2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
Episode 8

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 8 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?

Haikyu has been a continued refrain of comparison to 2.43 for me already. So let me say that as a devout follower of the former anime, seeing a volleyball show where a major tournament match is completed in only a single episode feels just a little surreal! That's the stylistic difference between ‘shonen’ and ‘seinen’ pacing, I suppose, and continues to codify how there are just as many ways to portray teens playing volleyball as there are for people fighting or falling in love. The immediate takeaway from the passing of this match between Seiin and the green team known as Ikeda Biz is that the show won't be dwelling on the game-based drama the way it does its more internal character angst, which does do wonders for the ongoing pacing, but perhaps at the expense of everything feeling perhaps too glossed-over. That is, in this week's episode, 2.43 seems to not only realize it's had the potential to utilize its whole team ensemble, but also that it took a little too long to get all the way there.

A unique feature of the more discordant character arrangement of 2.43 is being able to show how easily things can unravel for a team with these kinds of trust issues. Shinichiro may have gone along with Haijima's request to take himself out of the starting lineup, but there's still a lot of confused feelings from everyone on that subject, creating opportunities for sink-or-swim life lessons. It's implicated as a wedge issue in the middle of the episode, as Haijima and Kuroba internally grapple with the possibility that Aoki, most staunchly supportive friend of Shin, may have missed a serve from Haijima on purpose in retaliation for his disruptive decisions. That lack of genuine communication, mixed together with the initial overconfidence they stepped into this seemingly no-name game with, immediately sets our heroes on the kind of stage-fright spiral we've seen Kuroba deal with before. It's not a case of teammates being able to support each other through tough times, rather, this is just the latest example that Seiin's worst enemy on the court is themselves.

That's the central idea, the overall arc holding this episode together, and it's bookended by following up on some of the effective ideas teased in past weeks. I've wondered for a while now about those light allusions to the alleged famous cleverness of Seiin's old coach, and he finally chimes in just a little bit here. His simple assertion of “If you're willing to put others on the line, you've gotta put yourself on the line too” is amusing as just a direct statement of what was an unspoken concern towards Haijima's suggestion last week. And there's a surprisingly simple gravitas to the way that's meant to broadly apply to all the players and uplift what they put out, performance-wise. In Kuroba's now-expected simple style, he takes that kind of urging to heart for Haijima, stepping up to carry and score with all the confidence of the ace the other members of the team instill in him throughout this episode. It's a way to show a positive spin on the singularly-spurred rebound we saw from Haijima much earlier in the series, as well as provide Kuroba his long-awaited ‘second chance’ in making up for his mistakes from that period.

The thing is, while that acceleration of that overall arc is certainly felt, cramming it all in over the course of the single episode perhaps exposes the pitfalls of those kinds of economics. All three of the sets in the match have their own beats, which feel like they could have been episodes on their own, given more breathing room. Going through all of them at once not only results in a rushed feeling to the characters overcoming those odds, it reduces the presentation of the game-playing itself. The actual volleyball practically comes off as a montage this week, a blur of hits and scores as we track the reactions of all those involved. The focus entirely on the folks at Seiin works with that, selling how their struggles against themselves are the main issue here. But even points where the plays made are specifically important, like that aforementioned miss by Aoki, get passed by so necessarily briskly that we don't get to meditate on them until the characters themselves spell out the issues. When I'm watching and trying to keep my head in the game figuring out why Haijima's head isn't in the game, and have to take a time-out a couple minutes later for him and Kuroba to discuss the possibility of inter-team sabotage, it comes off less as an organically-communicated inter-character issue. Instead it feels more like a problem entirely for momentary drama's sake, especially as they move past it just a couple minutes later anyway.

Most of the beats and beatings our boys overcome this episode have that twinge of a troubled feeling to them, almost like this is a recap episode for several longer episodes that don't actually exist. I like the parts the story is covering and the ideas it's expanding on in doing so; Haijima's humbling defensive performance out of necessity, Kuroba not actually being able to do everything himself and paving the way for Shin to make the final stand anyway. The near-total focus on volleyball, even powered as it is by internal character drama, shows that 2.43 can wield that kind of storytelling effectively apart from its earlier kinds of strife. I just question what its priorities in getting to that story are, to the point that it skips over two whole games in its post-credits scene this week! It's barely an acknowledgment of the lesson Haijima learned about putting himself on the line, or how the Seiin might have rallied around each other properly now, before we're propelled to the inevitably built-up match against Fukuho. It almost gives 2.43 a more obligatory, workmanlike feeling to the story it's tasked with telling now, and while I thought its earlier more melodramatic presentation could be a little much, speed-running the sports part of the show like this might come off as an overcorrection.

Rating:

2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.


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