The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
How would you rate episode 1 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?
What is this?
After causing serious trouble on his Tokyo middle school's powerhouse volleyball team, Kimichika Haijima moves to his mother's hometown in Fukui where he spent his childhood, and reunites with his childhood friend Yuni Kuroba. The two grow as an ace duo but clash at their final middle school prefectural tournament and went on to their local Seiin High School without speaking to each other. With their arrival, the weak boys' volleyball team aims for nationals.
Content warning for prominent discussion of bullying and suicide.
How was the first episode?
I am not going to compare 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team to Haikyuu!!. Not just because it would be doing the new series a disservice to compare it to one of the best sports series of the last decade, but also because outside of being about volleyball teams, they just don't have much in common. By all appearances, 2.43 is a quieter, slower character piece with volleyball as setting, more like Stars Align and its relationship to soft tennis. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
For one thing, it's a beautiful show. The character acting is detailed and deliberate, with a lot of attention paid to the characters' body language during both practice and in conversation. Yuni and Chika both have their own physicality that speaks to who they are and their relationships with others. We only see a couple of locations in their snowy small town, but the rundown, shabby nature of the karaoke parlor where Yuni hangs out speaks volumes about the kind of place it is. It always seems to be sunrise or sunset, which is accurate to my experience of living above a certain latitude, and the colors are simply gorgeous.
The character writing is strong as well. There's a lot of showing, rather than telling, in their conversations, especially with Yuni, and it all seems true to life. Yuni and Chika get back into an easy rhythm despite the years separating them, as only old friends can. As Yuni's dirtbag friends mock him for having the audacity to put effort into his team, the tension of his embarrassment at being caught trying while not wanting to say something he can't take back in front of Chika is palpable and put me in mind of my dad, a high school teacher, grumbling about how trying is seen as uncool among kids these days.
The one and only thing I didn't like about the episode is how Yuni flirts with his cousin, who teases him about trying to get a glimpse of her woolen underwear. It's a small thing, especially considering how much more romantic tension there is between him and Chika, but weird and out of place. Still, 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team has come right out the gate with one of the best premieres of winter so far, and I'm excited to root for these boys.
It's incredibly tempting to compare 2.43 to the big, orange-haired elephant in the room that is Haikyu!!, its most obvious predecessor as a boys' volleyball sports anime. Just looking at the trailer or opening, you could easily spot dozens of shots and animation flourishes that, while not direct lifts from the Shonen Jump hit, are at the very least playing on the same court. But after watching just a few minutes of this premiere, that comparison felt less and less apt with every bit of dialogue. By the end of this premiere, the sports series that it felt most in line with wasn't any of the countless hot-blooded sports series out there, but rather the tragically-short Stars Align from a while back.
2.43 is a far cry from the infectious optimism of Haikyu!!, a point made clear from the opening moments as deuteragonist Chika silently berated his teammates from the sidelines, before overhearing a call from his coach that something very, very bad has happened to their missing teammate. The exact nature of that tragedy isn't stated outright til the dramatic end of the episode, but the implication is pretty obvious: Chika pushed and harassed a teammate to the point where the kid attempted suicide. That's an incredibly steep drop to start off with, and the shadow of that plays over the entire rest of the episode as Chika returns to his snowy hometown in the country and slowly reconnects with childhood friend Yuni through volleyball. That actually works in the show's favor, as its otherwise by-the-books sports story of a ragtag team coming together to get better becomes a game of suspense, as we wait for that other shoe to drop and Yuni to realize that his friend is kind of a volleyball sociopath.
Yuni is, comparatively, a more typical sports anime protagonist. He's chipper and eager to reunite with an old friend, but also grounded by a very teenage veneer of aloofness that he can't help but try to maintain. He'll insist he's not actually excited to see Chika again, before running with a stupid grin on his face to greet him outside school. He insists he just joined the volleyball club because it's an academic requirement, but can't resist visiting Chika's solo practice and eventually dragging the whole club into it. That tempered but still present earnestness is what saves this premiere from feeling like the angst-fest the opener invites, and it's all delivered with some really well-written dialogue. Tons of character and personality is communicated just through how our main characters talk to each other, and combined with strong direction and timing it made for probably the most engaging watch of any premiere so far.
It also just looks great. The short volleyball segments are wonderful on their own, but the environmental work and storyboarding are what really pulled me in. There's a sense of place to this show – from the just-too-small classroom at Yuni's backwater school, to the cozy karaoke booth he hangs out in with his adult cousin – that's really rare to see. Director Yasuhiro Kimura isn't a name I'm all that familiar with outside of his credits on Part 5 of Jojo's, but he's absolutely killing it here.
That said, the drama surrounding Chika is certain to be central to the story going forward, and how well the story handles it will be paramount to whether all that craft and promise amounts to anything worth watching. I also can't blame anyone put off by the fact that one of our main characters essentially bullied someone into attempted suicide, which is sure to touch a nerve with some viewers. Still, difficult and sensitive subject matter can make for compelling and meaningful art in the right hands, and right now I'm hopeful that 2.43 will be able to handle itself with aplomb.
The enduring success of the Haikyuu!! franchise virtually assured that another series about boys playing volleyball would pop up at some point, and also that when such a series appeared, rampant comparisons to Haikyuu!! would be inevitable. That brings us to this light novel-based series. Based on comparing the first episodes alone, if I had to choose which series I was going to follow, it would be this one.
