The heat is on for Chiaki as we near the end of the first quarter. No matter how far ahead he thinks, he just continues to play right into Shinjo’s hands. As a result, his team is losing cohesiveness while Shinjo continues to gain confidence showing us just how fragile a Genius like Chiaki can be. And it wasn’t really until it was brought up in this episode that Chiaki has always been an incredibly confident character. For a while I just equated this to being aloof and carefree, especially when compared to the other characters who are often very focused and serious. But since he’s essentially the smartest guy in the room that confidence allows him to give off that carefree persona. So, seeing him struggle so much on the court is what really grabs me with the first half of this episode.
My favorite thing from this episode is how they opened the episode with Momoharu telling Chiaki to have faith that his teammates will back him up only to end the with the same sentiment from Kaname to Sora. Personally, with this idea of utilizing the team’s support will be the push the team needs to finally act as a cohesive team. At first when Momoharu approached Chiaki about trusting his teammates, my immediate thought was that it was a rather rude comment to make, albeit not on purpose. My reasoning for this was that it was kind of hard to take that sentiment seriously when Chiaki could see that he was unable to get the support to make the plays he was aiming for. Which by no means was the failure of Kuzu High; they’re just up against an incredibly sly and challenging opponent. As much as Chiaki is very aware of the skills and abilities of his teammates that can give them the advantage, he’s also very aware of when he can’t fully utilize his teammates due the decisions made by the other team. And so, he becomes flustered, thus giving Shinjo the advantage.
Now during the first portion of this episode, Kaname, has been taking notice as to what’s happening on the court namely by the way Takahashi manages to manipulate and expose Chiaki’s struggle and he becomes very interested in being put into the game. And he finally gets a shot, when Nao calls the team together and puts Sora as the point guard and Kaname as the center giving us the perfect chance to see him in action in a genuine match, and boy he did not let me down. I really enjoyed Kaname’s personality on the court, there’s sass to his actions. And the confidence he has with the sass is something that will help boost the morale of the team. He’s physically the weakest person on the team, but he definitely makes up for it in height and his hook shot. Given that he wasn’t in the starting lineup he also had the ability to observe the actions of the other team and ultimately come up with his own method to counter them. And so, he’s able to help put the pressure back onto Shinjo. And by him providing back up and support for the rest of the team, he can go to Sora to re-emphasize that they are not playing the game alone.
One other thing I really enjoyed about the episode was earlier on when Nao switched up the players. I think her state of “If benching Chiaki is enough to let our opponents run away with the game, then this team has no future no matter what they do”. I think it’s fantastic that it was brought up because it emphasizes that reliance on a single player can be absolutely detrimental. A team needs to be able to function with any combination of players. So, if the team falls apart without Chiaki, regardless of him being a cornerstone, there is certainly no way they could make it to the inter-high. And in a way, when she says that, it’s as if she’s challenging Sora to prove that they can work together to make it to their goal. Further, this is also another moment that highlights the “you aren’t alone, we will support you” narrative. The goal for Sora is to score points and the team will support him however they can, whether it be with incredible skills or lucky fake shots.
Since the team seems to be catching their groove again, I’m excited to see where the next episode will lead us. I wonder what new challenges Kuzu High will come across as Shinjo begins to plan their response.