The Battle of the Little Giants:
This was a very “GAHHHHHHHHHH” episode of Hypekyuu!!. For the first time since this tournament started, Karasuno are actually facing a challenge. Last week was all about Daichi leaving the court, Ennoshita stepping on, and Yamaguchi being afraid to stick with his serve, but this week was all about the action. With the characterisation and flashback out of the way, we’re bombarded with an array of plays – some that work, and some that don’t. But if there’s one thing the team lacks right now, it’s cohesion. It comes across on-screen, showing the poor defence the team has without Daichi (Hinata even steps in and does his part), but because they’re not performing as smoothly as they have in their previous matches, there’s a sense of tension and desperation in everyone’s moves which never fails to entertain.
Up until now there’d hadn’t been a real narrative to this match. Wakutani are a little too generalist to be that exciting, but with this episode we focus more on Hinata and Takeru as both of them look to the Little Giant for inspiration. While Takeru isn’t as small as Hinata or their shared hero, his play style is pretty much identical. Ukai sees it, and Hinata knows it – of the two, Takeru is the better player (and balances that with being the captain and keeping his team motived, to boot). It’s a shame that he’s a little boring, because he’s got the credentials to be a memorable opponent.
With that set up, the rest of the episode is a flurry of back-and-forths as both teams stay neck and neck for the entire third set. Hinata mucks up occasionally, but shows off some more spiderman skills and delivers some killer spikes; Asahi’s serve isn’t great at times, but Kageyama puts faith in him; Noya’s tossing isn’t the best quite yet, but he continues to lift spirits and keep everyone raring to go. Plenty of players got some time to both show off their passion and display their failures in a race to the 25 point mark. Compared to last week’s slow and character-focused episode, this was all guns blazing volleyball goodness.
But the key the Karasuno’s victory was Ennoshita. This was his first true match, and even though he screwed up more times than he’d like to admit, he did a brilliant job. He knows his teammates well, and acted as a stand-in captain should. As I said in my previous post, this match made Ennoshita one of my favourite characters of the series (in my top 5, I’d say), and while last episode saw all the moments leading up to this game, this week was all about him embracing the opportunity and fighting for victory. As Ukai pointed out, the success of his first major play was exactly what he needed. Up until that point he was feeling unsure and anxious about replacing Daichi, but from then on his spirits were lifted and he became a valuable member of the team – one that I would love to see more of in regular games.
But damn, that final point was just… amazing. It reminded me of when Karasuno were facing off against Datekou in the first season, when we got our finest moment of volleyball action when Hinata fooled them into thinking he was going for the spike… before Asahi popped up out of nowhere and saved the day. In terms of effective directing, this was probably the second best moment after that: the moment when the ball bounced back and the music stopped, and the camera followed the ball, panning down until Ennoshita came into the shot and delivered that save, followed by the heavy drums as Kageyama set up the serve and Hinata scored the final point. GAHHHHHHHH, it was so so good. I could watch that part on repeat (and I think I will). But as great as that felt, the aftermath of the match was just as powerful. We saw Ennoshita struggle with what he brought to the court, while Takeru kept his tears for when he was outside. It’s a shame we’ll likely never see him again (since he’s a third year and this’ll be his final match), but this is only the beginning of Ennoshita’s story. Daichi stood back and watched as the team’s next captain led the team to victory, and damn, what a victory it was.
Overview – What’s Next?:
I loved this match in the manga, and the anime has made me love it even more. Ennoshita got his much needed focus and set-up for when this tournament is over (and the third years graduate), but everyone else got to show their strengths and weaknesses once Daichi left the court. I’d say this was probably the best pure volleyball episode this season, but I suspect there will be a few more candidates for that title in the coming weeks. Looking ahead, it appears next episode looks is going to solely focus on Seijou vs Datekou as Karasuno (and us) find out who their opponent will be in the semi-finals of the Spring Preliminaries. Get hyped.