There’s something of a trend in shounen series to have roughly one billion named characters. This is a double-edged sword – on the one hand, it certainly allows for us to have more characters to choose favorites from and for the author to play with and use to develop the storyline. On the other hand, it can get to the point where you need to keep a chart of names, and in this case, what teams they belong to, next to the TV or computer just to keep track of them all. If you’re already bad with names (ahem) then this can lead to a mild sense of panic every time someone new is introduced, especially if you have started thinking of characters as “the big guy” or “that one everyone likes.” So when this week’s episode named two more players on Date Tech’s team, I’ll admit to a sinking sensation, especially since Date Tech is one of the teams Karasuno has to eventually beat to be the top so the chances of Cockatoo Crest (Koganekawa) coming back and needing to be remembered are pretty good.
Koganekawa is Date Tech’s new first-year setter, and it’s clear that there are parallels being drawn between his team’s issues with him and Karasuno’s struggles to cope with their first-year whiz kids. Unlike Hinata and Kageyama, Koganekawa is of the more traditional height to play volleyball and not totally wrapped up in a sense of his own importance. He’s actually brimming with enthusiasm, but that’s a large part of the problem – he lets himself get caught up in the moment and his own strength, tossing balls that no one is able to hit or slamming into his teammates in an effort to be part of the famous iron wall. He’s got enormous potential, but like a Great Dane who has suddenly grown into his full size without realizing it, he just sort of crashes around, trying his hardest but causing problems where he intends to help. It’s clear that this is extremely frustrating to his fellows, perhaps summed up best by the imagery that ends their game against Aoba Johsai – the famed iron wall fracturing as a ball is spiked between Koganekawa’s up-stretched arms. It’s a bit of a cliché to show it so literally, but it really drives the point home – that if the wall is built with weak materials, it simply won’t hold up. This puts Date Tech in the same position Karasuno found themselves in at the end of season one – defeated by the superior players and tactics of Oikawa’s team in a very close game and feeling both rattled and depressed by it.
Hopefully that’s foretelling that Karasuno won’t have that same experience again, because Date Tech’s defeat means that Aoba Johsai is who our guys are up against next week. This is a high stakes game for them emotionally, although of course the whole “qualifying” issue is a big one as well. But more important for Kageyama and Hinata is that they are able to defeat Oikawa specifically. For Kageyama this will be an especially big deal, and it will be important for him to keep his ego and anger both in check. Has he matured enough to do that? It frankly feels like a toss up, though I also think that having them lose twice to the same team in the same situation would be some unfortunate storytelling, not accounting for all of the character growth that has brought us to this point.
And really this week’s episode is intended for us to think about that growth, using Date Tech as the Karasuno stand-ins. That doesn’t give this quite as much tension as previous games, in part simply because we don’t know the Date Tech team the same way we know Karasuno and, to an extent, Aoba Johsai. That makes it harder to get invested in them, particularly when Koganekawa is such a clear foil to the Karasuno first-years. For fans of Oikawa, we do get to see him run through some emotions and do some pretty great playing, and of course the ear-worm that is the Date Tech chant is back, but mostly this just feels like a match that could have been summed up in the first couple of minutes of the actual Karasuno vs Aoba Johsai episode. It is still good, but it just feels like a let down after the excitement of the past few weeks.