I’m reminded by this episode of Haikyuu of just how difficult a series to write about this can be. Not because it’s not good – in fact it’s consistently anywhere between competent and superb, and sets a very high standard for sports anime – but because it’s not a show that leaves a whole lot unsaid. This is a series that’s much more about text than subtext. It’s a blast and usually has been throughout its three-plus seasons, but rarely is it any sort of a mystery.
I will say this, though. I was really feeling Hinata this week. In a way and to a degree I haven’t too often through Haikyuu’s run. I always like Shouyou and find him fun to pull for, don’t get me wrong. But he’s everything Haikyuu is in a nutshell – direct, eager, genki to a fault, and usually not too complicated. Hinata Shouyou is not a boy who has a lot of un-acted upon thoughts, never mind unspoken. Even if characters in his class are frankly a dime-a-dozen in sports anime, the majority of them aren’t executed this well.
This, however, is a pretty rare scenario for Shouyou. When he’s been presented with crises of confidence before – often related to his height – he’s been able to respond with action. Fight through his obstacles on the court – that’s the Shouyo way. Now, however, Washijou-sensei has placed him in his nightmare scenario. He’s doubting his own place in the world of elite volleyball, and he’s unable to do anything to erase those doubts. Being a ball bay may be active, but it’s not action in the existential sense. And passivity is not Shouyou’s natural state.
I think this underscores an essential element of Shouyou’s character. He’s basically selfish, to an unusual degree for a Japanese athlete. Of course he wants Karasuno to win, but Hinata defines himself by his own achievements. His goals are his goals. That’s why even with the Crows’ renaissance as a team, seeing Tobio and Tsukishima move ahead of him is a gut punch. And watching his internal struggle with this is some of the most genuinely compelling material we’ve seen from Haikyuu, not least because it’s so out of character for both Shouyou and the series.
The knockout blow comes when some of the Shiratorizawa third-years and alumni show up to challenge the first-year campers to a few games. Having Ushijima and Tendou gawk at him, wondering why the hell Karasuno’s #10 is shagging balls, is a humiliating reminder for Shouyo of what Washijou has reduced him to. “So… What are you even doing?” There’s no question Ushijima could have asked that would have hurt more, though that wasn’t his intention. And because Shouyou can’t answer it, he’s forced into a spell of introspection the likes of which we rarely see.
Hinata-kun is the hero – he’ll get through this. There’s no suspense on that score, though it’s really the process that matters here more than the result. That too is a rather Haikyuu way of being, I must say. This is a series whose consistency may be its strongest feature. Given that, it’s nice to that an element of reinvention is possible too.
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