From the back cover: “Thanks to their practice games with Tokyo’s powerhouse teams, Karasuno now has a whole new arsenal of weapons at their disposal. Hinata and Kageyama’s new quick set is also starting to come together! The Spring Tournament preliminaries are about to begin, and Karasuno starts their first official game with the hopes of turning all their frustrations and losses into victories!”
A consistently impressive aspect of this series is how it manages to humanize opposing teams in a relatable way. In the past, we had a not-so-great team that simply desired to be taken seriously. This time, we are introduced to two teams whose actions and methods might not match up with those of Karasuno or Nekoma, but they are still emotionally captivating.
The first team possessed the misfortune of facing Shiratorizawa in its first round of the last tournament. The score difference favored Shiratorizawa so greatly that during the set and match point, all motivation and drive was sucked from the underdogs to the point where they became apathetic toward even continuing the game. Entering this tournament, the team is filled with regret for not following through until the end and letting its former captain down. Managing to win their first round this time, they almost experience deja vu in the second round, facing a staggering point difference yet again, and they are faced with the same choice: accept the game as lost or push through until the bitter end.
The second team to receive focus is lacking the raw athletic talent of some of the bigger-names in the tournament. However, its members seem to have coaxed a incredibly tall first-year to join, despite him having virtually no volleyball experience. The team centers itself around supporting the new member’s towering height as its primary weapon, even at the cost of sacrificing due credit for the rest of the team. In order to pursue what they believe to be their best shot at winning, the team members support their goliath as best they can, despite the fact that it means the rest of them won’t get much time to shine.
Both of the teams are relatable for different reasons. Readers can’t help but empathize with the first team as they despair about their unlucky matchups and regrets. And the other team displays remarkable resolve in the fact that they are willing to sacrifice praise and cheers to their rookie in order to proceed in the tournament. Haruichi Furudate’s physical designs for some teams might be a little uninspired, but the personalities, ambitions, and resolve behind each one always manages to strike a unique chord. These are never throw-away teams. Each is a dynamic entity there struggling and fighting to reach a goal. And any one of them could be the one to strip Karasuno of its wings.
Regarding the rest of the volume, despite the main cast being an ensemble, it still seems like some characters aren’t getting enough focus. We do get brief time to spend with the non-starting second-years of Karasuno, but it’s just for minor commentary. Within the games, it still very much feels like the Hinata and Kageyama show. Granted, they are technically the main characters. Furudate does provide glimpses into how members of the rest of the team are polishing their own skills, providing Tsukishima especially with some development regarding his continued apathetic nature. These sorts of scenes almost always come between games, though. It would just be nice to get deeper inside the heads and psyches of the rest of the players more often while games are in progress. Other teams get this kind of treatment, but it’s been a while since Karasuno has received that sort of focus outside of the Freak Twins.
While not offering any shocking or “Wow!” moments, Volume 12 holds its own by highlighting internal dilemmas of teams other than Karasuno. Nothing in the art or action really stands out here, but through meaningful writing readers come to understand other drivers teams might have for competing or playing a certain way. Despite the emotional catharses and Karasuno encountering some challenging obstacles, the tension still doesn’t ramp up anywhere near what is has been in the past, leaving readers hungry for what’s sure to be some truly exciting battles to come with teams like Date Tech and Shiratorizawa in the mix.