2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?
2.43 has always been interested in the motivations, the reasons its characters play volleyball. From Haijima and Shinichiro to the recently-introduced Subaru, much of it comes down to a hefty amount of love of the game, a desire to be on the courts playing matches as much as possible. But the show has also hinted at the paradox that motivation introduces to a team-based sport, and this week purposefully runs headfirst into it: When your chances at playing a sport are also dictated by the overall skill level of your team, your motivation for improving your teammates' abilities can't be 100% selfless. 2.43 has never been an ‘idealistic’ sports series, and this week's episode continuously contextualizes the behaviors and attitudes of the ‘aces’ of the teams in a way that requires us to question the motivations, conscious and subconscious, of those players.
The first half of the episode brings the titular Seiin back into focus for their promised practice match against Fukuho. Just on a presentational level, I was kind of blown away by how fast all the playing here felt. Yes it's a technically-inconsequential practice match, so we don't need to see every critical hit or point scored, and 2.43 has never been one to dwell too long on its volleyball-playing anyway. We do get little asides for some of the Fukuho players who aren't Subaru, like one guy's particular pre-serve double-handed dribble, or indications of Kouhei's nerves-based screwups. I do question how much we really need info like this, as 2.43 still hasn't defined even all the players on Seiin's side. But it at least adds beats that keep the game moving at a rapid pace, and marks the idiosyncrasies of volleyball play I'd previously felt were missing from the show's depictions of the sport.
It also humanizes the other players just enough so we can comprehend their relationship under Fukuho and the leadership of Subaru. Before the match, Subaru and Ochi observe Haijima and declare that he's the ‘backbone’ of Seiin, noting his controlling behavior towards Kuroba and extrapolating it to the others. This analysis proves incorrect in the latter part of this episode, but it's one that's more important to defining Subaru's character than Haijima's anyway. For all the implications that Subaru gets by as a safer, ‘nontoxic’ alternative to the classic drama that stalks Haijima, we see here that Fukuho's ace is still motivated by some of those same tendencies. He demands a motivating mantra from Ochi, so he can assure himself the Manager wants the same thing he wants. He encourages players like Kouhei not necessarily to make them feel better, but because he sees it as necessary to improve their playing. And he swoops in at critical moments, scoring as many hits as he can, getting the most play-action, ostensibly because he sees himself as the most capable member of the team required to perform such feats, but also, as we understand from the thesis of this show, because he personally wants to play as much as possible.
Is Subaru's shouldering of that responsibility of the Ace out of genuine want for what's best for the team as a whole, or is it purely ego? The truth is most likely a complicated mix of both, and the show never really lets us get into his head to clarify, presenting him mostly through the eyes of Ochi and other players. But we've only known Subaru for an episode and a half, and he's mostly just here as an introductory agent for that conflicting idea so we can see it more directly mulled over by our main team who are powered by nothing but drama! Haijima isn't quite the all-governing shot-caller he thinks he is, and thus his post-practice-match insistence that Shinichiro bench himself due to the supposed shortcomings of his shortness comes off like a colossal dick move. Haijima is a blunt person, perhaps even more than I've given him credit for, so there is a degree of barbed sense to the suggestion he makes. But it's tainted with the unspoken question of whether Haijima would be willing to stop himself from playing in a hypothetical situation where that would be best for the team (something we saw a glimpse of with him in the very first scene of the show, as a matter of fact), along with the implication that Shinichiro limiting his own playing would be at the behest of Haijima supposedly increasing his own total amount of game-time. It's a crucial contradiction, contrasting that the two players were previously in agreement that they wanted to be their best entirely to play as much as possible. It becomes a valid question of how the needs of the many versus those of the few intersect, and who should take the hit in participation for that.
Backing this up is the revelation, later at Kuroba's place, that Haijima is actually only dimly aware of the wrongness of his actions in middle school, and how that attitude has driven him to this day. It is something of a frustrating reversal, feeling like the show is still trading on the backpedal that Sota's suicide attempt wasn't really Haijima's fault, but they wisely gloss over that here. Instead Haijima's motivations are couched in his understanding that his own father shouldered some guilt and responsibility for the way things turned out with his son. With these articulations, I believe the writing of 2.43 thinks that Haijima was in the wrong, and is still coming to terms with that, parallel with the debate over Shinichiro playing. Haijima thinks pointing out the ways a team can become better overall is the obvious thing to do, and on the most basic level he's right, but he hasn't grasped that his motivations for doing so—to make sure he gets to play more overall—isn't excused just because he's not delivering those suggestions as a violent bully anymore. At the moment he's filled with a nagging, vague regret over his arguments and actions that he can't place, but in spite of his understanding of the mechanics of a team in this sport, he's completely oblivious to the emotional elements of them. It's exemplified so effectively in his refutation of Kuroba's own blunt attempts to work Haijima out of it, "When did this conversation become about us instead of me?".
Shinichiro does relent and bench himself, as revealed in this week's brief post-credits scene, but I definitely want the show to go more deeply into his reasoning for the decision beyond simply being pushed into it by Haijima. Contrary to the Fukuho players' assessments at the beginning of the episode, the Seiin boys directly assert that Shinichiro is the emotional backbone of the team. Compared to the likes of Subaru and Haijima, Shin's responsible support for the team comes off most genuine, and I can see his acquiescence as one for the total time of all those players, beyond Haijima's assertions. But overall, these are compelling concepts raised by this week's episode of 2.43, especially after the sidelong setup of the Fukuho component. It says a lot that even as some of the questionable backstory elements reared up a bit, I couldn't find myself too bothered by them as the story was working in all these ideas to follow and showing off the volleyball itself in a solidly tied-in way. I feel like I've still got a pretty rocky relationship with this series at the moment, but at least it seems to know it works better so long as it's distracting with density.
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