Haikyuu!! – 08

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If there was ever a WYSIWYG sports anime, Haikyuu!! is it.

This is one of those series where I could almost employ a copy-paste methodology, because what I say about one episode seems to apply to pretty much all of them.  That’s not a dig, it’s a compliment – but at the same time, it does exemplify why there may be a certain plateau in my interest level with Haikyuu that the series is never able to spike over the top of.  It’s too early to tell, but this episode was full of the qualities that both make Haikyuu a go-to “relax and enjoy” series for me, and represent its possible limitations.

This episode is all about the new guys, but in truth it feels very much of a piece with what came before it.  The first new guy is the “Guardian Deity of Karasuno”, the Libero Nishinoya Yuu (Okamoto Nobuhiko) – briefly introduced last week – and the second is the absent Ace, Azumane Asahi (Hosoya Yoshimasa).  Maybe it’s more striking since there are so many sports anime airing at the moment, but it really does seem like the same half-dozen or so seiyuu get recycled over and over and Hosoya is one of them (Haikyuu has more of them to come, too) – even with good actors it can get a little repetitive (especially with ones who adopt basically the same voice in every role, as he does).  At least Okamoto, big name that he is, is a relative rarity in sports anime so he feels like a change of pace here.

The common thread between these two guys is that neither one of them officially with the team, and their absences are directly connected.  In fact Nishinoya specifically says he won’t rejoin the team unless Asahi does, which builds up a fair bit of suspense about just why that hasn’t happened (which is an issue I’ll touch on shortly).  But Nishinoya is instantly taken with the genki first-year Hinata, who throws the “Sempai” card at him with devastating results.  As a short guy who’s made it in volleyball Nishinoya naturally has a lot he can teach Hinata, different as their aspirations are, and makes a natural model for Hinata to look up to (pun intended).  So he ends up unofficially joining practice as a sort of libero coach and receiving instructor, plus Hinata guru.

It’s Sugawara who ends up taking the role of ambassador trying to win Asahi back to the cause, but the ace refuses.  If we’re to take the series at its word, it’s because Asahi had a rough experience – all of his spikes were blocked, he was dominated, and he can no longer visualize himself as a successful spiker and blocker.  Now I have to be honest – on the face of it, that’s a pretty inconsequential reason for such a decision, and it doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot of payoff for the buildup it received.  There could certainly be more to this – Kageyama suggests to Hinata that he believes there is.  But for now, Asahi’s behavior is consistent with this rather mundane explanation.

Here’s the thing, though – the more I thought about it, the more it struck me that if indeed that was the bulk of the issue for Asahi, it’s perfectly consistent with Haikyuu as a whole.  Every indication is that this is the good-natured, goofy, earnest and straightforward huggable feast it purports to be.  I don’t see a lot of extreme drama here, because it doesn’t seem to be in-character.  Just as it would be against its very nature for Baby Steps to hurry along Ei-chan’s progress or have him discover a magic shot, wouldn’t it be against Haikyuu’s very nature for it to manufacture drama in a situation like this?  Maybe in this series Asahi’s crisis of confidence is simply what it appears to be, and one should just roll with that and not muddy the water with unrealistic expectations.

In any event, there’s certainly no letup in the relentless momentum of the narrative as a whole, and Haikyuu remains a very entertaining show.  My gut still tells me that Sugawara has the most interesting “serious” story here, and the one that’s been least-explored.  Meanwhile we have Shota-sensei still trying to score up practice opponents and still trying to convince the shopkeeper Ukai-san to coach the team, but it turns out Ukai is actually the grandson of the legendary retired coach whose rumored return lured Kageyama to Karasuno.  Ukai the Younger no doubt knows volleyball but Takeda-sensei is pretty open about wanting to trade on his famous name, so I don’t really blame Ukai-san for passing (for now).  Takeda-sensei does manage to set up a practice match with a Tokyo power school and old rival, Nekoma High – “The Cat vs. The Crow” – and if my Twitter is any judge, this is a group that’s a huge favorite among the series’ fervent fanbase.

