun in a cloudless sky. But what kind of baseball life is awaiting Jiro, who seems somewhat fragile and precarious with a dark shadow hanging over him? Since “Kozai” in the manga’s original Japanese title means “merits and demerits,” this manga won’t be a simple success story. Hopefully, Jiro will be able to feel genuinely happy that he chose to play baseball. Only then will this manga become a true masterpiece, a diamond in its own right.