This whole matchup between Ichidai and Sakurazawa had the air of an execution about it from the start, but it was still a little startling how quickly and how horrendously things went south for the underdogs. But Daiya no A does have a history of mercilessly dispatching opposition teams once their service to the plot is done, and Sakurazawa is shown the door without much fanfare or moderation.
I suppose the question now is just how Seidou is going to go about getting to Mei, who seems pretty close to unhittable at this point. It’s not unrealistic to say that a truly dominant pitcher like that can really ramp up the pressure on an opponent the way Mei did to Sakurazawa here. It’s true – knowing that even one run is probably going to be fatal makes every play crucial, and these public schoolers are kids with no experience handling this sort of intense pressure-cooker. It’s a shame the downfall started with a pair of errors, but quite believable and in truth, it was only a matter of time anyway.
We also saw a couple of the inherent weaknesses of the knuckle-ball exposes here. It’s incredibly easy to steal against a knuckle-baller – the pitch takes forever to get to the plate and is hard to catch cleanly. And it’s not like a knuckle-baller can reach back for another gear in key situations, trying for the key strikeout – not even he knows what the pitch will do, and the more amped up he gets the less movement he gets on the ball. And once the knuckler starts to spin, it’s like placing the ball on a tee.
We’re going to flashback city next week – Mei and Miyuki as little-leaguers, it looks like – but soon enough we’ll be staring at the matchup the entire series has been building towards. Will Furuya return to start, or will it be Tanba again? I’m sure Seidou would have appreciated it if Sakurazawa had at least made Ichidai play a full game, but Mei should be alarmingly fresh – he only had to throw five innings.
Haikyuu!! – 22
It’s funny, but with all the redonkulous facial expressions Haikyuu has thrown at us in 22 episodes, I think my favorite was the tiny smile Tsukishima flashed after he executed that impudent dink over the wall for the first time. You could barely tell it was there, but that’s why it was so striking I think – Tsukishima hasn’t made that much of an impression on me before, but this was by far his best week. I feel like I’m understanding him a bit for the first time – that he’s more than just the snarky putz he plays at (though he certainly is that) but a clever and stubborn kid who takes a sort of pride in doing things differently than everybody else. In terms of sports, I think you could say Tsuki-chan has an artistic temperament.
Of course, the key question here is whether Kageyama can come to understand him. That’s certainly where Sugawara’s formidable strengths as a teacher can come into play, but the reality is that Kageyama is a guy who has trouble dealing with pretty much everybody, and Tsukishima is the one guy in the world who most pisses him off. The truth is both these guys are basically arrogant jerks (though not bad people, so don’t get testy) and naturally rub each other the wrong way. And for a setter, that’s not an acceptable status quo.
I’m a bit torn about the episode as a whole, entirely because of the flashback. In itself it was fine, but the first half of the episode was cracking stuff – absolutely fantastic game action with a lot of tension and wisely allocated humor (like Kageyama utterly failing at compliments and high-fives). Learning about Oikawa and seeing chibi-Kageyama (is it me, or did he seem much less angry at the world back then?) is a good thing, but I hated to have the rhythm of the episode broken that way. Either that flashback should have been placed at a different time, or it should have been considerably shorter.
Be that as it may, it was still a strong episode and the Aoba Johsai match is probably the most interesting one of the series so far. I’m not sure I’m ready to believe that the Karasuno victory I’m almost certain we’re going to see is realistic, given the difference in experience and stature between these teams, but Haikyuu does a very good job (with a few exceptions) of making the individual moments on the court seem realistic even if the end result isn’t. That makes unlikely victories a little easier to swallow, and it’s certainly a bonus that the rise is as enjoyable as it usually is.