This episode, “The Ultimate Challengers”, is more of a transitory episode. We are just finished with the Nekoma match and the Inarizaki match picks up the story where it was left: Atsumu targeting Nishinoya. My memory is only good when it comes to Haikyu, it seems. I kept remembering some parallels between this episode and back when Karasuno was challenging Aoba Jousai.
This isn’t the first time we see Nishinoya being targeted by a good setter and a server. Oikawa from Aoba Jousai targeted him back in Interhigh Arc as well. Compared to his powerful serves, Atsumu’s serves seem to be less predictable yet still powerful. We also know Nishinoya is not the best in underhand receives. All of this makes me think, it’s tough being strong and skilled! Not only you have expectations to live up to, but also very scary opponents decide to score off you out of the blue!
Nishinoya is like a ball of flame, so energetic and bright. Seeing him distressed and furrowing brows gets harder to watch. Asahi feels the same, not knowing how to emotionally support his friend. Things look like they are going downhill on Karasuno’s side, not only in terms of point gap but also morale of the whole team is shaken. Suna keeps deceiving Tsukishima and the rest of the blockers in Karasuno and score with his wide-ranged spikes. Players watch the tapes of their opponents’ previous matches to get hints about a lot of aspects; their play style, strategies, and individual physical habits they have like upper body rotation, eyes or leg movement. For Atsumu, it was the steps he take before serves. Knowing this migh make or break your game. Information can be valuable, but what you know can also be used against you.
We also see some powerful spikes from Inarizaki’s ace Aran. Karasuno is desperate to stop his scoring streak before the gap widens any further. Who could be a better choice to bring him onto his knees (literally) than Sugawara himself? We have seen there’s a strong conviction and some cunning skills behind that refreshing smile. Seeing him always reminds me of the time where they briefly used the double setter strategy with Kageyama. I wish we could’ve seen it again. Boy, am I a nostalgic person or what.
Going back on track, Sugawara does manage to make Aran receive his serve and fall onto his knee, preventing him to quickly recover. He also manages to save a flying ball before he’s switched back with Tsukishima, earning himself surprised looks from the twins. Like Kenma’s comment later on, these little throw-offs or irregularities in game pile up and cause bigger drifts like the waves in a pond. That’s why most of the time what a team needs to do is to stack these little pieces up and topple over the giant. Similar to what Sarukawa tried to do with Nekoma.
When it’s Inarizaki’s pinch server’s time to come on court and his serve doesn’t end up earning his team a point, we see a different side to their cheering squad. The tide turns into Karasuno’s favor after it’s their turn to serve and Kageyama is back. With the aid of Hinata’s “How to Use Your Kageyama” instruction manual, we see that Kageyama is in his peak form. Watching a strong, no-touch service ace is a beautiful thing to behold. There are only a handful of ‘monsters’ who would be thrilled at facing such strong opponents and have fun. Hinata, Kageyama and Atsumu are some of those monsters we met throughout the story. These are also the characters that make me understand what anime characters mean when they say ‘they can’t take their eyes away’. They really demand your attention.
End of the episode gives us a bunch of frightful expressions and a jersey that is graced by number 1: Inarizaki’s mysterious captain Kita is finally gracing the court. We have seen him clapping his teammates for their good plays or stern remarks when their pinch server missed a chance to score but that was it. Oh, and let’s not forget that the ultimate challengers fear him the most, not their opponents.