Haikyu!! To The Top
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Haikyu!! To The Top (TV 4) ?
Do we need to cut away from Karasuno's match right in the middle? Maybe not, but it's definitely important to see what Nekoma's up to, and by putting it here Haikyu!! is ostensibly trying to hype us up for the possibility of the Dumpster Battle even more, because if either the cats or the crows lose now, it's destined to remain a dream. That doesn't mean it isn't a little annoying to suddenly break away from the Inarizaka match, but at least it'll whet our palates for the eventual return.
That said, this episode doesn't focus very much on Nekoma's actual game against Sarukawa. Most of the episode is spent in a flashback to the days before Kenma bleached his hair (and a brown-haired Kenma is always a little disconcerting). Again, there's a definite point to this – Sarukawa's plan is to focus not on scoring or blocking, but on wearing down Nekoma's “brain,” and since Kenma's mental speed is tied to his physical exhaustion, it's actually a pretty solid plan. It's even more of a good idea when you consider that there's a good chance that Nekoma can't quite tell what they're up to, potentially lulling the kitties into a false sense of security. Even if Kenma or Kuroo figure out what they're doing, there isn't much that they can do to combat it given Kenma's role as the setter. (At least, that's my assumption; it would hardly be an effective strategy if Kenma's part could be played by anyone.)
All of this necessitates showing us how Kenma was back when he first started playing for Nekoma, and even before. Despite being a very good volleyball player, his game love is, well, gaming – Kuroo recounts how he'd see Kenma's light on at five in the morning because he'd gotten up at two to play video games. (Kuroo, it should be noted, was out for a jog.) When he had to run laps, Kenma kept his mind off of how tired he was by imagining monsters and fantasy trappings along his way. As he said to Kuroo, it's not that he doesn't enjoy volleyball; it's just that it's not the be-all and end-all of his existence. That got him into trouble early on in high school with Tora, who basically lived and breathed the sport (or at least wanted people to think he did), but it seems everyone eventually figured out where his strengths lie…including his opponents, unfortunately.
Although there isn't much actual volleyball in this episode, there are some pretty great moments, mostly between Kenma and Tora, who, like two tomcats fighting, have to be separated by a bucket of water. (The scene where they're arguing over Tora's name is amazing just for that other guy running towards them with the bucket.) They all work in service of reminding us who the characters are as people, which is one of Haikyu!!'s persistent strengths as a series. Seeing Kenma sort of slinking up to the guys in front of the vending machine to the point where he freaks them out is a good reminder of how he really isn't a fan of standing out, while Kuroo yelling at him about video games messing up his sleep cycle tells us everything we need to know about their relationship. Tora's over-the-top posturing and annoyance at what he perceives as Kenma's lack of effort is another good piece of information; even though they get along now, something in Kenma's personality is always going to rub him the wrong way, just like how Kenma gets irritated at what he sees as Tora's need to stand out and try too hard. They feel like real people who have lives beyond the volleyball court, and that in turn helps us to be invested in their games, because they're not just automatons tossing a ball around. They're people, and wins and losses mean something to them, like the way the Nohebi player keeps showing up to watch Nekoma and Karasuno play after he lost.
We should see more actual gameplay next week, although we'll still be focused on Nekoma. But now that we've been reminded who they are as people, that should make the game that much better.
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