Ho-hum – it’s another stellar and spellbinding action episode of Haikyuu. It’s too easy to say this series is an example of what happens when TV anime has a decent budget to work with, because there’s a massive amount of Production I.G. talent involved here too. But it sure doesn’t hurt – especially with a sports anime – to have the luxury of being able to deliver fluid animation and on-model characters pretty much all the time, and on-time. Production-wise, Haikyuu sets the standard for sports anime.
More than any other genre, it’s sports where the experience of watching it can most easily put one in mind of the experience of real life. For me this season of Haikyuu is a lot like watching a delayed broadcast of a sporting event. When a live event has been edited for re-broadcast, you know exactly when it’s going to end – which means you can figure out (for example) whether the tennis match is going to go to a fifth set, or the game will go to extra innings or overtime. We know (I forgot for a bit) that this season of Haikyuu is going to be ten episodes. We’ve concluded eight, and the final set of this match is already at deuce. So it’s not hard to figure out that we’re headed for an extended stalemate before someone wins it.
Does that take away from the drama? Yes, a little – though of course since it’s already the final set we have no idea who’s going to actually win it. That’s certainly the major dramatic question, and also a pretty important one for me in how I view this season as a whole. Honestly, there’s no way Karasuno should win this match – I obviously get the imperative to root for them, but I think it would be too much of a stretch. In point of fact it’s too much of a stretch for me that they’ve even come this close, but it certainly makes for compelling viewing. And of course I’m going to be conflicted watching the final few points play out. But I do hope Furudate-sensei does the right thing in the end.
In the meantime, it’s a cracker of an endgame. There were several less obvious moments that really stood out for me this week: Ukai-sensei’s little lecture to Hinata about block timing. The cheer battle, culminating in Shiratoriawa singing the school song. The revelation of the reason behind Washijou-sensei’s love of straightforward power volleyball. And of course, Ukai’s last rallying cry to the Crows at the end – a cutting reminder that we’re hearing the heartbreakingly appropriate final line delivery of Tanaka Kazunari, who died much too young.
Another interesting element is the way Shouyou confounds Ushijima’s expectations of what a small player should be. He’s not a clever tactician who fights with technique – despite his size, Shouyou is dangerous because of his athleticism and his unpredictability. Ushijima is nothing if not straightforward (right down to his pep talks) – it’s only natural that he’d disapprove of someone who doesn’t fit into the box he “should”. That, on the whole, is the most realistic reason why Karasuno would still be alive in this game – they’re not a mass-produced model. They’re hard to predict. But in the real world, I still don’t think they have the weapons to stay with a team as dominant as Shiratorizawa is purported to be.
There’s a little bit of love for almost everybody here, apart from poor Narita – whose moment in the sun was as forgettable as his face and character arc. Suga gets in a couple of good tosses before he departs for Kageyama. Shouyou makes a couple of his trademark freak plays (he really uses his head, in more ways than one – protecting his nose, eh?). Tadashi gets in a nice run of jump floaters. The Crows manage to claw their way out of the hole Ushijima’s serving put them in, but in the end they’re still on the brink of elimination – leaving it to Tsukishima to return from the dead to save the day. Hopefully he got a good tape job on that finger.