2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?
We know from watching it that 2.43 can portray a game of volleyball when it wants to. This episode itself opens on a flashback to a Fukuho practice game, showing off various cool little maneuvers that can make the sport entertaining to watch. But that ‘when it wants to’ qualifier has been the main asterisk on the action in this series, as it's consistently been happy to put the playing on the back-burner to try and drive up the personal dramatic stakes as much as the story possibly can. Such a priority reaches a whole new level this week: We'd straight skipped over two of Seiin's games, seemingly at the behest of getting to this hyped-up showdown with Fukuho sooner, only to spend all this episode's time in flashback, building up the struggles and dynamics of the characters even more. Shouldn't they have had that all taken care of by the time we got here?
The biggest issue with this choice in storytelling is that most of what we get out of the rewound focus on the boys' personal issues isn't exactly revelatory. Half of it focuses on Subaru's determination to lead Fukuho to the Spring Tournament, and the personal drive he has for doing so, while the other half highlights Seiin, their more discordant team dynamics, and some ways they worked past it. That contrast between the cohesion of these teams was an effective point leading up to this, but grinding along with more practice-based illustrations of it might be overselling the thematics a bit. This was the point where these diametrically-distinct teams were supposed to reach a climax!
If anything I'm frustrated with 2.43 repeating itself because it makes it harder to criticize without repeating myself. The main thing this delay brings me back to is the question of how much we're supposed to care about Fukuho as a presence in the long term. The one sliver of new information given here is that Subaru may have additional knee surgeries needed as he moves into playing in college, which could cost him some of that valuable game-time. There are interesting contemplations there regarding moving forward with playing for his own pleasure after he's not part of this high school team, and some brief meditations on the minor outside pressure of local fame that some hometown athletes can enjoy. But one way or the other, narrative logic dictates that Subaru and the rest of Fukuho won't have much to do with the story once this incipient tournament match is over. They work as a contrasted illustration of the kind of team Seiin ultimately is, the challenges they'll have to overcome. But an effective literary device does not an interesting character make, and as I said I'm repeating myself here, but couldn't these eleventh-hour extrapolations on Subaru have been served up while we were watching a volleyball game as well?
This fleeting focus on Fukuho even extends to the show's trademark structural gimmicks: The post-credits drama-bomb revealing that Ochi apparently suffered a pretty major injury as a result of...Subaru accidentally sitting on him. It is admittedly the kind of freak-accident turn I can enjoy in scripted storytelling, but the way it's deployed feels too much like a shock-value from-nowhere plot choice, which only worsens if you read it as the writing punishing the Fukuho team for getting along and having fun. It leads back to my question of populated plot priority from the previous paragraph: How instrumental to the journey of those titular boys from Seiin will this Ochi-injury soap opera turn out to be when all is said and done?
Seiin's side of the story this episode does at least go an interesting place or two on its own, even as we're checking our watches waiting for the big game to begin. We see some more examples of their coach's understated methods of manipulating them to work together better, but his style is a backdrop to the similarly-manipulative Aoki finally getting some time in the spotlight this week. Aoki's always been kind of an inscrutable troll in his methods, so naturally I enjoyed watching him, but him dropping the mask around Haijima here speaks both to his development as a character and that all-important growing closeness in Seiin overall. Basically, because Aoki doesn't see volleyball as anything other than a club, he's in this purely to put Shinichiro's wish over. He's coy about it, of course, but the way Aoki's affection for Shin shines through is endearing, and after the earlier establishment of Shinichiro's height issues, it was an amusing counterpoint to see the idea of a tall person self-conscious of their height who finds validation in volleyball. These are the kinds of ideas I'm fine with 2.43 finding time to focus on, and I even think waiting until now to get to it fits, given the kind of character Aoki is.
But that one solidly-explored concept can't paper over the inherent irony on vivid display with this episode: That for a show largely about the drive to play volleyball as much as possible, 2.43 sure doesn't seem terribly interested in playing volleyball. The crux of that contradiction leaves the show feeling even more confused than the zig-zagging time-scales it's playing with this week, though those also have the issue of making us question where the character's relationships were supposed to be between now, the game we saw last week, and the one we're about to go into. Maybe my misgivings here are for nought, and all this swirling setup will solidify into a worthwhile display of sports action next week. Or maybe they'll just go and do a flashback about Ochi instead.
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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