Haikyu!! To The Top
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Haikyu!! To The Top (TV 4) ?
As good as the training arc has been, we all know that the real meat of this season is the boys going to Tokyo for Nationals, so in some ways this episode feels like the payoff that we needed to explain the previous seven episodes. That's because this week we start to see what Hinata and Kageyama learned begin to really be put into practice, with bonus (snarky) commentary from Tsukishima, whose teammates seem to have forgotten how cutting he can be during his week-long absence from the team. Now things are really starting to come together for Karasuno again in their practice game against Date Tech as everyone starts to remember why they managed to qualify for Nationals in the first place.
What's particularly great is the way that we see everyone thinking and making the realization that if they want to keep improving, they can't just keep doing the same things over and over again. Hinata's unbounded enthusiasm alone has always made him a threat, but now he's got some new tricks to try out, and it's a marker of his personality that he doesn't object to the “get lost in the crowd” technique that Ukai suggests – in fact, he agrees to it before the words leave Ukai's mouth. Given how keen he is on scoring points, it's not a tactic that immediately comes to mind, despite his height giving him the perfect cover on the court, so what it really shows is that Hinata is more focused on scoring than on standing out. Yes, he wants to be the next Little Giant, but he recognizes that just being a skilled short player won't get him there – he has to vary his plays and that might mean not always being the focus of attention. It's something that someone like Kageyama, who still claims other players' points as “his,” wouldn't be able to accept, and it reminds us that Hinata's adaptability is one of his greatest skills, especially after honing it with a week of playing ball boy. Meanwhile players like Asahi and Tanaka are also pushing themselves to try new things; just because the ostensible protagonist of the series is Hinata, that doesn't mean that the rest of the team can be left out of the development, and that we spend a little time on them once again highlights one of the series' strengths.
On that front, another reason this episode works so well is that it's not all gameplay. We want Karasuno to win because we like them as characters, not just as “guys who play volleyball,” so it's important to have the moments of character interaction that we get this week. Kinoshita and Yamaguchi get an especially good one when it's time to call in a pinch server and they display the two types of student in any given classroom: Yamaguchi is Mr. Pick Me! Pick ME! while Kinoshita is trying desperately to hide in the back and avoid the teacher's gaze. True to my experience as a student, Ukai zeroes in on Kinoshita, who really is more than capable of serving well, even as it's clear that he really just wants the floor to open up and swallow him. It's a position we've seen Asahi in before as well, and he's come through it by repeated exposure to scrutiny as well, I suspect, as the amazing skill of tuning out everything and everyone that isn't involved in the actual game at hand, which is the only way I was ever able to get on stage. (Plus he's perfected his murder face, although he may not be entirely aware of that particular coping mechanism.) Kinoshita hasn't had that chance, and with the third years graduating, Ukai's going to need him to learn to function better in the spotlight – but that doesn't change the sympathy we feel at him being called out for his shyness.
Settling into what's expected may be one of the biggest threats to Karasuno right now. Daichi demonstrates this when he assumes that they've lost a match even though he just watched them win (and participated in the win), and Kageyama's frustration also suggests that he's aware of it as a potential problem, even if he's not articulate enough to say so. That's what makes Hinata such an important figure on the team, because absolutely no one knows what he's going to do and he's ready to do anything at all, and it's also why Kinoshita and the rest of the guys who aren't on the court at all times are worth paying attention to. They're the wild cards in a sense, and if Karasuno can use them well, they'll help keep everyone on their toes, teammates included.
Haikyu!! To The Top is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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