Actually, I wouldn't follow either one, as it takes a special kind of sports series to get me interested and what this series achieves in the first episode does not meet that qualification. Still, I found this one to be more palatable than its predecessor, and a lot of that has to do with the character designs. I did not at all care for the design aesthetic of Haikyuu!!, but the look of this one is at least tolerable, and the personalities of the characters show better in their appearances. I also like better how the darker-edged intensity of co-protagonist Kimichika keeps him from feeling like just another genki guy jock; it makes him into a more intriguing character. As the end of the episode reveals, he previously let his passion get the better of him, with indirect but devastating consequences (an attempted suicide on the part of a boy he was basically bullying over his weak play is strongly implied). That is a real and serious issue, enough so that I am almost curious to see how it plays out.
The dynamic going on with Yuni's friend Yori, and Yori's college-aged smoking buddies, is also potentially interesting. This also seems less than innocent, and Yori seems less than thrilled to be spotted with the other guys. By comparison, Yuni's female cousin is a more typical figure in these kinds of stories; there has to be a token girl, after all. The animation in general looks pretty good, with some nice movement and angles on the volleyball play scenes, but nothing is all that dynamic about its presentation.
In all, this series seems like it has at least some potential, especially on the dramatic front. Whether or not that will be enough to hold the interest of those who don't normally care for sports series remains to be seen.
Well, it's no Haikyu!!, that's for sure. The comparison was inevitable, really – 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team is another series about a high school volleyball team that must pull itself up out of the muck in order to compete on at least a prefectural, if not later national, level, and as an added bonus, it features a surly blond guy with glasses as one of the characters. (He's more a combination of Tsukishima and Kageyama with a little extra asshole thrown in.) Apart from that, though, the two shows are very different in their approaches to the same subject matter, with the major difference being that Haikyu!! knows how to lighten the mood at times, while 2.43 is almost relentlessly dark.
As an approach to a sports underdog story, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this first episode introduces some themes that not all viewers are going to be okay with. One of the two leads, the aforementioned blond ass Chika, has had to move back to his rural northern hometown after he bullied another member of his school's team into a suicide attempt. So far he seems to just be unpleasant as he coaxes his new team into actually practicing, which may mean that he's learned his lesson, but that's still a heavy past to hang over the show's head. We also know that he's lost his mother and is now living away from his (presumably still alive) father, but also that he has basically no friends – which may include Yuni, his childhood buddy who he's sort of reconnecting with, mostly because Yuni is putting in the effort to be a friend to Chika. Of course, Yuni may have his own unsavory elements, too – he seems to hang out with his older cousin Yori and Yori's pals who, unless I've misread the situation, only tolerate Yuni for his family's money. There's also the implication that Yori lives with another cousin, Itoko, and her family, so there could be something going on there as well.
There's nothing wrong with taking this kind of approach, but it really does make for a pretty grim first episode. The dual factors of Haikyu!! being so good and only a couple of weeks in the past and my own distaste for bullying storylines may very well be making me think that I would rather watch almost anything else than another episode of this, because honestly I don't see myself being able to forgive Chika, no matter what backstory they give him. But even if I tuck those feelings away, this episode is lacking the dynamic art and animation of other good sports shows, and while I do appreciate the sort of rusted glory that the rural town has – it feels pretty true, especially in winter – there just isn't enough here for 2.43 to entice me.
It's no Haikyu!!, and while it doesn't need to be, it should at least make me want to see these guys develop and win, and this episode isn't giving me those feelings.
I'm the last person on Earth that any sports anime should expect to appeal to, so it's a testament to the quality of 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team that neither its subject matter nor its ridiculously awful title kept me from enjoying it a fair deal. David Production is an always reliable source of snappy, colorful production, and their work manages to capture the usual melodrama of Teenagers Doing Important Sports Stuff™ without becoming too listless or downbeat. The writing is also a notch above what I've come to expect from the soapier teen dramas – the dialogue shared between Chika, Yuni, and even Yori feels pretty naturalistic and relatable. (And before any of the fans start dousing their torches with kerosene, no, I'm not taking a dig at Haikyu!!. It seems fine, if all the Twitter GIFs I scroll past every day are any indication).
The biggest question mark hanging above this story's head for me at the moment is Chika himself, who is, to put it bluntly, an annoyingly smug asshole. That's not a bug in 2.43's code, I know; we eventually learn that his obsessiveness and sportier-than-thou attitude contributed to a former student's suicide attempt and led to Chika transferring back out to the boonies to be reunited with his childhood friend, Yuni. This anime clearly intends to be as much of a character study as a sports drama, but the thing with guys like Chika is that all the realistic teen douchery in the world doesn't amount to much unless said douche becomes interesting or engaging in some way.
The audience's foothold in that respect is clearly meant to be Yuni, the well-meaning slacker who very quickly falls back into friendship with the guy he hasn't seen since he was, like, five or six. Yuni is likeable enough, but the show hasn't quite sold me on his relationship with Chika, since I kept asking myself just why Yuni would want to be friends with a jerk like Chika, anyways. And before anyone mentions, I definitely didn't miss the fact that Yuni spent half of the episode blushing like mad, but not even my inner shipper could easily jump on board the Chuni train. Yuni deserves better friends and boyfriends, as far as I'm concerned. (Also, was Yuni really trying to sneak a peek at his cousin's panties? I know the pickings are slim out in the sticks, my dude, but damn).
Still, I imagine that fans of the genre will be happy with what 2.43 is serving up (heh), and it could very well become a genuinely compelling drama if the show is willing to reckon with Chika being a legitimately awful guy in a meaningful way. I'm content to remain on the sidelines myself, but I'll be keen to how my social media pals react to 2.43, especially since it will be competing with the memories of a certain other boys' volleyball show, and that's a mighty shadow to step out of, indeed.
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