It’s Tsukki time on Haikyuu at long last, and it seems as if the lanky lad is poised to play a major role in the story going forward. The role of rival for Hinata has pretty much been vacant since day one – Kageyama isn’t a rival because he doesn’t play the same position (in fact the two of them are mutually dependent). Asahi is a third-year and more or less getting ready to fade from the scene altogether. And you can’t really call someone on another team a rival in this sense, though Lev fills the role in a different way.
It’s always been obvious that Tsukishima was an important character (important enough to get a brother played by Sakurai Takahiro) but Haikyuu has been pretty cagey about how that would play out – and how he got to be such a kedaruge guy. We’ve also had little to go on as far as why Yamaguchi is so subservient to Tsukishima, despite the latter’s relatively indifferent behavor towards him. This episode, then, had a lot of heavy lifting to do.
The aforementioned brother, Akiteru, is central to the second question. He was the ace of his middle school volleyball team, and – naturally enough – idolized by his younger brother. Things are humming along in heartwarming fashion until Akiteru finds himself unable to admit the truth to Kei – he’s not the ace of the Karasuno team, but a scrub sitting in the stands with the cheering section. He manages to keep this a secret from his brother until a conversation with a classmate whose brother is also a scrub on the team prompts Kei to attend a game – where he sees the truth, trauamatizing both brothers.
Now, I’ll admit there is a bit of tempest in a teapot quality to all this – as a reason for life-changing ennui we’ve certainly seen characters suffer a whole lot worse. But these sorts of little humiliations do cast big shadows on the psyche of boys, for they live in a world where pride and bravado counts for everything. So I accept it as dramatic license, and Tsukishima-otouto’s malaise and indifference towards maximum effort a logical extension of what happened.
As for Tsukki’s friendship with Yamaguchi, that stems from another seemingly minor moment that can feel like an apocalyptic one to a little boy. Pint-sized Tadashi-kun is being picked on by three petty bullies when Kei – even then a beanpole – saunters by. Tsukki doesn’t even really help Tadashi per se – he merely casts his disdain on the bullies (and Yamaguchi) for being lame. But the combination of the fact that Kei’s intervention indirectly leads to the incident being cut short and the fact that Tsukki was just plain cool for calling out the bullies for what they were is enough to turn Yamaguchi into his squire (seemingly) for life – school life, anyway.
It’s a pretty good backstory on the whole, though I’m a bit of two minds about it. I would really rather see Tadashi establish himself as a character in his own right rather than as an extension of Tsukki’s, which is where this arc leaves him at the moment – so for him my grade is “Incomplete”. But Tsukki stepping up to provide a real challenge to Shouyou’s future primacy on the team can only be good for both of them as characters – the Sun and the Moon, indeed. And I think Tsukki’s fixation on whether it’s worth fighting when someone will always be better than you, no matter how hard you try, is a pretty universal disquiet that pretty much all of us have felt at one time or another. Sooner or later he will indeed have his volleyball moment – maybe he even had a little piece of it at the end of this episode – and he’ll be able to gain some satisfaction from living for the moment and measuring himself against himself.