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.