Haikyu!! Second Season
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Haikyu!! Second Season ?
This week's episode has a focus on Aoba Johsai and on Kyotani, the Mad Dog, in particular. While normally I'm a big fan of how Haikyu takes the time to pay attention to rival teams and flesh out side characters, I found my attention flagging for the first half of this episode. I think this is because last week did such a good job making the game between Karasuno and Aoba Johsai tense – the stakes are high going into a third set, Karasuno is on tenterhooks, and no one is sure who's going to prevail: the underdog or the usual champion. To interrupt this intensity with flashbacks to Kyotani's past felt like padding, an attempt to draw the game out. This is likely because Kyotani's flashbacks aren't nearly as in-depth as others have been. He's a loner, okay, he watched some sort of major international tournament as a small child with normal hair and was impressed by a player with bleached locks, and…what? Why did he suddenly show up on the team? What makes the other players, especially number 6, so angry about that? It feels like such a standard Bad Stuff Happened past that it really takes away from the game. That's a shame, because not only is this the same game with so much at stake that they've been playing for a few episodes, but there's also some excellent team direction from Oikawa that gets swept under the rug (one comment from Sugawara doesn't quite cut it), and Tsukishima's strategic mind is only barely acknowledged. It makes sense that Hinata's skill is being kept on the back burner until things truly get desperate (next week), but Kyotani is too much of a one-note player to be able to carry the majority of an episode.
Happily, there is one facet of the Mad Dog story that's handled well, and that's the clash between him and Tanaka. The two really get on each other's nerves, and the shots of them glaring at each other through the net remind us that there's something kind of similar about them, right down to their character designs. Tanaka annoys Kyotani to the point where he gets even more crazed, although neither of them seems to understand the effect they have on each other. It's kind of delightful that one of Karasuno's greatest weapons is Tanaka's obnoxiousness, and it highlights once again how the characters are just as important as the games they play.
Of course, the episode title of “Team” certainly leads to the assumption that this week is more about how the guys all work together than each player alone. That feels partially true, although there's an awful lot of focus on Oikawa as a stand-alone player for that particular message. The whole Kyotani segment is meant to show how he's unable to fit in with the other players in his rabid playstyle, whereas Karasuno has largely overcome that issue. Of course, we're more told that than shown that Karasuno is great as a team as well as individual players. This can be excused because that was pretty much the point of the entire first half of the season, showing them growing together as a team, but just being reminded of that once again makes the episode feel dragged out, as the series tries to keep it going for the remaining episodes.
But they pull it together in the end. Once the Kyotani stuff is over and done with, the focus shifts back to Karasuno and Hinata, with the promise of more exciting gameplay next week. This is also when the music picks back up (although it's pretty strong throughout, especially one track with a good drumbeat), and while there aren't a lot of visually stunning plays, it still looks good when it counts. By the end of the episode I was back on the edge of my seat – and hoping that next week's episode will keep me there.
Haikyu!! Second Season is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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