Content Warning: Discussions of attempted suicide.
What’s it about? Kuroba Yuni and Haijima “Chika” Kimichika were best friends in kindergarten until Chika’s family moved away. Now in middle school, Chika is back in town, emotionally distant, and focused solely on volleyball. Hoping to reconnect with his old friend, the aimless Yuni starts to get drawn into the sport as well. Can the pair overcome their disparate pasts and clashing personalities to become a team again?
Some people have a little angel and devil standing on their shoulders. Me, I have a little professional and a little geek. The professional wants me to talk about how this josei adaptation is a beautifully staged, pensive premiere that elegantly establishes its main characters, their relationships, and individual conflicts. The geek just wants me to holler about how unbelievably gay it is like y’all have no idea.
So I’ve decided to strike a compromise. Professional Dee will write the review. Geek Dee gets to select the screenshots and captions. Fair? Fair.
This premiere is mostly about Chika returning to Yuni’s hometown and the two getting to know one another again. There’s immediate tension between them—Yuni is delighted to see his old friend, while Chika is initially cold—but they quickly (albeit tentatively) start to reconnect when Yuni’s interest in Chika leads him to also become interested in volleyball.
Their relationship fluctuates between the strange and familiar, as the unmotivated Yuni tries to get closer to Chika and the driven Chika challenges Yuni to take volleyball more seriously. It’s far too early to say if 2.43 intends to explicitly explore a romantic angle here, but there’s a palpable attraction between the two leads, and the push-and-pull of their personalities forms the core of this premiere.
At times, this episode would seem almost as aimless as Yuni—if it hadn’t wisely begun with a flashback to Chika’s old middle school and a phone call about one of his former teammates being in the hospital. That opening scene hangs over the entire episode, creating a second layer of tension in addition to the one crackling between the two boys.
It finally comes to a head in the final minutes when we learn that Chika was harsh to the point of cruelty with his teammates. Sota, the player in the hospital, was there because he had tried to commit suicide—and it’s clear that everyone thinks Chika’s behavior is what drove Sota to do it.
Chika’s storyline about competitiveness and abuse appears to be the central one here, but Yuni has his own struggles to work through as well. He puts on a front of laid-back or grumpy apathy with his classmates and family, but is clearly delighted to have Chika back at school and quickly gets swept up in volleyball right along with him.
It’s also implied that Yuni’s male cousin Yori and their friends are taking advantage of him, seeing him as a “rich boy” they can use for spending money. Either way, they pretty clearly suck, as they mock Yuni’s sudden interest in volleyball and insist he’ll “make a fool” out of himself if he gets serious about it. Given the prevalence of Yuni’s cousins in this episode, I suspect we’ll be exploring his family situation more in the coming weeks, as well as why he’s so reluctant to commit himself to anything.
Fortunately, Yuni’s female cousin (and the only female character of note so far) seems a bit more supportive. She’s playfully combative with Yuni and already has more personality than most of the girls in male-led sports anime typically get, which was refreshing to see.
That said, there is one awkward moment early on where Yuni watches her jump off his desk, we get a close-up of her thigh as he stares at her fluttering skirt, and she teases him about how he can’t peek at her undies because she’s wearing shorts. It’s jarring but doesn’t come up again, so hopefully it was a weird one-off joke and we can quickly forget about it.
Other than the brief cousin-skirt situation, 2.43 handles its story beats with grace and care, laying a ton of groundwork that it can explore in the coming weeks. All of this information is conveyed within the flow of the episode (instead of via awkward InfoDumps) against gorgeously storyboarded scenes of snowy fields and wistful sunsets. It’s a top-to-bottom quality production, allowing viewers to sink into Chika and Yuni’s world and experience their coming-of-age story right alongside them.
As all this suggests, I think it’s fair to say that 2.43 is not, strictly speaking, a “sports series” so much as “a character drama with sports in it.” That distinction may seem trivial, but it can make a big difference when approaching a series or recommending it to others. Put another way: If you love Haikyu, you might like 2.43’s premiere; but if you love Stars Align, you’ll definitely like 2.43’s premiere.
Maybe it’s a little too early to be calling this the “sleeper hit of the season,” but I dunno, y’all—I’m getting good vibes off of this one. Only time will tell if 2.43 can deliver on its early promises, but if you’re a fan of character-driven coming-of-age stories (with strong queer undertones), you’re gonna want to clear a spot on your watchlist for the new volleyboys in town.
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