So who was that #2 again?
This was definitely a payoff episode for Haikyuu, and none too soon. It’s been good, but for me this season has been a bit too heavily weighted in favor of buildup. This was probably the first time Karasuno has been involved in a match that really captured the same sense of exhilaration and tension we saw so often in the first season (in fact, I think the best match before this was the Seijoh-Date Tech battle). And a little bit (and let’s be honest – it was a little bit) of Suga never hurts, either.
In most respects, it was Kyoutani Kentarou that was the dominant figure in this match. “Mad Dog” is his nickname and it fits him like a glove – though “loose cannon” would have been even more on-point. Kentarou is a wild card in every sense of the word, in that not even his own team can control him (or have any idea what he’s going to do next). He makes incredible plays (that parallel cut spike is especially eye-catching), he makes mistakes, he giveth and he taketh away – but whatever the result, it’s Mad Dog who’s dominating the tone of the match. And as such, even when he’s screwing up he has the Crows on their heels. They’re the ones doing the reacting, not Seijoh.
As usually happens when a cool new random element is inserted into the mix, the baby Crows are put off their game – especially Shouyou. Every unfamiliar attack he sees is like a shiny new toy he wants to possess, and Mad Dog’s bag of tricks is certainly no exception. Perhaps in light of this, Kageyama decides to debut Shouyou’s “back attack” (calm down, Ikebukuro) but it fails – and getting Hinata’s head back in the game is obviously going to be a huge priority for Karasuno to turn the momentum back in their favor.
The most interesting strategic element in the match is the insertion of Suga, who jumps straight off the milk carton to become a real factor (though don’t blink). The theory is that Karasuno’s weakest alignment is with Tsukishima serving, because he’s not an impact server, and can’t much block or spike from the back. Suga brings several elements here – he can clearly serve with great accuracy, which he uses to force Kentarou to receive – throwing off his rhythm as a spiker. He’s also a second setter, which offers intriguing possibilities for Karasuno – especially given that Kageyama (like Oikawa) is a capable spiker in his own right. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long to try this – two-setter formations are hardly unheard of in volleyball – but while it’s short-lived, it works well enough to earn the Crows a few crucial points.
The idea that if this goes to a third set it strongly favors the more experienced Aoba Johsai is probably true, but I can’t shake my feeling that for this season to make any narrative sense, Karasuno has to win this match. To that end we’re going to see Tadashi make another appearance soon, obviously – a chance to redeem himself for his failures as a pinch-server thus far. I think it’s a matter of how the Crows win this match, not whether they win it – but that in itself carries with it a certain measure of suspense.