Karasuno’s Crows make volleyball look easy. Me? My friends actually banned me from touching a volleyball. Let’s just say I gave them a lot of exercise retrieving the ball.
The training camp continues this volume. Picking up where we left off last time, the Crows continue to polish their new strategies. Sort of like a man of culture polishing his fine silverware. Except instead of tarnishing, the silverware has just become a clump of rust. And instead of a sponge or rag, the man is using clumps of broken bricks. The new strategies, including the synchro attack and Kageyama’s new setting technique (and by association the new Freak Quick with Hinata), are so far from working that Karasuno continues to lose practically every game, appearing totally dysfunctional before their rivals. The beauty of this volume lies in watching as specks of silver begin to shine through as the camp progresses, and by the end of the volume, many of their new techniques are actually beginning to yield results. Karasuno is becoming a jack of all trades, as noted by the Owls during the final game as they moan about having to face Karasuno again because they never know what kind of crazy stunt they’ll try to pull next. Even if Karasuno can’t master all of its techniques for the upcoming tournament, the sheer surprise factor the team can bring to the table could be enough to swing a game’s momentum on its own against unsuspecting opponents.
One of the best features about these improvements is how the Crows do not simply practice by themselves. Besides simply practicing into the night with other teams, they are given strategy advice and tips by the members of the other teams as well. During a 3 on 3 game between various members of the Crows, Cats, and Owls, Hinata is informed of a new way of battling blockers by Bokuto, and Tsukishima receives blocking pointers from Kuroo. With Tsukishima being somewhat humbled by the actions of Yamaguchi last volume, he heeds the advice, as does an energetic Hinata. Both are able to utilize their new tactics in the final games of the training camp with great success. The camaraderie among these teams is heartwarming, especially when compared to Blue Castle or other elite teams. It’s rewarding to see that these interactions breed positive change and not merely rivalries.
If I have a complaint about the Crows’ progression, it’s that there isn’t an equivalent exchange of information among the teams. The other teams seem more than willing to help out the Crows, claiming it’s good practice for them to strengthen their sparring partners (and because the Cats really want to make the “Dumpster Battle” happen). But Karasuno really never gives anything back to the other teams. It would have been a nice touch had another team attempted the freak quick or something else specific to Karasuno. While the Crows are obviously the most in need of advice out of the teams present, I feel they still had something to offer the other teams. There’s no give and take when it comes to Karasuno here – only take.
With this volume and the previous one, we’ve added even more teams to the list of characters to keep up with. I don’t mind the series having a lot of characters. That’s to be expected in a sports series, especially one like this where the mangaka tries to show both teams’ perspectives during a match. But the issue is that, aside from one or two stand-out characters on each team, a lot of character designs are similar and somewhat uninspired. Not to mention they all get dumped into the story at the same time during team introductions. If you lined up every character in the series next to each other and asked me to match them all with their respective teams, I’d probably get half of them wrong because they’re so umemorable. It’s fine if the focus is never intended to shift to them, but we’ll almost certainly be thrown into the position of rooting for these other teams in the near future. And I’d rather root for the team as a whole than root for just Bokuto, AKA the only member of the Owls who is recognizable.
The humor in Haikyu!! continues to be a strong point in this volume (Kageyama’s addition to the “meat train” had me laughing out loud, a rarity for me.). Kuroo’s sarcasm, while provocative, is usually pretty entertaining, especially when he elicits annoyed reactions from others. I’m happy we’ve been able to spend more time with him during this mini-arc, as he’s a really enjoyable character to follow. I do want to point out some of the best and most enjoyable humor comes from Nishinoya, Tanaka, and Tora guarding Shimizu like hawks (or are they crows?). While shonen manga often use these kinds of one-sided crushes as vehicles for awkward ecchi situations or otherwise perverted humor, this series simply plays these guys off as being childishly (and enthusiastically) protective of their crush. The purity of the guys’ motivations are refreshingly heartwarming, as well as hilarious. You can’t help but root for them.
Fairly relaxed overall, this volume provides a satisfying end to the training camp, a mini-arc that I was afraid was going to end up dragging on too long, and offers new characters for readers to root for during the upcoming tournament. While it’s good to see Karasuno’s gears slowly falling into place, we still have yet to see anything special from Azumane, Sawamura, or Tanaka, not to mention the benchwarmers. I do hope they’ll all get their time in the spotlight soon. Last, I hope we do encounter some more internal conflicts for the team in the future. The triangle conflict between Sugawara, Azumane, and Nishinoya early on produced really strong characterization, and lately we’ve had the Tsukishima conflict and the somehow less-interesting (maybe it’s just me) spat between Kageyama and Hinata. With the tournament starting up and everything starting to run smoothly again for the team, I just hope these characters show they still have room to grow emotionally as well as physically.