Hinata and Kageyama have parallel journeys of personal growth throughout Haikyuu!! but they both failed on their individual quests during the Nationals arc, which led to their defeat by Kamomedai. Their failure at this point of the story is a classic aspect of narrative structure (especially given the final arc and resolution) and was — unsurprisingly — very well executed by Furudate-sensei.
Hinata’s Quest for Skill
Hinata’s story is driven by his desire to play volleyball, to remain on the court the longest, and stand on the world stage — both promises he made with Kageyama.
It is the privilege of the victors to stand on the court the longest, and in order to win, Hinata must be highly skilled. But Hinata only started playing volleyball in middle school, so even without taking into consideration his height, he’s already at a disadvantage against many high level players. In order to gain the skills and technique he needs to keep playing, he’ll have to work harder than anyone else.
Luckily, Hinata has his incredible charisma and energy in his favor. He makes friends, rivals, and allies wherever he goes. The people he meet find themselves wanting to help, teach, or motivate him to continue.
Kageyama’s Quest for Teamwork
Kageyama’s quest, by contrast, is about learning to connect with and support his teammates. Unlike Hinata, Kageyama has been playing volleyball almost his whole life and has already developed an incredible level of skill, game-sense, spacial senses, and the methodology to learn and improve techniques rapidly. Unfortunately, that high level of skill has also resulted in him being unable to connect with his peers throughout his childhood. He became self-centered, thinking only about his own skill and not about how it fit with or served other players on the court.
Volleyball is a sport you play with six people, where you can’t touch the ball twice in a row. You have to connect. In order to continue playing the game he loves, Kageyama must learn teamwork, he must learn humility. Technique alone won’t get him far enough.
With guidance from Sugawara and Coach Ukai, Kageyama begins to develop his ability to read his players’ conditions and work to optimize their abilities instead of his own.
Hinata’s Match: Hoshiumi
The match against Kamomedai is a match between two small giants, Hinata and Hoshiumi Kourai. But it’s clear very early in the game that the two are far from equal in abilities. Hoshiumi who is a 2nd year, has a versatility on the court that Hinata desperately lacks, because Hoshiumi understands something Hinata has yet to realize: short players have to be experts at every position or they’ll never be chosen over taller players. He’s put the work into developing his skills in many directions, not just as a spiker, which makes him far more valuable on the court, and much freer.
Against him, Hinata is forced to use his only skill — his jump — to a new extreme. Throughout that game he jumps higher than ever before, over, and over again. Until finally he collapses. Despite his seemingly boundless energy, his body is unable to keep up with the demands being placed on it. Hinata can’t make up for skill using raw energy.
Furthermore, the skills in nutrition and self-care Hinata had begun learning during the Miyagi First Years’ Training Camp had not matured enough to keep him healthy and balanced during the high stress of the tournament.
He had learned and grown a lot, but not enough to pass this test.
Unlike during Karasuno’s matches against Aoba Johsai, Kageyama doesn’t have a direct opponent in the match against Kamomedai. His test here is not one of skills and technique, he’s proven himself capable enough in that regard.
When Kageyama arrived to Karasuno, he understood very clearly that he had flaws that needed to be addressed if he wanted to continue playing volleyball. That lesson is not one he’s likely to ever forget. The problem is that he doesn’t yet understand how to address them, how to change, what to change, or even really why he should have to.
Daichi may have provided the catalyst by kicking Kageyama and Hinata out of the club and forcing them to learn to work together, but it’s Sugawara who spends time teaching them and guiding them in the right direction. Sugawara watches Kageyama, notices where he gets stuck, and then carefully nudges him in the right direction — all while avoiding painful topics or challenges to his pride as a setter.
Kageyama grows, he leaves behind his pride, he learns to set for his spikers, and even learns to challenge them a little. But in the excitement and tension of Nationals, he fails to put the pieces together when Hinata starts acting strangely, and ultimately fails to monitor one of his key player’s condition.
( I want to note here that Kageyama is obviously not the only person who fails to notice this, nor is he the person most responsible for taking care of the players’ health and physical condition. He’s also a player who had to deal with fatigue due to the incredible demand of the tournament. It was by far a larger fault on the part of Takeda-sensei and Coach Ukai who themselves were probably overwhelmed as it was their first time at Nationals too. )
Early in Act 3 of a 3 act story structure, there is something commonly referred to as the “darkest moment”. This is where, after the hero has gone through trials and tribulations and has committed themselves to their cause, the hero comes up against a great enemy or obstacle, and loses. And for a moment it seems all hope is lost.
The end of Nationals was that moment in Haikyuu!!, and it was that moment for both Hinata and Kageyama. On their own personal journeys of growth, after learning so much, they failed that test. Karasuno, after defeating the odds time and time again, suffered a bitter defeat.
But that wasn’t the end. It certainly could have been. Ending there would have made for a great story, but it would have been a different story, because endings define stories far more than anything else. Instead, we got to see what these two did after their loss. We got to see their tomorrow.
We got to see how Hinata handled that lesson Hoshiumi already knew — that short people have to be good at everything. He watched him launch himself to the other side of the world and play a different sport for two years, all so he could gain the skills he was lacking last time. He watched him put the time and energy into taking care of himself: meditating, caring for his nutrition. And then we got to see it pay off.
I only wish we could have gotten the same thing for Kageyama. We know that he’s learned and grown because he wouldn’t have been so successful on three professional teams if he hadn’t, but I wish we could have had a moment to explore that a little closer, to see how he got along with his teams.