It’s nothing new to make note of it at this point, but Haikyuu isn’t one of those series that makes its mark by breaking new ground, but rather by taking what’s been done many times and just doing it really well. Sports manga/anime is pretty tough to break new ground in generally speaking. Not only is it one of animanga’s oldest and most eponymous genres, but one of its most literal – it really boils down mostly to putting a spin on something most of us are very familiar with in our real lives.
What we saw this week was pretty formulaic in a lot of respects. The third-year scrub gets off the bench and steps into the limelight. The focus on the backstories of the opponents. A critical injury. The challenge is to take all that and make it feel fresh, but fortunately that’s a skill that Haikyuu has always had in spades. To a certain extent I like Haikyuu for the same reasons I’m a sports fan in the first place, because is sparks a lot of the same emotions. And that’s a pretty big compliment when you think about it.
Haikyuu often manages to teach me something new, too (because volleyball isn’t one of the sports I watch). For example, I had no idea that the fifth set only goes to 15 points – is that a rule only in high school, or in Japanese high school? Seemingly that would favor Karasuno, the team that relies on three first-year starters and has no players who’ve experienced a fifth set. But the problem is that Kageyama is so exhausted that Ukai decides to start Suga in his place. That makes for some good drama, of course, but it’s an awful lot of pressure on a kid who’s basically only been an occasional pinch-server for the entire tournament.
I always root for Suga, as you know, and thus it’s great to see him finally get his chance in the spotlight. And the moment when he scored on of all things a spike (now we know why he was practicing it earlier) was certainly a dramatic crescendo. But it feels a bit forced to me, having him take over the setter role under these circumstances. You’d think Kageyama would have to be pretty much unconscious before he’d be dragged off the court – especially when things start to turn in Shiratorizawa’s favor. And after a very good start for the Crows, that’s exactly what happens.
The twin pillars behind Shiratori’s rise are (as you’d expect) Ushijima and Tendou. And while I’m not normally nuts about backstory segments in the middle of big sports moments, they do need to pad out this set for five more episodes – and they were good flashbacks, at least. I liked the focus on Ushijima’s left-handedness – his mother’s high-class family is determined to drive it out of him (it looks bad in public) but his father, a volleyballer himself, begs them not to. Ushijima has a kind of fierce dignity to him, and there’s a purity to his direct style that’s sort of beautiful in a majestic way. It makes sense, seeing how he got that way. As for Tendou he’s basically a freak in the Midousuji mold, but like Ushijima, he’s learned the lesson not to try and change who he is.
It’s behind Ushijima’s serving (including two legit aces, so rare in volleyball) that Shiratorizawa runs off 7 straight points to take an 8-4 lead. And to add injury to, er- injury, Tsukishima hurts his hand (I suspect a broken pinky, because I had one myself – dodgeball) and has to leave the court. That means all three prized baby crows are off the floor, and Narita (I forgot he even had a name) is forced to step in. Tendou proves Suga’s nemesis, and things are looking rather grim for Karasuno. I know the first-years are going to step in and spark a comeback (I’m guessing Tsukki too) and that’s fine, but I do hope Suga doesn’t drag himself off the court at this low ebb – I’d like to see him get a measure of personal closure in his final game.