I’ve been writing about Yamaguchi for years now, but until recently I hadn’t explicitly thought about his character, about who he is and what motivates him. When I did start thinking about it, I ran head-first into the depressing fact that Yamaguchi Tadashi — despite all my love for him — is not a main character in Haikyuu!!
Compared to Hinata, Kageyama, and Tsukishima, we don’t have that much to go on when it comes to deep character analysis — especially for extrapolating beyond the context of the Karasuno Boys Volleyball Team or being Tsukishima Kei’s childhood friend.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do any character analysis with what we have. Furudate-sensei is a master character writer and while we have little in comparison to the other’s it’s more than enough.
Besides, Yamaguchi would be disappointed if we gave up so easily.
To start, I used a tool called the “Wound Character Analysis”. This analysis has five parts, all originating from the concept of a character Wound, some experience (likely a negative one) that shaped the character and their worldview. From there, we get a Controlling Belief, a single belief or filter that dictates how the character views themselves and the world around them. Next, is the Default Emotion, which is (unsurprisingly) their gut reaction or emotion when faced with stress or a new challenge. Then, we have the Desire, what the character wants, which is likely based on the Wound and Controlling Belief. And finally, the Obsession, or what the character does or is determined to do in order to obtain their object of desire.
Wound Character Analysis
Yamaguchi Tadashi’s wound was being bullied as a young child. His experience of being pushed around and othered for being “small and weak” shaped his self-image, and defined both his immediate and his future goals and actions.
The immediate actions follow the same format and give us a preview of the kind of person Yamaguchi grows up to be:
- The wound is being bullied.
- The belief is that to avoid being bullied or left out, one needs to be strong.
- The default emotion is fear (as we see when he’s poking his head into the volleyball court, too nervous to step inside.)
- The desire is to grow stronger so he’s no longer bullied.
- The obsession is joining a sports team because it will help him grow stronger.
Beyond the immediate belief he gains as a young child of “strong means not being bullied”, he gains a more complex belief as a result of meeting and becoming close friends with Tsukishima. Yamaguchi sees first-hand Tsukishima’s talent and natural gifts, he sees what Tsukishima is capable of, what he could become.
If you have the ability or talent, not giving it 100% is such a waste.
You have to use what you have. Whatever you have. Whether that’s being really tall, really fast, really strong, or just really stubborn.
Yamaguchi’s default emotion is fear — more specifically, a fear of failure. At least for a moment, a new challenge will cause him to freeze in place, held by his own fears. But due to his past experiences and his determination to go as far as he can with what he’s got, that fear is turned into frustration.
Yamaguchi’s strongest desire is to stand on equal ground with his peers. From the start he was visibly disappointed — although not particularly surprised — at being the only first-year that isn’t a starter. He does not want to be left out or left behind.
This is the same desire that arose in him as a young child being bullied, only the stage and the peers he’s looking toward are different.
Yamaguchi’s obsession is gaining a skill or weapon that will allow him to stand by his peers on the court. Although he is visibly upset about being the only non-starting first year, he doesn’t despair, grow bitter, or charge forward blindly. Instead, he waits until he finds something he can use, a spear. His obsession becomes leveling up his ability as a pinch server. To do this he works hard, “harder than anyone else” to perfect that single tool that will allow him to step onto that stage too, even if it’s only for a few seconds.
Once I started thinking about Yamaguchi this way, one thought lead to another and I simply couldn’t stop. So here are a few more thoughts about his core character:
- Yamaguchi has a strong sense of pride and values earning his place among his peers, not just being given it.
- Yamaguchi is not an envious person, at all.
- Although he’s left behind at the start of the season as the only non-starter out of the first years, he never shows any bitterness or envy toward the others.
- Unlike Tsukishima, he never shows any animosity toward the “naturally talented” on their team or on any other, and instead pushes Tsukishima to admit and polish his own natural talents.
- Instead, he’s shown to greatly admire the three that did make starter, and firmly believes they have earned their place and will serve the team well.
- “Don’t waste your talents” is a theme of his that pops up more than once.
- We have, of course, the iconic line of “What more do you need than pride?!” which he yells at Tsukishima when he’s too busy stuck in his own head to take advantage of the incredible opportunities before him.
- In recent art, Furudate shows Captain Yamaguchi mediating between Tsukishima and Kageyama. It’s easy to imagine that in addition to his responsibilities as captain, this also comes from a desire to not see the incredible potential of their partnership be wasted over silly arguments.
- “I’ll be right behind you.”
- In addition to never showing envy or bitterness, he also has never asked anyone to slow down or wait for him.
- He knows himself, his abilities or lack thereof. Instead, he works harder than anyone to earn his place beside them.
- His talent is his tenacity. Despite all his fear and nervousness, he refuses to be left behind. He wants to stand with them and therefore, he will.
- He has a strong sense of loyalty and protectiveness.
- It’s integral to his character design. His name, birthday, and love of dogs is meant to emphasize his loyalty.
- When Oikawa targets Tsukishima for his serves in their first game together, Yamaguchi never forgets it and reacts negatively to Oikawa for a long time after that.
- His antagonism towards Oikawa is never about his power or talents, it’s about the fact that he targeted Tsukishima specifically and Yamaguchi doesn’t let that go easily.
- His sense of humor is likely a result of his loyalty to Tsukishima. It’s not an act, but a kind of indulgence. He indulges Tsukishima in his escapist humor and adopts it as his own, but it’s not an integral part of him.
- Loyalty does not make hims a pushover.
- Yamaguchi doesn’t hesitate to confront Tsukishima because he doesn’t want conflict, he hesitates because he isn’t clear about what he wants to say. Once he figures out what exactly it is that’s bothering him, he goes for it.
What are some of Yamaguchi’s core character traits that you’ve thought about? Let me know in the comments or Tweet me @Katsumi_YM.