Haikyuu!! Season 2 – 07

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Highlander has nothing on sports manga when it comes to aces.

The spotlight has cycled onto pretty much all of the big names in Haikyuu, Karasuno and otherwise, but thus far Tsukishima has been the exception.  Even his sidekick Yamaguchi got a decent size bite of the apple last season (the knuckle-serve subplot) and really – when does Sancho get an arc before Don Quijote?  I can only assume this has been building up to something fairly significant, and it looks like Norma Desmond (that’s not a bad comparison, actually) is finally ready for the close-up.

There are a lot on interesting themes floating around Haikyuu at the moment, in a fairly low-key manner (for the most part).  The question of talent, of drive, of playing it safe vs. taking risks, the whole idea of “a team of rivals”.  What’s going on between Shouyou and Tobio is certainly interesting too, but it’s more stock sports-manga interesting – I find stuff that other, subtler stuff more stimulating, for much the same reasons I found Sugawara’s struggle to stay relevant the most interesting thread in the first season.

So just what is Tsukishima’s story – what put a chip the size of Osaka on his shoulder?  Guys who actually mouth off to sempai are pretty rare in seniority-obsessed Japan (both in anime and real life), so Tsukki is an odd duck in that regard.  He’s presented as a guy who never gives 100%, somebody content to do “just enough” on the court and no more – kind of the anti-Hinata (and in physical stature, too).  The fundamental question of why he plays volleyball in the first place hasn’t even been addressed – he certainly doesn’t seem to enjoy it very much (though apart from pissing people off, he doesn’t really seem to enjoy anything all that much).

Well, I don’t know the answers to all those questions – I haven’t read this far in the manga.  There certainly seems to be an older-brother backstory that’s a crucial part of the equation – an elder Tsukishima that was part of the glory years of Karasuno but seems to have suffered some significant indignity or humiliation.  It’s always a bid dodgy when an unlikeable character is humanized this far into a series, but Tsukki is no Furuya – if nothing else, he’s never been presented as a real rival for the protagonist, and his snark is less irritating than Furuya’s self-obsessed narcissism if for no other reason than that Tsukki is at least funny (and snark is a lot less sinister).

For the first time here, we get a sense that on some level, maybe Tsukishima does want to be a rival for Hinata.  He’s got plenty of talent and physical ability, so it must be irritating to see Hinata steal the limelight because of the sheer difference in passion and drive.  Asahi feels it too, of course, but he’s a third-year, and at least admits he’s not ready to cede the ace role.  There can be only one ace on a team, be it volleyball or baseball – it’s an immutable rule of sports manga.  The rivalry within a team can be a positive or it can be a cancer – it depends on the team, and how well the coaches handle the situation.  When the ace role is at stake, teammates tend to take sides – and there’s a real danger that can cause a decent into factionalism and civil war.

I don’t see Haikyuu as that sort of series, but that still leaves us the matter of seeing how Tsukishima comes to terms with his own suppressed ambition.  He’s doomed in the sense that Shouyou is the main character, but he still has to carve out a role for himself that’s larger than the one he’s filling now – both as a team member and as a character.  I think the fact that his best friend pushes himself forward despite lacking in both skill and physical ability as compared to Tsukki may ultimately be what drives him forward – it’s certainly something he should be embarrassed about, both as a friend and a teammate.

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  1. Y

    One thing that has always bothered me about Haikyuu!!, as much as I love it, is the fact that aside from Hinata's and Kenma's backstories, we pretty much have no info on why any of the other players care about the sport as much as they do. Tsukishima even questions the realism of their dedication at one point, I think, in order to compare it to his own. Overall, it's an aspect of the story that's hardly ever in the spotlight, which is really a shame, since they're all more or less likeable characters/people.

  2. m

    I think their dedication boils down to the fact that high school sports are taken very seriously. There may not have been a personal reason like for Hinata and Kenma, they may simply want to create good memories in high school by giving their all to a sport. Hence, I never really thought of the lack of backstories as a problem, rather, I like that they are focusing on their growth in mentality and skill.

  3. e

    Dat U&T episode is waiting so this must be quick unfortunately.
    – Gust of wind of change
    – the team has its own hill to climb (well, sprint upon)
    – omnivore crows!
    Not exacty subtle imagery above but hey it's effective.
    Can we perhaps anticipate some Tsukki Defrosting? >D Let's unlock his tsuntsun lil' heart and his playing potential <3
    – Suspect Tsukki's aniki might have suffered of eternal second place syndrome and that branched out badly to ther aspects of life outside the court. Of course there could be much more, or just much different to the actual scenario. We'll see.
    – Asahi showing some backbone&charisma both inside the court and out of it. He really needed these.
    – Those match goofs. So many underdog (undercrows?) karma points.

  4. Y

    You forgot to mention Lev spitting out the watermellon seeds XD And yes, Asahi really shone in this episode, even if it was only for brief periods of time. He's perhaps the character I am most similar to out of the entire Haikyuu!! cast, yet he's never been my favourite, even if I do sympathise with his insecurities. Also, apologetic Kuroo! Goes to show that for all his teasing and poking, he's a genuinely good person :)

  5. e

    Oh my you're right I could I forget Lev's and his seeds prowess. That was pewpewtiful.
    I agree also about the display of good guy nuances among Karasuno's rivals. But hey it's that kind of feelgood series when it comes to human nature I think (sorta needed and doubly welcomed these days especially btw). Basicaly everyone tend to be on the decent nice side end of the spectrum – or not too far from it – at the core. The worst we got so far was the guy at the ritzy school in episode #1 this season and he came off more about being condescending/conceited than anything else.
    About Asahi… well he gets outstaged by all the other characters who are either more assertive or more skillful or more colourful – this series got aplenty of the latter after all XD – but he does have the chops to be a good ace and a good sempai with the right stimuli. And hey it's not bad being a bit like him. Again, good person just not in a flashy or hyper way usually.
    Hinata's attitude is the catalyst that is bringing out the (eventually-)best in his team mates. This time it was Asahi, I trust the writing means to get Tsukki out there flying along with the rest of them via Hinata chain catalyst reaction eventually. Personally I'd love to see some Sugawara evolution too :,>.
    TL;DR for this whole long comment: I'm a believah 😀 . And I am craving watermelon in winter now.

  6. C

    True dat, Enzo. Sancho did have his outstanding arc as the governor of "la ínsula Barataria", but that was in the second part of the novel.

    I never liked Tsukki and this made me like him even less. To think all victories they might have scored if he had been actually trying. Blech.

  7. m

    I think you may be giving Tsukki too little credit. He never skipped practice and he actually defends and plays properly (except in this episode, because he was bothered by Kuroo's jabs). In fact, I agree with Tsukki in the sense that, after all the hellish practice they have been getting (it is already more than usual), it is even more unnatural to keep on working themselves to the bone. However, like Coach Ukai has mentioned, the team is evolving fast and those that do not put in the extra effort may get left behind. There is nothing wrong with Tsukki's mentality, the issue is with his motivation and whether he wants to stay as a regular.

    Also, I think it is odd for you to put blame on a member by saying that they could have won more if they tried (or something along those lines). You can easily place the same blame on every other member for not trying harder.

  8. m

    Actually, I think in terms of natural ability, Tsukki only has his height. He is pretty bad at running, and we know Hinata runs very well and very fast (as Yachi had mentioned once). Plus Hinata can make up for height with his high jumps.
    Also, not to forget Tsukki's lankiness and his lacking strength (he does not have much muscle it seems), which emphasizes the point that he is probably the weaker member in terms of physical ability and prowess.

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