Ahhh, there’s a whole lot to unpack from this episode, and I don’t really know where to begin. Coming into this week I thought the biggest focus was going to be on the boy’s taking on the girl’s team in an exhibition match in which we get to see how much everyone has improved since their previous match. We get a couple of cool action shots of Shingo, but the primary focus of the episode stays on his little sister, his relationship with Tsubasa, Tsubasa’s familial troubles, and revisiting Nao’s problems from the previous episode. I’m not terribly upset that we weren’t able to see everyone actually play the sport, but I was kind of hoping for a little bit more. For those of you haven’t had a chance to start watching – this isn’t really a sports anime, but instead an anime about club members who just happen to play the sport and their struggles.
I’ll start off by talking about Shingo because his story overlaps the entire episode. Earlier in this anime we had a short clip of Shingo dancing with his little sister and we were led to believe that, generally, he was a happy kid and there wasn’t anything else going on behind the scenes. However, everything isn’t exactly what it seems. Shingo’s mom is generally distrustful of him and doesn’t really approve of his younger sister, An, spending more time with him than she needs to. At first, I thought that his mom was just incredibly over protective, but from the sounds of it, she isn’t actually his birth mother and he’s just someone she has to parent as a result of a new marriage… or something like that. She doesn’t treat him with the same motherly love that she provides to An, but I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly is driving her to act this way. With most of the other boys, I have been able to figure out what brings their parents to act a certain way, but with her… I haven’t managed to put 2 and 2 together yet. Perhaps, she has personal issues with Shingo’s birth mother or she just honestly doesn’t see him as part of the family because she isn’t his mother. I’m glad that Shingo’s father sticks up for him though! Sure, perhaps he could out right address it, but his father has shown that he is on his side and likewise, Shingo does see his father as some one to trust (as shown when Shingo runs inside after seeing Tsubasa). In fact, it’s his father that allows An to support her older brother, of course, that comes with a whole new bundle of troubles.
With An attending the exhibition match between the girls and boys team we revisit Nao where we left him off last week. Nao’s mom is very controlling and ultimately tries to forcefully sculpt her son into the perfect person, even down to which hand he uses to eat his food. (And as a side note, I don’t think that’s an unrealistic scenario. My younger brother did everything with his left hand when he was small, but my parents forced him into doing everything with his right hand. When asking them about it, they justified it by saying life was easier as a right-handed person so they wanted to help him out. So, I am assuming Nao’s mother was thinking the same thing). Ultimately, the opening with Nao and his mom really stressed me out! Especially with the animation and heartbeat? I really thought something bad was going to happen and I thought it was only going to get worse when she said she would personally talk to the adviser to get him removed from the club. No! Nao can’t leave the club! It’s not the same without all the members!
Though, his controlling mother really takes a toll on him and it ultimately leads to a delay in the start of the exhibition match. After An decides to go exploring on their own Nao finds her and locks her in the infirmary. Naturally, my first reaction was just “What the heck? Nao????” But as the episode played out, we see a reason for his actions. Were they good actions? No. But we get a deeper explanation. We’ve known since the beginning that Nao has been a pathological liar, and the rest of the team knows this as well. Essentially, because Nao’s mother rejects all of him in favor of her idealized version of what he should be he becomes distressed and lies. And for Nao, he is not fully aware of what is a lie and what isn’t. His understanding of reality becomes warped so while it is easy for other people to see when he is lying, he is unaware. I’m not entirely sure where exactly his reaction was coming from, once the boy’s team apologized, but it clearly had a significant impact from him. And when I say I wasn’t sure, I mean did it come as a realization of his lie? Or was this brought on by something else? Either way, I think it was good that Taiyo was there to stand by him.
But while we’re thinking about Nao’s reaction, I want to talk about Mitsue during the whole first half. If anyone was going to be upset or even indifferent about Shingo’s sister coming to the match it was going to be Mitsue. I definitely thought she was just going to shrug it off so I was really surprised when she was the one to chew Taiyo out for letting An wander to the bathroom by herself. I’ve never seen her so… animated, but thinking back on it, her worry definitely made me worry. But another thing! Her running straight to Rintaro was really surprising? Aside from general team interactions the other time I can think of anything between the two happening is when he cleaned off her shoes in the previous episode. It seemed a little strange, but Rintaro is a very reliable and good person – even though he doesn’t see himself that way. So, I’ll choose to believe that she went to him because he was the person she believed could help the most in that situation. Ultimately, the situation didn’t go as badly as I thought it could. I’m glad that Shingo could bring his little sister home safe and sound without causing additional conflict in the family.
Instead of focusing more on Shingo, we end up getting to see a bit of his partner’s, Tsubasa, life at home. Very quickly we see that Tsubasa’s brothers tease him about playing soft tennis rather than soccer. At the beginning, I could see that he wasn’t too thrilled about this, but as the banter continued it was just some brothers being brothers. But the moment his father opened the door to the room, the atmosphere completely changed. Without even words exchanged Tsubasa just got up to leave, which starts a whole confrontation with his father. As the confrontation, is brought to an immediate end Tsubasa ends up taking off despite his mother and siblings’ worries. Instead, he heads towards Shingo’s house where he is found and ultimately taken to the hospital. 1) I’m just as bummed as he and Shingo are when he’s told that he won’t be able to play for 2 months, but 2) it pained me to hear that doctor hint at what caused the injury and Tsubasa bite his tongue to say it was his own fault. Just… AAAHHHHHHH. It’s then explained that Tsubasa is the classic “I’m not as good as my brothers and I can’t live up to my parents expectation. So naturally, I’m the least favorite child and I’ll never be good enough.” And just watching the ending scene the park just hit me like a ton of bricks! It hit hard.
So, as stellar as I thought the last episode was, this episode (with Toma’s confrontation with Maki’s dad coming in close second) is the closest I’ve gotten to crying with this anime. I don’t think it was the most impactful episode we’ve had, but it certainly struck a chord and if I watched Tsubasa cry just a little bit more, I would have been sobbing by the end of it. I stand by what I said in the previous episode: These kids are brought together under the commonality to bad parenting, lack of self-confidence, or both. Not all of them are as severe as the other, but what matters is that it’s present and the club is a way for them to escape their situations, even just for a little bit.
If you asked me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted a resolution to all of their stories and all the conflict that was brought up, I would have said yes. But when I think on it more – I don’t think we’re going to get it and I’ve come to accept that. There isn’t some miracle fix for bad parenting or any of the situations they are facing. It’s not as if all the parent’s are going to come to the tournament see their kids and then suddenly things are going to be okay. No! Even if some have a slight change of heart there are long-lasting Emotional, Mental, and Physical scars that these kids will be left with. Do I think that some of the previous stories could be elaborated on a lot more? Heck yeah! I personally don’t believe there has been an adequate amount of time to explore all the characters and we still have more to go with only three episodes left. But I get the general gist of the impact that they are going for and at the end of the day I’m pretty okay with that.
I’m not too sure what next week will bring and at this point I don’t want to make predictions. I’m a little disappointed that there was no continuation of Yu’s story from last week, so I do hope they will touch upon it again, but I also know that the writers probably have a lot they want to share, so I’ll do my best and not predict what will happen in the coming episodes.