You know what's great about Haikyu!!? I've read past the arc the anime is currently on but I'm just as nervous every episode as if I hadn't. That means that even with new character designs (which, in all fairness, are closer to the manga's look), even with less-than-stellar animation like we had in episode fifteen, even with Karasuno's alternate uniforms making them look more like they're ready for hunting season than a game of volleyball, somehow this series continues to deliver.
One of the ways that it pulls this off is the combination of focusing on varying individuals in each episode. Episode sixteen, for example, is Tanaka's, and it's good to have a reminder early in the season that he's much more self-aware than he likes to let on. Tanaka's method of getting through life is to be as loud and as brash as possible, and those character traits aren't ones that often indicate a whole lot of introspection. But if it isn't exactly a mask that he wears it is a method of bulldozing his way into everyone's notice – Tanaka, although he can't bring himself to say it, is afraid of being somehow “less than.” It's why he's the kid who screams the loudest, does the dumbest thing in the moment, and why he's so desperate not to be, in this moment, that loser number 5 who's just sort of there while Hinata and Asahi and Nishinoya all pull off amazing moves. It's not a side of himself that he thinks about that often, but he knows that every so often it'll rear its head.
That the moment would come during the first set at Nationals against Inarizaka, a team that boasts not just one, but two talented guys named Miya, was probably inevitable. Even though they talked about assuming they'd make it this far, it doesn't feel like anyone except Kageyama and Hinata actually believed that Karasuno would reach this point, and that means that with the additional exception of the unflappable Tsukki, everyone is perhaps waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yamaguchi's panic when he's called up to serve is a good example of this: in episode fifteen, he suddenly becomes hyper-aware of his surroundings and the import of them, to say nothing of Inarizaka's just-shy-of-dirty-tactics in the fan section working their evil magic and distracting him. That and Tanaka's crisis of faith in himself this week are both very human moments, reminding us that these aren't just fancy star athletes, these are kids, and kids under a lot of pressure to succeed.
They're also kids who are facing off against a team that's capable of “stealing” their tricks, as they learned when the Miya twins pulled off Hinata and Kageyama's freak quick. That's not only a way to destabilize Karasuno, who has really been counting on their numbers nine and ten as the only ones who can pull it off, but also Hinata, who they'd really like to think that he's got nothing going for him if he's not the only one who can do that quick. (Presumably they aren't aware that Hinata is a Shounen Jump protagonist, and therefore incapable of being down for too long.) Inarizaka's been playing a psychological game from the start, with their fans and band well-trained to function as technically-not-cheating distractions for their opponents, so the fact that they're counting on destabilizing Karasuno with this move doesn't feel out of the realm of possibility. That's what makes the arrival of Tanaka's sister and her Taiko drummers such a great moment – it's Karasuno doing the same thing right back to Inarizaka, turning their own tactic against them while also keeping it classier, not just in that they're using a traditional band, but also in that they aren't resorting to booing. (Waving plastic bags around and screaming, yes, but that's totally different.)
The first set ends this week, but there's still a long way to go and plenty of characters who need their time in the sun. (Asahi really needs to remember that he is the ace, for one.) Our favorite bouncy carrot stick may be getting a break next week when we check in with what Nekoma's up to, but that's probably a good thing for poor Bokuto in the audience, who'll have a chance to fetch his smelling salts.