Not gonna lie, I felt pretty disappointed at first when they kept switching to backstory time while in the midst of Nekoma vs Sarukawa. I hate breaking the action to focus on other things, but Haikyuu has an interesting way of twisting my expectations. It always makes me care more about characters I didn’t really find interesting or feel the need to know more about. And while the Land vs Air ova’s made me care a lot about the third years and to an extent, Lev, this episode made me care a lot more about the second years. And I didn’t realize I needed Kenma and Tora bonding flashback until now.
I’m glad that we’re getting a Nekoma intervention during the lull between sets in the Karasuno vs Inarizaki match, especially since Nekoma is being set up to be Karasuno’s possible next match or at least a future match within nationals to fulfill the promise of the “Battle at the Garbage Dump.” But with this match (and flashback) we also get to break up the pace a little and learn more about Nekoma characters so that we don’t get another season of just Karasuno vs whatever team like they did in the third season.
Already, this episode sets up that Kenma is going to be the focus of this match. Especially since Sarukawa are trying to force him to use up more energy to wear him out, knowing full well that he is the brain of Nekoma. And they are definitely having him move a lot more than he normally does. It makes me worried because I remember what happened with Kageyama in his match with Shiratorizawa. While that match was 5 sets, it still shows how draining the sets can be for a setter and with Kenma’s already lower stamina, it might be easier to wear him out. This match is definitely going to come down to stamina as both are very defense-based since the coach was an alumni from Nekoma and was under Nekomata’s coaching. So I’m worried for Kenma’s state.
I have this weird relationship with Kenma. When he first appeared, he was one of my favorites. But then when he didn’t show up very much, I kind of forgot about him and became indifferent. He’d show up again now and then, and while I found him amusing, he wasn’t really one of my favorites anymore. Now even with this episode, I wouldn’t consider him a top favorite, but I definitely appreciate him a lot more and he’s still amusing as heck. There’s a lot more to him than that lazy but genius exterior as he pays attention to the emotional state of others and in his own way wants to help, which especially shone when interacting with Tora in the flashback. And while he is arguably terrible at interacting with others, he at least tries to open up to others, advice he took to heart from Kuroo.
Also can we talk about how adorable it was to see him pretend to be running in a video game setting while doing laps?
Just like Kuroo’s relationship with Yaku, Kenma’s relationship with Tora started out rocky if not mildly antagonistic. Kenma just viewed Tora as loud and obnoxious, unable to understand why he yelled about guts all the times. While Tora viewed Kenma as someone who lacked motivation or “guts” and it frustrates him that Kenma he didn’t give it his all and is still a decent player. The two were polar opposites and I feel like they could have easily just had Tora bully Kenma, but I’m so glad that it was more multifaceted. And it was pretty funny to see Kenma fight back at times when Tora tries to rile him up.
There is a running theme throughout the episode of comparing the two of them and judging from Tora’s inner thoughts, he seems to be constantly comparing himself to Kenma. While Tora seemed to excel over Kenma in athleticism, Kenma proved to be better in a match by staying calm and thinking things through. Especially when Tora admits that he gets distracted by the ball and would instinctually go after it (like a cat lol). And while Kenma doesn’t get along with him, he does genuinely seem worried about Tora’s mental state and even tried to offer some advice to him. However, Tora throws it back at him out of frustration since he messed up so much in the match while Kenma was praised. The two eventually have their first blow up fight (which was very reminiscent of the Hinata and Kageyama fight) and the animation had no right to be as good as it was when Tora grabbed Kenma by the collar. Also I know it’s a serious moment, but I died at the fact that it took Kenma a moment to process that he was aggressively being approached until it was too late lol.
Neither one of them are wrong in how they do things, but it was all just a couple of different perspectives clashing with one another. And it was funny how Kenma would yell out all of this game jargon at Tora to try and prove his point. But it does seem like Tora started to respect Kenma a bit more afterwards as he seemed friendlier towards him and finally started understanding his motivations (or lack of lol). He even related to his feelings of hating to lose and started silently observing Kenma to try and understand him better. While we don’t get too much of Kenma’s thoughts on Tora’s positives, we can see by how he’ll send him many confident tosses in their first tournament together that he views him as a reliable teammate. To which both mentally agreed they’re glad that they’re on the same team. Enough that Tora even considers Kenma his friend and has them call each other by their first names. Which was very sweet (even if they got into another fight over it) and it was even sweeter when I realized that Kenma and Tora match in terms of hair color as they first started out with black hair and eventually dyed it to be both black and blond. THEIR SIGN OF FRIENDSHIP.
I never really cared about Tora that much when he first appeared. I pegged him as just another Tanaka, but Haikyuu just has a way to flesh out so many of its characters. After this episode, Tora definitely stands out as his own character and not a Tanaka rip-off. They have their similarities for sure, but Tora definitely does not have the mental fortitude and simple mindset that Tanaka is known for. Tora is more challenging to those around him and constantly tries to build himself up by comparing himself to others. However, he also takes time to observe others and try to understand why they do things. Looking back at the series, his friendship with Kenma was shown in very subtle ways in the first and second seasons. But now that I think back on them, it’s very touching. Especially when he’s very quick to try and defend Kenma.
There was a rather funny mistranslation when Kenma said that Fukunaga was “pretty.” What he actually said was “omoshiroi” which translates to “interesting/amusing.” So what I think they were trying to portray was “You’re pretty funny, Fukunaga” but somehow forgot “omoshiroi” and just left it at “pretty,” which is hilarious lol.
Speaking of Fukunaga, I was always kind of interested in him because of how he looked the most cat-like out of everyone with his wide eyes and slit-like pupils. And while the episode was far more focused on Tora and Kenma, Fukunaga stole the show a little bit with how hilarious his antics are. When Kenma and Tora were fighting again, I just absolutely died when Fukunaga was running towards them with a water bucket in the background. He freaking laughs at his own jokes and is just all around such a weirdo and I love him.
I love the action in Haikyuu, but I also love the introspection on so many different characters that makes me appreciate them more after learning more about what drives their characters. Or in Fukunaga’s case how quirky they can be. I really loved this episode and I’m looking forward to see where this match will play out and if they’ll give me more Kenma and Tora friendship moments. Because now that I’ve seen their history together, I want to see more.
Also can we take a moment to appreciate just how much of a mom Kuroo is to Kenma lol.