Oikawa Tooru is, without a doubt, the most developed non-Karasuno character in Haikyuu by the end of the second season of the anime. The Aoba Johsai setter-and-captain sought to carve his own path, refusing to follow ace spiker Ushijima to Shiratorizawa, but was his pride worth never surpassing him?
[NOTE: This article includes spoilers up to the end of the second season of the anime, as I have not yet read further in the manga]
When we are first introduced to Oikawa, he provides a direct parallel to Kageyama as a setter. Rather than requiring people to think on his level like Kageyama, Oikawa raises his teammates up as a leader, bringing out the best in his team. The parallels between Kageyama’s character, at the start of the series, and Oikawa are clear. the stoic, grumpy genius and the charismatic, bubbly captain; The King of The Court who has no congregation and The Great King who leads unconditionally.
We also learn of Oikawa’s hatred of geniuses; those who simply have a sense of the sport on another level compared to other players. When Oikawa joined his middle school club at Kitagawa Daiichi, his talent and physical ability bloomed faster than others. Whilst at middle school, he was never surpassed as the school’s best setter. Despite this, he still works harder than almost any player. Even at Aoba Johsai as a third-year, we’re dropped hints that he takes practice and even warmups harder than any other member of the team.
He’s selfless as a setter out of his own obsession with surpassing geniuses. As a captain he strikes the perfect balance between selfless and selfish play. He is always aware of the needs of his spikers but reliable enough to score points through dumps and his incredible serves, setting his team at ease with a service ace and words of encouragement.
So why does he hate geniuses? Because he meets Ushijima Wakatoshi in middle school. Despite being a national-level setter, Oikawa meets someone who has both insane natural talent as well as extraordinary physical ability; someone he cannot beat, someone who nullifies the countless hours of practice, analysis and initial physical edge. Ushijima is the wall that, in both middle school and high school, Oikawa is never able to surpass.
This is where Oikawa’s worthless pride takes hold; he doesn’t want to win if it means winning with Ushijima. He wants to win, with the best team he possibly can, against Ushijima. He knows he can’t face geniuses head on, so he begins to work tirelessly to become a setter that can give everything his team needs.
In Oikawa’s third year at middle school, an aspiring first-year setter by the name of Kageyama Tobio shows up. It quickly becomes apparent that Kageyama is a genius and, although still very young, may one day surpass Oikawa. This terrifies him. He hates Kageyama because he is a physical manifestation of Oikawa’s insecurity. Ushijima was a goal for Oikawa, but Kageyama is a rising tide that threatens to swallow him and leave him behind.
Oikawa begins to work harder and harder, losing focus in matches and ultimately snapping at Kageyama, before his teammate and childhood friend Iwazumi reminds him that a team with six players will always be stronger than one genius.
This scene is so visceral, because Oikawa isn’t really lashing out at Kageyama; he’s lashing out at his own fear. If Ushijima is symbolic of the unreachable for Oikawa, Kageyama represents his fear of being surpassed always breathing down his neck. We’re shown that, in middle school and even once he’s in high school, Oikawa can act incredibly childishly towards Kageyama. Perhaps these antics are Oikawa’s way of coping with his fear and at the same time a way of reminding himself that Kageyama is a teenage volleyball player, just like him.
However, we also see the level of respect he has for Kageyama as a player and the potential he has as both Kageyama and Oikawa develop as players and people.
As Oikawa develops throughout the series, his insecurity of being surpassed by Kageyama begins to fade as it becomes more of a reality. He acknowledges that Kageyama’s talent coupled with Hinata and the rest of the team at Karasuno is the perfect environment for Kageyama to grow exponentially as a player.
What’s important is that, although this fear fades, Oikawa’s drive to improve as a player does not. He can now move on with his volleyball career able to only look forward, not having to fear what’s behind him and, perhaps, he will be vicariously living through his underclassman in the Miyagi prefecture final between Karasuno and Shiratorizawa. Kageyama might be a genius, unlike Oikawa, but he’s learning the same lesson that Oikawa learnt in middle school; the team of six that is the strongest will win.
That’s the truth that Oikawa must face at the end of the match against Karasuno; they had become a team of six and they were stronger. Despite Aoba Johsai and Oikawa giving all they had, Karasuno and their genius setter Kageyama Tobio had more to give.
Although Oikawa reminds Kageyama that they’re now equal at one win, one loss in matches against each other, the reality he must face is that his high school volleyball career is over and he has not surpassed the genius of Ushijima.
After the semi final against Karasuno, Ushijima once again confronts Oikawa, telling him that he made the wrong choice by not following him to Shiratorizawa. This is where the difference between Oikawa and Ushijima’s pride is made clear; it was never about winning championships. For Oikawa, it is not victory alone that is important; it is who he beats to achieve it.
Oikawa wants to prove that he and his team can stand against geniuses, that talent is something you draw from yourself rather than something you are blessed with innately. he might not have as much innate talent as Ushijima or Kageyama, but he is determined to draw out every last drop and fight them with everything he has.
Whether we ever see Oikawa and Ushijima face off again in a college arc, The Great King will not be dropping his worthless pride.