I gotta hand it to 2.43, here at the eleventh hour episode it's actually doing a pretty good job of getting me on-board with splitting the focus between Seiin and Fukuho. The parallels between the teams' motivations dial up the importance of this game itself, last one in the show we'll apparently be watching, and the increasing intensity between the two has me questioning more than ever who we'll actually see win. I don't think it's ever going to be Karasuno vs Nekoma or anything, but as a rivalry for the anime to ride to the season's finish, I must admit it do be hittin'. Maybe that was the open secret all along for 2.43: That to work well as a volleyball show, all it had to do was just be about volleyball.
That does naturally rob the series of some of its more unique tones from its earlier half, which even creates some dissonance so close to the finish line here. One of like four different emotional rebounds the Seiin team experiences over the course of this episode comes from Kuroba seeing a banner in his grandfather's calligraphy encouraging the team to victory. It prompts a decently heartfelt reflection on all the friends and family that have propelled Seiin along the way here, but comes off maybe a bit disingenuous when you consider how much family-adjacent drama haunted Kuroba's side of things in the beginning. Sure, at this point I'm a bit relieved that we aren't really dealing with family-leadership pressuring or cousin-adjacent street violence, but that only makes it ring weirder when you remind me of it this way and I go “Oh right, that was a thing the show was doing before, huh?”
On the opposite end, approach-wise, you have the way Seiin really comes together as a team this week. Any hint of the testing troubles between the boys which drove things initially are only gestured at in an esoteric way now, with the focus instead on how they've united to ‘protect’ Haijima and his carefully-crafted game plan in the face of the machine that is Fukuho. Haijima's seeming confusion over this kind of support is really the only nod the writing throws out to how things were before, their newfound unity seeming to come about as a result of vocal team leaders Shinichiro and Aoki getting behind how much they need to win this game now. It almost feels like we missed a key moment that shifted for the other players while we were focusing on Haijima and Kuroba dealing with the latter's bloody nose, which itself ties into the whole concept of ‘protection’ powering this episode. Playing for the sake of your teammates has risen to become one of the most recurrent, salient points of 2.43, and as the desire of all the players on the court to do so increases, so too does the intensity of the game as we see it this episode. That makes even an abrupt shift in the attitudes of the other players worth it, I think.
Because for all its more montage-based playing progression in the previous episode, this week's entry sees 2.43 lean much harder into finding new, creative ways (by its own standards) to show the actual sport of volleyball. To be sure, there are still a few montages mixed in here, but they play opposite things like the sheer tension afforded to Seiin scoring their 26th point in the fourth set, or the incredibly solid, dense sound work used coming off the deuce in the fifth set. They're driving up how the teams are actually playing better, more seriously as the game goes on. This is referenced in things like Haijima rallying the skills of his teammates by playing alongside them in a positive, encouraging way, or how the players on Fukuho's side, especially Subaru, are genuinely overjoyed to see Ochi back from the hospital. For all the drama and intensity in the show getting here, the show unequivocally presents the game of volleyball as fun, in this moment the players have reached.
That's the theme the series hits on this week, which resounds with its series-wide points and even puts to bed ancient worries I had when I first started this anime. The primarily focused-on players of 2.43 have that love of volleyball and desire to play it as much as possible as their driving motivation. Back in those early episodes I worried this might be a show to dive into the more miserable, self-sacrificial drive of extracurricular school sports seen in other, darker anime like this. But 2.43 has turned out to be committed to that love of the game, and doubles down on that this week to be a love of this particular game! Far from simply wanting to play through as much of the tournament as possible, both Haijima and Subaru by the end of this episode find themselves not wanting this specific match to end, so absorbed in the thrilling joy and satisfaction they find themselves engaging in. It worked on me too, finally finding myself able to enjoy the story of this game in the moment, grateful for Fukuho's presence powering it instead of questioning their importance once we move on. It's a vastly narrowed scope from where 2.43 started, but it arguably works better because of that focus. So caught up was I that I was actually disappointed that we went without a post-credits shocking-twist this week, instead stopping on the pure cliffhanger of the game's outcome itself. I guess I didn't want it to end either.