It’s the battle of the setters! Kageyama vs. Oikawa! Prodigy vs. Experience. Whose team will come out on top?
For an episode that was primarily geared towards building up anticipation for Karasuno’s next match against Aoba Jousai, I was pleasantly surprised to see it not only do that in both a hilarious and serious manner, but actually get to the start of the match itself. I would’ve been perfectly content with just the build-up where Oikawa is depicted as an exceptional setter, jump server, and team captain, and Karasuno would have to up its game significantly if they were going to have any chance of beating Aoba Jousai, but the rapid progression seen here leaves me very anxious to see exactly how much material will be covered in this anime adaptation. In all likelihood, it will conclude with the Inter-High Preliminaries, but for a non-manga reader such as myself, it remains to be seen if Karasuno will even get to the finals. At the moment, they’ve clearly established Shiratorizawa as the powerhouse, winning the second set of their most recent match by a staggering 25-6 (which is an absolute creaming as far as volleyball goes), so if Karasuno does move on by beating Aoba Jousai, I can’t wait to see how they fair against Shiratorizawa. A match between those two high schools would be a befitting finale for this adaptation, regardless of whether it’s actually the finals of the entire tournament.
Story developments aside, I could go on for a bit about how hilarious this episode was with all the facial reactions and outbursts, but there was so much volleyball “goodness” to talk about that I want to focus on just that. First and foremost is the first sign of Ukai teaching Karasuno a proper three-man serve receive where the middle never takes the first ball and just gets ready to hit. If you’ve been reading my weekly entries on Haikyuu, you’ll know that I’ve been bringing this up since I picked up coverage back in episode 14. As such, it probably goes without saying that I’m absolutely thrilled that the series is tackling this key element of volleyball next, much like I’ve been hoping they would. While there wasn’t too much more about it in this episode, what this will probably mean is that Sawamura, Azumane, and Nishinoya will be the only serve receivers in every rotation. Even if they decide to include Tanaka, which they might because he’s currently playing Power with Sawamura as Offside, this still means that Hinata and Tsukishima will never have to try and take the first ball. Against Aoba Jousai, this effectively means that they can never be picked on by Oikawa’s jump serve, which is a huge game-changer seeing as Hinata and Tsukishima are Karasuno’s worst serve-receivers.
At this point, I’m fairly convinced Karasuno’s new serve receive formation will give them a winning chance against Oikawa’s jump serve, especially given all the gameplay video that Ukai watched, so I was quite pleased (read, very very very pleased) to see that Oikawa had many more high-level volleyball techniques up his sleeve. His first one is technically still a “setter dump”, but he goes in with a full approach on the second ball and hits it with a full arm swing. Going up against a team where the setter will hit the second ball adds a new dimension to the game where the blockers now have to watch the setter extremely closely and more often than not, dedicate at least one blocker to him. This effectively makes the setter another decoy just like a middle running quicks, and forces opponents to thin out their blockers even more because now they have to watch the power, middle, offside, backrow pipe, and the setter. That’s three blockers against five potential attackers, making it increasingly more difficult to even put up a double-block at times. Oikawa’s second technique is a variation of his first one, where he fakes a full approach but changes to a jump set at the very last second. This technique is somewhat less realistic in competitive play, simply because the setter would be drifting towards the net from his approach and setting sideways while facing the net is much more difficult to control and to do without getting called for a “double hit” (i.e. a set that’s not clean because the ball didn’t leave both hands at the same time); however, it makes for a great “anime-esque” factor to watch for, much like Hinata and Kageyama’s monstrous quick.
Now as for the Kageyama/Oikawa rivalry, I have to say I absolutely love it because Oikawa isn’t exactly a character viewer’s hate. He’s just one we’re envious of because he’s good at the sport and with the ladies. He isn’t exactly arrogant either, as he recognizes that Kageyama has more natural talent than he does and quickly picks up on new techniques, which we saw at the end of the episode where Kageyama performed a “proper” setter dump that had everyone on Aoba Jousai guessing. (“Middle…? Outside…? Pipe!?”) Watching the ball drop gave me chills, thanks to the flashback where Kageyama watched Oikawa receive the best setter award in middle school, Kageyama’s in-your-face challenge to Oikawa afterward, and most of all, Oikawa’s aggravated reaction. That was great build-up on top of an episode that was all about build-up. It was made even better by the fact that Oikawa studied gameplay video of Karasuno and never saw Kagayama fake a jump set into a setter dump. With the match just underway, I can’t wait to see what other tricks both teams pull out for the rest of it. There was a small reminder that Yamaguchi is learning the jump float serve from Shimada Makoto (Maeno Tomoaki), so I fully expect we’ll see him sub in for some serves before this adaptation wraps up. If not in this match, then maybe the next.