Haikyu!! Second Season
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Haikyu!! Second Season ?
Who doesn't love to root for the underdog? It's the ultimate fantasy – the one who looks like he doesn't stand a chance, who has a history of not quite getting it, finally coming out on top when it really matters. This week's episode is that story, and while we did get it to a degree with Ennoshita, it's somehow even more satisfying when the hero of the day is Yamaguchi. For what felt like a huge swathe of episodes we didn't even know his name as he hung back behind the more powerful, and more notable, Tsukishima, giving him a C-list feel when compared to the other team members. He didn't do a bang-up job the first time he was put in as a pinch server, so it would be excusable if we just assumed him to be the friend whose presence was just to make Tsukishima appear more human – look, he's got a loser friend, whom he clearly likes, he can't be all bad. All of that is why this episode of Haikyu is so triumphant, even if the end result isn't necessarily: because Yamaguchi gets to prove all of the assumptions wrong.
As this episode points out, serving in volleyball is the one solitary play in the team sport, the only moment when everything relies on a single player. The amount of pressure, which clearly comes through the screen, must be even more intense in person, so it seems a bit harsh to refer to Yamaguchi as a “former coward” as the episode title does. Regardless, this is the moment when he gets the chance to essentially prove his worth to himself (the team is close-knit enough that I doubt there'd be any real shunning if he screwed up) and make himself feel that he has a right to play alongside the more skilled boys. And my oh my, does he do it. Repeatedly. It's awesome for the team as a whole and for their ever-closer second set against Aoba Johsai, but it's even better to see Yamaguchi's self-esteem rise with each serve, along with the disbelief that people are cheering for him. We spent so much time focusing on how unbelievably amazing and talented Hinata, Kageyama, Asahi, and Tsukishima are, and the comeback of the Karasuno team as a whole, that the traditional underdog player storyline was almost forgotten, which makes it all the better here.
None of this is to say that this isn't still a very tense episode, especially if you forget that there's the possibility of a third set like I did. Both teams are on edge, and the audience is ready to cheer for pretty much whomever, the tensions are so high. The play is fast and painful looking, with one ball being returned via a blow from the inside of a wrist and another from a whole-body catch. Slow preparatory breaths give way to light speed action, and the animation pays special attention the muscles moving in the legs of the players (especially Oikawa) along with a lot of ball's eye views of the court. I found the music slightly less effective this time, but its more unobtrusive quality did allow for more focus on the little details, so that may not be an entirely bad thing. As usual there are some funny moments for tension relief throughout, though they decrease as the episode goes on.
There's one set left in this match between Karasuno and Aoba Johsai and three episodes in the season. In another show I might doubt the ability to stretch this game out, but in this case, I'm just wondering how we viewers can make it with three weeks left until we know who wins.
Haikyu!! Second Season is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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