I was starting to wonder when Tsukishima would get some spotlight time, and right when I did, Haikyuu manages to squeeze some in–right between Kageyama and Oikawa’s subplots. Does this series know no bounds when it comes to seamlessly telling a great story? One subplot just flows into another in a way that feels so natural that I sometimes have to stop and remind myself about how we got here. Over the course of two and a half episodes centered around Karasuno’s game against Aoba Jousai, we’ve already seen the Kageyama/Oikawa rivalry, Tanaka’s personal struggles, Kageyama’s regression into his former ways, Sugawara’s “refreshing” influence on the team, and Karasuno overcoming Oikawa’s jump serve. However, the roller coaster ride doesn’t end there, as this week’s episode builds on that with Kageyama’s maturity as a player, Tsukishima’s time in the spotlight, and Oikawa’s past not to like about this series?
As for some specifics, it was great to see Kageyama get an ace on his first jump serve in after subbing back in for Sugawara. Getting the serve in was actually more important than taking a point from Aoba Jousai’s Libero, Watari Shinji (Arthur Lounsbery)–despite the statement that made–because it’s actually somewhat difficult to come off the bench and serve right away. The reason being, jump serving is all about getting into a rhythm to the point that it essentially comes down to muscle memory for the toss, the approach, and the arm swing. This is why opposing teams will often call a timeout to try and throw the server off, just like we saw Karasuno do when Oikawa was racking up points against them with his serve.
Following Kageyama’s jump serves, it was nice to see the focus shift to his relationship with Tsukishima, or lack thereof. Sugawara actually deserves spillover credit from last episode for getting Kageyama to talk to Tsukishima, but the Karasuno’s middle gets all the credit for keeping Aoba Jousai’s defence guessing as to whether he was going to tip or hit. At higher levels of volleyball, tipping is generally not perceived as being intimidated by your opponent’s block, but at a high school level it can be so Tsukishima definitely used that to his advantage. It just went to show that he sees his opponents blocks and defence better anyone realized.
Incidentally, this might be a good time to point out some volleyball specifics, starting with terminology differences between Japanese and English. What the Japanese call a “feint” is called a “tip”. What they call a “turn” is called a “cut” or “cut shot”. What they call a “toss” is called a “set”. And what they’ve been calling a “chance ball” (i.e. when your opponent unintentionally bumps the ball over the net or has to set it over because they run their offence) is called a “free ball”. The one term that does seem to be in common is “cross”, although in English this is usually expanded to “cross court”.
Next is the continued lack of defensive coverage down the “line”. While this is the first time I recall seeing a setter in the “1 position” (i.e. service position) during a hit, Kageyama was still standing in the shadow of Sawamura’s block and found himself diving to his right to try and dig the ball. Similarly, when Kageyama was in the front row blocking, Sawamura was in no man’s land by the net instead of covering the line. If they were both positioned where they should be, the ball would have been hit right at them. On the plus side, one example of proper coverage was Tanaka’s dig of a cross court hit. He was positioned just outside of the block’s shadow on the other side and the ball went right to him. Again, I don’t know if the anime and/or manga just doesn’t care to get these minor details just right, but given how this series has a high attention to detail about practically every other aspect of the sport, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt that this has been just an oversight.
In any case, the last half of this episode shifted focus to Oikawa’s struggles in middle school. I was a bit surprised when they dove into a full-on flashback sequence, but given that the episode still managed to wrap up the second set with a huge double-block by Kageyama and Tsukishima, it didn’t feel like it took away from the action and excitement one bit. If anything, it reiterated how good the pacing is in this adaptation, which can’t be said about a lot of anime these days that completely break the flow by devoting entire episodes to flashbacks. In addition, the flashback itself reiterated how Haikyuu is great at portraying all sides of the story, be it Karasuno’s or its opponents. In fact, I actually have a newfound respect for Aoba Jousai’s ace, Iwaizumi Hajime (Yoshino Hiroyuki), after seeing how he turned Oikawa’s game around by making him realize that volleyball is a team sport. This was when he was feeling pressure from above with Shiratorizawa and from below with a prodigy setter. Upon seeing that, I can’t really say if I’d want Karasuno or Aoba Jousai to win the match, because just like how Nishinoya respected Oikawa’s jump serve on set point, I respect how both teams have their own challenges that they want to overcome. Regardless of the outcome, the third set should be an awesome one.