Haikyu!! To The Top: Episode 19 – “The Ultimate Challengers”

This episode returns to the set between Karasuno and Inarizaki High, where the score is sitting at 14-7 (with Inarizaki in the lead).

Before I go into what actually happens in the episode, I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about the animation quality. I’ve seen it noted by other anibloggers that they had noticed the quality of Haikyu!!‘s animation declining. While I had noticed this phenomenon in the occasional shot this season, it was a very different story for this episode. Before reaching the halfway point, there were basically entire scenes where the characters looked completely off-model. Unfortunately, this bad animation was really distracting me from the actual story. And it didn’t help when we saw flashbacks of scenes from previous seasons, because it only helped to accentuate just how bad and off-model the animation in this episode was.

So, there’s a set going on. I remember that Nishinoya was being targeted by Inarizaki, in the hopes of wearing down Karasuno’s morale. Basically, the idea being that if the libero, who serves as the defender, can’t return the ball, that it’ll shake the confidence of the other members of Karasuno’s team. I thought it was kind of interesting to see this concept being used again, especially right after the episode where Kenma was being targeted by his team’s opponents. Fortunately, Nishinoya overcomes the pressure of being targeted, and thus allows Karasuno to continue.

At one point, Sugawara is brought in as a substitute, and he gives this rousing little speech… but right afterward, he looks a little downcast before heading to his spot. Unfortunately, the impact of this scene is blunted by the fact that Sugawara looks very off-model. The off-model animation definitely hindered the impact that some of the scenes in this episode should have had.

We then see Karasuno targeting Aran from Inarizaki High. I also remember another member of this team being substituted in, but he didn’t perform to expectations and was actually booed by his own team’s cheering section. I got to say, I think the members of their cheering section are a bunch of jerks (between this and some actions they’ve taken previously to try to distract Karasuno)… but, their band does play a catchy song. Sadly, that piece of music and the off-model animation are probably the most memorable aspects of this episode. Which I find to be quite sad, because at this point in the series, these episodes should be making a stronger impact on the audience than this.

This set between Karasuno and Inarizaki High is still ongoing at the end of this episode, and I believe Inarizaki is still ahead, even though Karasuno has started to narrow the gap. But like I said earlier, the off-model animation was so glaringly obvious through so much of this episode that it served to distract me and it degraded the overall quality of the episode.

And from the brief clips we get in the next episode preview, it appears that the animation quality is going to continue to look off-model. I know that the second half of the Haikyu!!: To the Top anime was delayed for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re getting this kind of animation quality after that three-month delay? I can only hope and pray that maybe this episode has the worst of the off-model animation, because I don’t want to believe that it could get even worse with subsequent episodes. That’s probably wishful thinking on my part, though.

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