by Lauren Orsini,
A good sports anime relies on kinetic energy—the more the characters are moving, the more engaged we should be. This episode of Kuroko's Basketball gave us one of the closest, most fast-paced games yet. It was never dull, but perhaps a bit difficult to follow.
The curtain rises on a cryptic statement by Hyuuga: “This is the first time” going up against Kaijo. For the Seirin captain, if they can't win this semifinal match, it doesn't matter if they win 100 practice matches. Throughout the episode, this theme of revenge continues. Theoretically, if Kaijo players feel like the underdogs, beaten once by Seirin and ready to rise again, they have the mental upper hand. But if Hyuuga can convince his team—and Kaijo—that this is no grudge match, there's a completely different mental context to the game.
I felt like Hyuuga and Teppei's miniature spat was really a mind game. Every episode of Kuroko's Basketball has one scene that lightens the mood, and this served that role. It's too deeply ingrained in viewers that Hyuuga and Teppei are old friends, and it's almost as if Hyuuga is egging Teppei along to calm his nerves and change the context of the game. After a Kaijo player tells Teppei “I can't possibly lose to somebody who just wants to win,” Hyuuga's goal is to distract his friend. So long as the players believe Kaijo's the underdog, Kaijo has that much more reason to win.
This episode had lightning-fast action. With Kise out of the game, Seirin and Kaijo are evenly matched, and the players zoom from one side of the court to another. In order to break down the game into various physical moves, the camera relies more on close-up shots than ever before. When Kuroko prepares for a pass, a picture of his hand fills the screen. As Kagami prepares to jump, we see only his feet. While Riko strategizes about the fourth quarter, we see only her rapidly dilating pupil. With so much going on, the show ensures that the most significant plays of the game totally fill up the screen and become impossible to miss. It's a fine solution for spotlighting the highlights, but I found myself depending more often than usual on shots of the scoreboard to determine who really was in the lead and by how much. Ordinarily, I depend on character speech and music cues to determine the score, but with a soundtrack consistently fit for an epic quest and so many people weighing in at once, it was harder than usual.
Akashi makes his grand return this episode, and makes a statement even as a side character. After Kise gets back on court, he notes, “Any later and they [Kaijo] might have been mentally broken.” It makes sense that Akashi would view a basketball game from a psychological standpoint, since his entire strategy relies on breaking people. Aomine and Momoi also make an adorable cameo. It's about time they end their coffee break and get back here. Courtside analysis from the Generation of Miracles is infinitely valuable for picking up cues in a game, especially when it's so fast paced that it's hard to tell what's happening otherwise.
In the final minutes of the Seirin Kaijo semifinal, the game could go either way. The plot dictates that Seirin wins, but against a monster like Kise, the question is how? I have a feeling that the next episode will help to make sense of this one, too.
Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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