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.