Ugh, Tsukishima is such a great character. Re-watching season 3 of Haikyuu really reminded me about why I love him so much. His redemption takes 3 seasons to build up and execute, which is probably why it’s so damn good. The growth of this boy, that’s what I call character development. Psst, this post contains spoilers.
Tsukishima, at first, seemed uninterested in volleyball, despite being obviously suited to it. His indifference rubs both the other characters and us the wrong way. While Hinata has to train extra hard to make up for his disadvantageous height, here’s a guy who’s hit the volleyball height jackpot, seems pretty good at it and still has a bad attitude about it. To put it simply, it’s extremely annoying. Willpower and working hard are part of the shounen formula, after all, but Tsuki seems to reject them.
But as the series goes on and we dive deeper into Tsuki’s past, we slowly realise that this behaviour is nothing but a defence mechanism. It’s a façade that Tsuki maintains for his own ego, having seen his brother attempt the same path as him and fail.
Tsuki very accurately embodies a feeling that I think most young people would be able to relate to – the unwillingness to push yourself and give it your all, for fear of coming up short. After all, trying your best comes with dealing with deep-rooted anxieties and leaving yourself vulnerable. What if your best just isn’t good enough? What if other people are just more naturally talented than you could ever train to be? When we don’t try our best, we let ourselves give into the delusion that we could be great – we just choose not to try. That our failures were not because we came up short, but because we decided not to use our latent abilities – I’m not using 100% of my power, you know. Just imagine if I had tried harder?
It’s hard to acknowledge that our fantasies about our own potential are unfortunately just that – fantasies. It is perhaps even more difficult to realise that even if these hidden potentials were real, it wouldn’t matter because we shut out the idea of trying to reach them. We settle for the achievable mediocrity because nobody wants to fail while trying their hardest; even though trying your hardest is the only way to achieve true greatness. This is true even for the most talented among us. Nobody can wake up one day and be Michael Phelps, not even Phelps himself.
This is the paradox that fuels Tsuki’s redemption arc. He initially mentally blocks himself from loving volleyball for the fear of failing, like his brother. He would rather be indifferent – failure would then not come as a shock. But that attitude changes slowly as he immerses himself in the sport and meets passionate teammates and opponents alike. Be it a loud and boisterous love like Hinata’s or a serious and calculated obsession like Kageyama’s or Ushijima’s, that passion is infectious (and sometimes gets yelled to him). He is forced to work hard with his team and re-think this mindset. There was one more thing that Tsuki just couldn’t ignore – he enjoys volleyball, a lot.
The breaking point for him happens in that iconic moment in season 3 where his training pays off – Tsuki is able to completely block the Ushijima’s spike, on his own to win a set. He throws his fist down and celebrates, as do his teammates. From that moment, he gives in. He falls completely in love with volleyball and wants to do his best. To try his hardest to win. Even if it means potentially discovering his limits. Even if it means exposing those limits to his team and his opponents. He still wants to give it his all, in an attempt to achieve true greatness.
We all know that this pays off at the end as Karasuno defeat Shiratorizawa and move on to the nationals, but there’s a very real possibility that this wouldn’t have happened if Tsuki hadn’t given it his all. What if, after getting injured for instance, he just gave up and sat the rest of the match out? That’s what makes Tsuki’s character growth so fun and amazing to see. We all fear being seen as incapable when trying our hardest. When Tsuki was able to move past this fear, give his all and succeed, there’s a sense of catharsis and hope – that we too can try to discover our limits and it would be alright.