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  1. r

    I'm also feeling that Sugawara is somewhat connected to the whole Asahi/Nishinoya. After all, it's the setter who is supposed to provide the spiker the set-up for a successful spike. If we know Sugawara at all, I'm sure he also feels somewhat responsible for the absence of two valuable players from the club (thus the reason he's the one going to Asahi, not Nishinoya or someone else).

  2. B

    I'll say this about Asahi- the higher you are, the harder you fall. Here's a guy who was respected by his peers and revered by his juniors (the way the second-years talked about him should be telling, I think) because of his formidable abilities and his impressive presence on court. In one fell swoop, the team suffered a crushing defeat (and I mean crushing- I don't think the subtitles managed to capture the magnitude of the loss) and he was basically rendered useless. He'd failed to meet the mammoth expectations placed upon him by both the team and himself. He couldn't forgive himself; how could he face the team? I don't know if you've managed to glean it from this episode, but while Asahi isn't a coward, he's a little less steely (in the mental/emotional sense) than, say, Daichi and Sugawara. That combined with the personal nature of the loss did a huge number on his confidence.

    As for Sugawara… let's just say that his dynamic with Kageyama is one of my favourites in the series. Don't worry, he'll get time to shine.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see that you're liking Haikyuu thus far. It's one of those cheery, inspirational shows that make you feel good about things in general- "earnest" is an excellent way to describe it. I doubt we'll be seeing a second season anytime soon (I suspect the anime will cover about two-thirds of the manga as it is now) but the manga's great- the matches are mostly realistic and there are some truly fantastic character moments in the story. It's managed to become one of my favourite sports manga- right behind Cross Game and Chihayafuru (In fact, I couldn't help comparing it Chihayafuru in some ways at first- both are sincere stories that effectively explore the players' characters via their individual styles of playing. Plus, there's the fact that Chihaya and a good portion of the Haikyuu boys are really hot-blooded).

    (I say that the matches are mostly realistic because Haikyuu- as much as I adore it- does slip into what you call "WSJ moments" every now and then, and some are more glaring than others. It never slips into the borderline-supernatural zone, though, and such moments are usually few and far between, so I'm not as fussed as I might have been).

    Hmm… I've seen you sing weekly praises about Baby Steps (and spoiled myself in the process, heh)… maybe I should give it a shot.

  3. l

    There's no need to explain and show how careful Haikyuu!! is written. The casual dropping of hints and bits and pieces of background is being played smart by not showing everything at one go. Asahi-san's case and how Nishinoya-san is linked to it will be revealed in due course. Sugawara's case and turn will show up later. Even Oikawa. The show has already dropped some hints about him early on and will get see a bit more later.

    Haikyuu!! is a case of where the action and hijinks pulls you along while it builds up the story for each character and reveals them in time as part of development. When you start to take a step back to look at the big picture, you will get to see what the mangaka is doing and having a better appreciation. As the saying goes, there's many way to skin a cat. How Haikyuu!! is told is just another way – actually, a very conventional way but done in a more careful manner by slipping early bits between all the action.

  4. R

    Haikyuu's never going to hit Ping Pong levels of drama or philosophical study, that's for sure, but it's exactly what I want it to be. A hot-blooded, GWAAH type shounen sports series…just like it's main character 😀

    And Enzou, if you think your Twitter feed is active now, just wait until Nekoma actually shows up. I think it'll explode.

    I'm already bracing for the onslaught of posts I know I'm going to get from my Tumblr XD To be fair, I really like Nekoma too, so it's not too bad of an experience. Just a bit disorienting

  5. m

    I think all 3 shows (haikyuu, baby steps, ping pong) are equally great in their own right. Haikyuu is like my weekly happy drug (I can't recall an episode where I didn't feel all fuzzy inside), Ping Pong packs a lot of intensity and Baby Steps gives me all the sports I need.

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