2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?
I was under the impression that 2.43 was intended to be an ensemble piece, but I wouldn't have guessed that would entail us switching focus over to an entire other team for an episode! It's another function of format I'm admittedly familiar with thanks to the likes of Haikyu!!, showing off the next major competitor our main characters will be tackling to give an idea of the personal stakes involved for everyone. But the shift from 2.43 and the titular Seiin team to the previously-unseen Fukuho here is so total for nearly the entirety of the episode that it can't help but be a little jarring. It is, in that manner, similar to the switch to Shinichiro as viewpoint character we got for the third episode, and again confirms that the stages of Kuroba and Haijima's ongoing drama won't be the sole motivating factor of everything we see in this series. Whether what we get here is in fact engaging and entertaining on its own merits will likely depend on how easily you get drawn in by characters whose long-term presence in the narrative is currently uncertain.
The episode at least keeps things focused, as instead of insisting we get acquainted with the entire just-introduced team of Fukuho, we really just pay attention to two: The seemingly diametrically-skilled duo of team ace Subaru, and non-playing team manager Ochi. Their reflective core struggle calls back to the articulated issues of that aforementioned Shinichiro episode: The question of why people play this game and the usual answer of it being for the love of it. Ochi's issue isn't just a case of his initial injury preventing him from playing, it's his realization that, with his skill level, he wouldn't be missed at all compared to the critical likes of Subaru. He initially takes the suggestion of becoming team manager instead as a concession, an offer of pity for someone lacking every other way to participate in the sport at this point. Of course, he rationalizes, someone like Subaru suffering an injury wouldn't have such a possibility floated to him at all, and instead receives specially-attentive medical care and encouragement to work back up to his ace-playing status. It's a privilege of ability that Ochi demeans himself over lacking.
The idea of privilege snakes its way into a lot of the elements following Fukuho in our story this week, Ochi's struggles nested within the status of the team that speaks to the concept in the broader idea of high-school sports. Because for all of Ochi's wavering at the behest of his abilities and ultimate acquiescing at Subaru's encouragement to take the manager position, we're still incredibly aware that these characters are fortunate to find themselves with these kinds of choices. It's been hammered home in the previous episodes that the Seiin boys, especially the likes of Kuroba and Haijima, are struggling tooth-and-nail with more outer factors like troubled family members or bullying-intense teammate drama simply to maintain an allowance simply to play volleyball. And in spite of all that, their skills still mark them as an up-and-coming threat against the incumbent Fukuho team. As far as setting up a rivalry goes, that makes Fukuho an immediately salient foil in terms of “How good would Seiin be if they only had to worry about how skilled they were at volleyball?”
That's not to say that I feel 2.43 is totally underselling the internal struggles of Fukuho, because as I said, they articulate the internal effects of privilege as well, and are at least compelling enough to fill out the length of this episode. Indeed, over the course of it, it's heartening to see Ochi embrace and even excel in his manager role, making his own the job that he initially balked at being offered. And the concept of motivation is embodied there as well, him sticking with it to continue associating with the sport he clearly loves, and the teammate Subaru he's somewhat more nebulously smitten with. When we have the room and opportunity to work at something like high school sports detached from any distracting real-life drama, then we might find ourselves more complacent than we think with our status at the top compared to those beset by more struggles. Ochi is considered an effective manager of the strong team that is Fukuho, but he landed in that position because he didn't have the same elements of support afforded to someone of Subaru's athletic ability. Subaru, meanwhile, just starts to reckon this episode with the point that he's only in the top position at the top school by fortune of Haijima being passed over, at least partially due to his myriad attitude issues. Being ‘the best’ is rarely solely dependent on talent.
That's both the strongest point made by the episode and the oddest as an entry in the ongoing story of 2.43. The show tries to sell us on the particularly personal struggles of Fukuho, and it does communicate them. But we also know, structurally, that they're really only intended as an inter-tournament stepping stone for our real heroes at Seiin, and worse for them, the in-story media and audience are actively pushing this angle. Everyone loves an underdog story, of course, and even if they're new to us, the top school remaining at the top is going to feel boring to anyone seeing high school sports as the narrative of pure entertainment they ultimately are. And I think that leaves me with the issue of the show somewhat failing to instill in me the same level of engagement with Fukuho as I have with Seiin to make this rivalry feel meaningful. Because it's so bluntly demonstrated that Fukuho going home from the inter-high tournament empty-handed will simply mean a single year not defaulting to the aces of the region, whereas we know that playing volleyball as much as they can feels like the only reprieve the likes of Kuroba and Haijima have from the other, blunter struggles of their lives. It leaves me wondering how deeply I'm actually supposed to be invested in the story of the Fukuho characters, beyond simply seeing them as a contrast trumping up the struggles of the Seiin crew.
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