I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through Haikyu over the last couple of weeks, by which I mean I’ve sat down to watch it twice and smashed through exactly eight episodes on both occasions. While I already wrote about how it’s reminded me of why I used to love sports as a teenager, I’m predominantly fascinated by how well it grapples with character arcs. I feel as if I’m rooting for everyone in Haikyu all the time, including people on opposing teams. Toru, Kenma, Ikejiri – they’re all good guys who are just trying their best for the people they care about. It’s tough to dislike them.
I think Nishinoya is the character who best exemplifies this, not because he’s a bad guy – he’s a Karasuno player – but because of how he treats everybody. Sure, I like Hinata and Kageyama – the series’ protagonists – but I’m at least as enamored with their teammates as I am with them. Daichi is a dependable captain, Sugawara is a loyal friend, Tanaka is a lovable hothead, and Asahi is just an all-around nice guy. I haven’t seen much of Yamaguchi yet, but I was delighted to see how driven he is to learn so he can play at least one official game as a first-year – he’s less animated than Shoyo, sure, but he’s got glimmers of that same passion. Nishinoya, though… Nishinoya is all of the above in one, and I think the show would be significantly worse if he weren’t the glue holding it all together.
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It’s almost poetic. One of the most recent episodes I watched was Winners and Losers, where Nishinoya gives the rest of his team a pep talk prior to their match with Dateko, otherwise known as the Iron Wall of Date.
“All right,” Nishinoya says after executing a devilishly difficult receive with perfect finesse (which he calls Rolling Thunder, much to Tanaka’s amusement). “There’s nothing to worry about. All of you, keep your eyes forward. Because you have me guarding your backs.” Even Kageyama loses his composure here and shouts “awesome!”, while Asahi – still nervous after failing to score a single spike against Dateko in their previous match – is infected by Nishinoya’s words. It’s not cockiness by any means – it’s projected confidence designed to inspire.
It makes perfect sense given his position as the libero. This is probably the most unique position in volleyball, where the player is even required to wear a different colour jersey to the rest of the team. This is because the libero can switch themselves in or out without notifying the referee and therefore needs to be easily trackable. This alone signifies a need to be in perfect sync with everyone on the team, but it’s also important to remember that liberos are the defensive backbone of any team they play on, focusing purely on keeping the ball alive as opposed to spiking it. Nishinoya is literally there to keep his team in the game no matter the cost, constantly diving on the ground and pulling off miracles of mobility in order to save his team from losing a point. This is something Coach Ukai specifically refers to after Nishinoya’s inspiring speech:
“He’s a little guy, but incredibly charismatic. The libero is not just the guardian. He also encourages the team from behind. He’s a truly outstanding libero.”
This is what I mean when I say that Nishinoya is Karasuno’s glue. He’s the only player who never loses hope or gets disheartened. He is vocal, even aggressive at times, and is described as being a bit of a wild child by his teammates. Still, he is someone they all greatly respect, as do the teams who come up against him. After that same speech mentioned above, even Dateko’s tall blonde blocker who wordlessly stares at his opponents before matches is forced to say, “Awesome!” against his will. Nishinoya exudes an aura of confidence and leadership that is simultaneously commanding and kind, and I think half of Haikyu’s narrative beats would be far worse off without him.
I also reckon Nishinoya is the character who is most true to himself. Some people might argue that Hinata’s total reliance on instinct or Suga’s calm demeanor qualify them for this role, but Nishinoya never does a single thing that’s shocking – even when he surprises you, it makes perfect sense. I loved watching him run up to Nekoma’s libero after the game in order to exclaim how impressed he was in a million words a minute before sprinting off into the locker rooms as if nothing had happened. Was he embarrassed? Ashamed? Excited? In my opinion, he was none of those things – he was just being Nishinoya.
Ever since I started watching this show, I’ve struggled to choose a favourite character because of how much I like all of them. Maybe it’s because Nishinoya joined later than the rest of the cast that it wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but while I was watching last night, I realized it every single time he came on screen. Haikyu works because of Nishinoya’s uniquely extraordinary personality. Sure, he’s a great player, but great players are defined by far more than skill alone. If I were to be cynical about it – which I’m about to be – I’d say that Nishinoya is going to come up against plenty of technically better players with less than a fraction of his heart throughout Haikyu, all of which he’ll eventually outshine in some way or another. After all, he’s only a second-year – even if Karasuno loses before reaching Nationals, he’ll have another shot at going pro in his final year at high school. I know you, reader, probably already know what happens, and maybe I’m totally wrong. If that’s the case, though, I’ll be fairly disappointed, as Nishinoya has been written as a near-perfect character so far. I can’t wait to binge another eight episodes of Haikyu tonight purely to hear what he has to say next – hopefully I’ll see another Rolling Thunder or two, too.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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