2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team ?

Second chances don't come along for everyone. Of course, all of us spend our whole lives moving from one crossroads and opportunity for growth to the other, but a true do-over is a rare opportunity. So unlikely are the odds for such an occurrence that 2.43 Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team spends its first two full episodes without even having the titular boys on the titular team, instead laying out the circumstances surrounding two of the members that lead to what it, presumably, is actually going to be about. The odd meta-irony of this lengthy setup is that 2.43 also generates a second-chance for itself. Intense backstories are part and parcel of sports anime, but in this case all those juicy details present a rather different experience at the beginning than (I think?) the show will be following through on moving forward. That is, some of the nastier human drama framing all that setup in the first two episodes seems thus far to have alleviated somewhat, now that the boys are actually in high school.

The second episode presents a neat transition through that setup, making it clear that all the vicious bullying and attempted suicides and negative peer pressure from the beginning of 2.43 was more in service of establishing where the characters were coming from than showing us what the series was going to be ‘about’. It's rooted in that theme of second chances, as Haijima comes off of a catastrophic screw-up from his earlier middle-school volleyball career, and finds himself with a surprisingly straight shot to make up for it via another championship opportunity. Haijima's attitude and motivations in the wake of his penitent relocation are meant to be as obtuse to Kuroba and the others on the team as they are to us. For my part, I thought it came across like Haijima had learned his lesson and was earnestly trying to change: We see him patiently working through teaching and coaching the other boys, and the way he waited for Kuroba at the second match of the tournament speaks to him learning to have faith in his teammates. That change is spelled out when, contrary to the assumptions of Kuroba and the others, Haijima asserts that he can't win a match of volleyball on his own, and he knows it.

I don't want to get too deep into comparing 2.43 to Haikyu or make a habit of it; Haikyu may be an 800-pound bright-orange gorilla of a sports series about volleyball in particular, but subject matter doesn't preclude measuring anime like this against each other. Still, absorbing all the Haikyu I've watched has primed me for contrasting it with how 2.43 makes itself distinctive. The volleyball itself in 2.43, especially in the initial two episodes, feels much more grounded and procedural than the dynamic displays I associate with more aggressively-shonen sports series. I read that as being at the behest of all the character groundwork those episodes are laying; The volleyball in the middle-school portion of 2.43 is effectively the setting for Haijima and Kuroba's interpersonal drama, and it's easy to come away thinking that's going to be the primary focus all the way through, in a very Stars Align sort of way.

That would be fine, in my opinion. I find the misunderstanding of the second game in middle school and how it primes Kuroba to chase his own second chance into high school volleyball quite compelling. These two boys going after each other in attempts to right their off-rhythm screw-ups could make for a solid loop of storytelling. But as the title implies, there is indeed a whole team of boys to be focused on here, which is made clear in the third episode when we catch up with the volleyball team after a timeskip or two. Given that they'd just drawn me into Kuroba and Haijima's story, the way Seiin captain Shinichiro is introduced as the current main, focal character might have thrown me off, except he almost immediately became my favorite person in the show. Shin formally codifies an aspect at the heart of a lot of sports shows, a question that should have been gnawing at us since we observed those desperate middle-school struggles: Why do these kids want to play?

That there are different answers for everyone is the point, and turning that over as an idea would seem to be the intent behind 2.43's ensemble focus. Shin specifically seems to be the subject of misunderstanding by those questioning why someone of his stature is even trying to be on the volleyball team, but it quickly becomes apparent that he's not really into the sport because of his skill or potential at it, but simply because of how much he enjoys it (and really, after so much Haikyu, it is just a little funny to see so many characters dismissing the idea of a short volleyball player). Shin's effort and desire to win at volleyball comes simply from his earnest desire to play as many games as possible, and his positive outlook towards the game is brought out specifically by the high number of otherwise nasty attitudes on display from so many of the surrounding characters. It's a unique use of the show's earlier-established darkness to enhance what turns out to be a sunny center truly motivating it. Shin's disposition is already presented as a potential tempering influence on said heavier elements of the show, instrumental as he's been in starting to mend Kuroba and Haijima's friendship and bringing out the latter's own open enjoyment of the sport.

It rounds back to that second-chance aspect I mentioned at the beginning. If the establishing episodes of 2.43 seemed a bit too heavy and melodramatic to be your bag, I think the third episode, more representative of the show's true face a la Shin, may warrant another look. The creeping corners of a dark backstory are still there powering things, mind you, even coming back through a bit when Haijima has a brief lapse to his scornful, scolding ways. It's worth keeping an eye on, but I think the show still presents an arc of potential upswing. That's represented as well with the sport of volleyball itself stepping more into focus by that third episode. It's still comparatively clinical in its execution, and they haven't doled out too many technical details of the game beyond the net height (2.43 meters, in case you were wondering where that title came from). But then again, I've already learned enough volleyball tips and tricks from Haikyu for a lifetime, so I'm able to just sit back and appreciate how adding more teammates to focus on steps up the engagement of depicting the game. If I did have any complaints about the visuals as the show's progressed, it's that the move to a spring season means we aren't seeing any more of the lovingly-rendered snowy Fukui outskirts from the first couple episodes. Those backgrounds were a hell of a mood. Apart from that though, some smart advancements in terms of character, concept, and sport focus meant I was able to let myself get comfortably sucked into 2.43 by its third episode, which is pretty good news to have for a show that had me terrified as to where it would go when I'd only seen its first.

Rating:

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


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