Haikyu!! To The Top
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Haikyu!! To The Top (TV 4) ?
Despite being the captain, Daichi doesn't ever seem to get quite as much airtime as the other regular members of the team, so it's especially nice that this episode's first half primarily focuses on him. It's easy to forget that he's just as likely to be uptight or nervous as the other characters because his persona is something between “disciplinarian” and “stoic;” this episode reminds us that, yes, he's a teenager too, and just as prone to the same issues as anyone else. Nothing shows this quite like the nightmare the episode opens with – not only is it the first dream of the new year, which is considered prophetic by Japanese superstition, but it's a showcase for all of his worries: that the games are all over, that the team has been disbanded, that he'll have overseen the end of the Karasuno boys' volleyball team. There are definite signs that he's dreaming, but they're the kind of details that make perfect sense while you're in the dream, such as him showing up to practice in his game uniform and the fact that he's wearing number 11, not number 1. But in the moment, it's enough to make him very nervous and to acknowledge that Asahi doesn't have a monopoly on anxiety. (Or a fondness for dogs, apparently – Daichi's alarm sounds like a dog barking and one of Asahi's wishes at the temple is for his neighbor's old dog to be healthy. I knew he was my favorite character for a reason.)
The major difference is that Daichi tends to keep his worries to himself. Whether that's just part of his personality or something he feels he has to do as captain isn't entirely clear, but I'd suspect the former, because he doesn't even seem to talk about it with Suga, Asahi, or Kiyoko. In fact, after the four of them visit the shrine together for the new year, Daichi goes by himself to check on the gym, just in case it wasn't really a dream, and that seems to say that he'd rather not let them know that he's at least a little bit afraid that his dream was something more. (He does mention it to Tanaka, Hinata, Noya, and Kageyama when he finds them there, but in a curt tone of voice, like he doesn't want to lie but also doesn't want to explain.) Keeping it together seems important to him, and if he has to pull that off by focusing on everyone else's behavior, well, there are worse coping mechanisms and this one may be at least part of why he's a good captain.
What's really remarkable about this episode, however, is the way that it could have felt like padding between the training arc and the tournament but doesn't. Instead it uses the new year and the actual trip to Tokyo as a way to reinforce who everyone is and how they interact with each other, as well as react to stress, while also building up tension. Daichi forcibly reminding the team troublemakers – Hinata, Noya, and Tanaka – not to get up to their usual shenanigans before dumping their care and feeding on Ennoshita (which proves he knows Suga well), dovetails nicely with Hinata and Kageyama desperately needing to go for a run to work off their nervous energy. That Tsukishima really doesn't and has to be bribed with a bike to ride to keep an eye on them says just as much, as do the other coping methods the boys employ – Asahi and Yamaguchi reminding themselves that they are good, Tanaka and Noya freaking out over Kiyoko taking a bath, and Suga calmly doing homework all firmly remind us who everyone is as people. Since that's equally as important as their skill with the ball, it's a nice way to ease into things without feeling like the story's dragging.
Unfortunately, there are some very noticeable artistic issues here as well. Kageyama's remarkable lack of nose when he's jogging on New Year's Day is an indication of the issues with profiles in general this episode has, and there's something definitely off about the image of Daichi lean/sitting on a railing in terms of the perspective. The bath scene with Kiyoko and Hitoka also has some problems with Kiyoko's breasts, as if the animators weren't quite sure what they'd be doing in her position. (Actually, there are just problems with the upper female body in general, as Tanaka's childhood friend also looks a little off.) Despite all of this, however, the art manages to capture sleeping Noya with his hair down just fine, and since that's a departure from how he usually looks, it seems worth mentioning.
The actual tournament starts next week, and we've already gotten to see some old friends from other schools pop up. But before then, let's take a moment to think of poor Tanaka and Nishinoya, one of whom had his gods-given magic perv moment ruined and the other of whom discovered to his horror that his girl childhood friend grew up to actually look like a girl and froze. Tragic indeed.
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