「先輩の実力」 (Senpai no Jitsuryoku)
“A Senior’s True Strength”
It’s Sugawara’s time to shine! We see the former starting setter play in a match for the first time and bestow his experience on the first-years, which proved to not only be a highlight for his character, but a pivotal turning point for Kageyama–the genius who picks up techniques from others at an inhuman rate. As hinted in last week’s preview, Kageyama does sub back in for Sugawara in the end, so my personal takeaway for this episode was definitely the impact that Sugawara has on the team from a morale and experience standpoint.
The morale portion was felt immediately with the way he smacked all his second and third-year teammates (minus Nishinoya), alleviating a lot of the pressure they were feeling, and followed suit with his constant encouragement after every play–an often overlooked aspect of volleyball that can be key to building players’ confidence and generating momentum. The experience portion on the other hand came primarily from his knowledge-sharing, which resulted in key plays to halt Aoba Jousai’s momentum. Together, those two factors rejuvenated Karasuno and breathed new life into their game, despite their eventual loss in the first set. It was great to see that despite giving up the first set, Karasuno wasn’t the least bit discouraged going into the second. Sugawara had accomplished what he was hoping to with his court time, and also made Ukai realize that he could use him as a strategic compliment to Kageyama rather than simply as a backup. It was also noteworthy to see that he stopped himself from saying “kate yo” (“win this”) and instead said “katsu zo” (“let’s win this”) at the end, which implied that Sugawara finally felt like he was part of the team again. That was a nice follow-up to the third-years’ play that scored them one more point before he was subbed off.
As for Kageyama himself, I like how he matured as a player and didn’t take being benched as hard as before. Evidently, Sugawara helped a lot in that regard as well when he told him that the setter change was just to mix things up and try to break the Aoba Jousai “flow” that they were getting caught up in. To that end, it worked well, but I don’t think even Ukai expected it to work as well as it did off the court. When watching a match from an outside perspective, one generally notices a lot more details and small nuances than they would while playing in the match. That’s why teams have coaches and why they study video footage of both their previous games and the games of their opponents. Sugawara actually made mention of this benefit in the episode, but because of his humble nature, didn’t really allude to the fact that he teaches Kageyama a lot just from the way he conducts himself on the court. For us viewers, Ennoshita served as the voice to get that point across though, suggesting to Kageyama to think about how he can best maximize the effectiveness of his hitters. From an overall perspective, I found that moment more pivotal to the story and the team’s valiant (and successful) effort in countering Oikawa’s serve–despite how exciting the latter was to watch–since it will undoubtedly directly attribute to Kageyama’s growth as a player and Karasuno’s chances of turning this match around in the next episode.
In terms of volleyball specifics, there wasn’t too much to talk about in this episode. I will point out that aiming serves between an opponent’s serve-receive “lanes” like Oikawa did in this episode is a tried-and-true strategy since it causes confusion. One of the main advantages of using a three-man serve receive is that it limits the number of lanes (and thus the confusion on who should take the first ball). The other bit of course is Karasuno’s use of a two-man serve receive to handle Oikawa’s jump serve. You will never see this in volleyball unless one of the three serve receivers is having difficulty handling a serve and the team decides to let the two other receivers cover more of the court. However, this is generally only done on an as-needed basis and not in a way that makes it clearly obvious to your opponent that you’re “hiding” one of your serve receivers. For anime purposes, I’ll admit it was kind of exciting to see, since it allowed Sawamura to shine as Karasuno’s captain. Incidentally, what’s interesting to note is that Karasuno’s starting rotation for the second set was set up as “Power, Setter, Middle”, which means they could have easily used a three-man serve receive. In any case, I suspect the team will be revising their serve-receive formations more as the series goes on, so for now, the focus will be on how Kageyama elevates his game in the next episode, which should be really exciting to see. I can’t wait!