While not the most heartbreaking in Haikyuu!!, Oikawa Toru’s backstory could be best classified as a tragedy. Dubbed “The Great King” and declared the best setter as he left Kitagawa Daiichi Junior High, Oikawa was expected by all (including himself) to sweep the competition on the high school volleyball stage. He is talented, hard-working, intelligent, and largely adored – yet winning nationals has always evaded his grasp. So why does Haikyuu!! gloss over just how sad Oikawa’s story really is?
One of the biggest reasons Oikawa’s story is overlooked is because much of it is delivered in small moments. In season two, episode 11, “Above,” there is a brief and almost inconsequential discussion between Kindaichi and Kunimi discussing rumors about Oikawa and his proclivity for “reckless things,” but the scene never reveals what these rumors revolve around, and the episode moves on without giving weight to the conversation. In manga chapter 372, however, the missing context falls into place as it’s revealed Oikawa had already been discussing something “overseas,” meaning he already likely had plans to travel to Argentina before the Spring High Preliminary ever began.
This in mind, Oikawa knows this could be the last time he will ever play on the same court as his friends – including Iwaizumi, whom he’s played volleyball with since childhood. Without the context provided later in the manga, though, anime fans are oblivious to the inner turmoil Oikawa is facing during this last tournament, and just how painful the final loss against Karasuno is. Throughout high school, Oikawa’s bond with his teammates and his love for the game has become just as important as being the best, meaning he’s hit with double the grief at losing both his friends – or at least knowing he will have to leave them behind when he travels to Argentina – and losing a national title.
The main reason the sadness of his past is overlooked is that the hardship in his high school career is not the main focus of Oikawa’s story. It’s undeniably an important factor – but like the other characters in Haikyuu!!, Oikawa’s story is one about growth. In junior high, he operates under an all-for-one mentality; he trained himself to the point of exhaustion and injury, refuses to train his underclassmen, Kageyama Tobio, and tackles rivalries with a personal ferocity.
With a team sport, this mentality can never last forever – and for Oikawa, many of his bad habits and traits are only properly dealt with as a result of the help of his team, especially Iwaizumi, who refuses to let his friend overexert himself, and steps in to give him a reality check when he tries to hurt Tobio. In an internal monologue in season one, episode 24, “Removing the ‘Solitary King,'” Oikawa notes that a good setter “ensures that all of his teammates are working at full power, no matter who they are” but it’s also clear that Oikawa’s team helped him improve both as a player and as a person – making their defeat all the more tragic, even if it let the show’s protagonists continue on their path.
That said, Haikyuu!! doesn’t focus on the sadness in Oikawa’s story because that isn’t the end of his story. Losing in the Spring High Preliminary is not the end of his career, but the beginning of it. After his final year, Oikawa goes on to join the Club Atlético San Juan in Argentina, where he became a citizen, and even played on the Argentian National Team for the 2021 Olympics against some familiar faces (some of whom he’d kept in touch with). Despite a lost chance at a national title, Oikawa is able to achieve his ultimate dream of playing for a national team. In light of how much Oikawa has grown and achieved, it would be an injustice for Haikyuu!! to linger on his temporary tragedy.