「流れを変える一本」 (Nagare wo Kaeru Ippon)
“The Point that Changes the Momentum”
Once again, Haikyuu surprises with its developments. Just when I thought this episode was going to focus entirely on Hinata being the ultimate decoy, it throws me a huge and unexpected
curve ball float serve–Yamaguchi subs in as a serve specialist for Karasuno. I was calling this since I picked up coverage of Haikyuu on episode fourteen (see the last paragraph in my impressions there), but I wasn’t expecting to see it in this adaptation let alone in the third set of a close match against Aoba Jousai. Because of this, I found myself pretty pumped up and getting goosebumps when I saw a nerve-racked Yamaguchi holding up a #10 sign to sub in for Hinata. Well, getting goosebumps and laughing at the same time since Ukai just threw poor Yamaguchi into a huge pressure situation where I could just smell the sweat-dripped stench on the court floor care of these guys.
The hilarity mixed well with the excitement–much like it tends to in Haikyuu–and led to what I was really hoping would be Yamaguchi’s brief moment to shine. He got the two-handed toss down perfectly, timed his approach well, and connected squarely on his arm swing, making the sight of the ball hitting the net’s tape a bit hard to believe. Aoba Jousai was caught off guard when they saw the float serve coming their way, so much like the episode title led me to believe, I thought this was going to be the “positive” point that causes the momentum swing. However, the fact that Yamaguchi missed his serve yet still relieved some pressure off his teammates was yet another example of how this series continues to be highly unpredictable in the best way possible. At the same time, it exemplified how difficult it is to sub in cold off the bench and be expected to serve–even for an experienced serve specialist (or “pinch server” as the Japanese call it).
As for the rest of Karasuno, this third set was an all-out last-ditch effort to try and beat Aoba Jousai, which left me wondering if they’d have anything left in the tank even if they were to advance to the next round. Everyone was giving it their all to keep rallies going, so we saw tons of desperate plays like Azumane diving for a soft-block touch by Hinata, Tanaka covering for his own hit with his foot (which was pretty nuts by volleyball standards), and Hinata following that up by face-planting himself to keep the bar in the air. All of that made for some pretty intense volleyball action, befitting of what will be the climax of this adaptation. It also helped me overlook the fact that the artwork quality (e.g. character faces, proportions) dipped dramatically in almost all of the distant shots this episode.
Leading up to all of the action, I was quite surprised to see the series highlight the rule that says a Libero is not allowed to set the ball when he’s in front of the attack line (i.e. three-meter/ten-foot line from the net). When Oikawa was forced to dig the first ball and called for Watari to take the second one, I actually took notice of how Watari jumped from the back row to set the ball backwards to Oikawa even before Ukai’s explained the Libero rule. As a back-row defensive specialist, the Libero is purposely forbidden to assist in offensive plays in the front row, meaning that if he sets the ball while he’s in the front row, any subsequent attack-hit by a teammate is considered illegal and will result in a point for the opposing team. Watari, who was apparently a setter before, was well aware of this rule and kept the play legal by jump setting from the back-row, much like how a back-row attack works.
In international volleyball, this is something you will never see due to the difficulty of jumping towards the net, turning one’s body 90 degrees, and stopping one’s momentum enough to be able to deliver a clean and controlled set. What normally happens is that another player, likely the back-row Power, will just give a safe and simple set to his counterpart in the front row (on the left side), or the Libero will remain in the back row and set it to the back-row Offside (i.e. right side) hitter. However, it makes for an entertaining anime-like play, because the player with the most control of the ball after a team’s setter is arguably their Libero, meaning that Watari was in a position where he could run all of Aoba Jousai’s offence despite the broken “scramble play”. What I find a bit odd though is that instead of utilizing all of his options in the front row (i.e. Power, Middle, or Offside), he decided to set the ball back to Oikawa in the back row (as if Oikawa was the Offside). The reason being, Watari could’ve much more easily set Oikawa from the back row because Oikawa was also in the back row, but I guess the back-row jump set kept Karasuno’s blockers guessing and Watari was able to delivery a much better set to Oikawa. And again, it provides much more of a “wow” factor from an anime perspective.
As for Hinata, I was equally surprised to see that his determination and stamina payed off when it opened up a pipe hit for Azumane but not when Karasuno had its back against the wall. From the get-go, this episode felt it was very geared towards highlighting Hinata’s character, so seeing him get absolutely “roofed” by Aoba Jousai’s three-man block was shocking to say the least. The split-second build-up and anticipation towards his hit strongly suggested that he was going to score a point too. As such, I have to chalk that up to Haikyuu’s incredible ability to keep me guessing and on the edge of my seat every rally. Right when I think Karasuno’s found a way to generate some momentum, the series takes that away and supplements it with something else. In this particular case, it was Kageyama taking notice of Oikawa’s jump set that allowed Aoba Jousai to set up a play from what should’ve been an “over-bump”, and then copying that move like he has a “Sharingan” from the Naruto universe.
Unlike Watari’s back-row jump set, both Oikawa’s jump set at the net and Kageyama’s one-hand, stretched-out, jump set at the net are plays that you’ll see in international volleyball. Both are still very impressive due to their difficulty. In Kageyama’s case, setting the ball with one hand only gives him so much power and control. All he can really do is set the ball about one-foot above the net, which is enough for a quick down the middle. In addition, setting the ball with one hand has a high chance of getting called for a “double hit” or a “carry”, which means the ball contacted the setter’s hand two times (e.g. palm and then fingers) or he held onto it longer than he’s allowed to. Evidently, Kageyama’s set was completely clean and saved the ball from Oikawa, which is why it was utterly awesome to see Hinata already in the air in anticipation of it. Simply put, Hinata read the play perfectly and gave Kageyama an option in a situation where it seemed like he had none.
The end result with Karasuno tying the game 24-24 means that someone has to win by two to take the set and the match. There’s no ceiling either, so we could be in for one heck of a ride before this adaptation wraps up. Judging from the preview, I suspect that the next episode will be all about winning by two, and finale the week after will be an epilogue of sorts in preparation for a potential season two. Either way, I can’t wait!
P.S. I loved the symbolism that showed how Oikawa (and the rest of Aoba Jousai) was finally within Karasuno’s grasp.