The View from the Top: ‘Haikyu’ and Reaching my Peak

I’ve been rewatching episodes of Haikyu lately. It’s that weird time of the year (a.k.a. the end of it) where everything seems to slow down and there’s not that much new content in circulation, so I turn to my old standbys: the shows I know by heart and by soul, the easy comforts. I would say I’m not entirely sure how an anime about a Japanese boys high school volleyball club became a vital touchstone in my life, but I actually do know. I know it very deeply, and I know this because back in 2020, I wrote about it. And at the time, it was perhaps the best thing I ever wrote. I was fresh off a week-long intensive non-fiction writing retreat, and I was inspired, emboldened. The end result was an essay that managed to effortlessly combined a deep dive media analysis of a sports anime, my own meditations on the pandemic, and a poignant reflection on the importance of human connection. 

One thing I didn’t talk about as much during that essay though was how much the vocabulary of Haikyu had become ingrained in my speech. The most obvious one was “tempo.” Maybe that’s because it’s the one term that had significant overlap with my musical theater and writing background, but in any event, I have incorporated it into conversation, whether it is matching, speeding up, slowing down. 

The other phrase though? Well, that’s the title of this essay.

“The View from the Top.”

At the start of the series, the five words specifically means the apex of the spiker’s jump, the vantage point where they are at their highest above the net and can see the entirety of the court. Over time, it becomes a more metaphorical one. To get to the proverbial top, to get to the summit, the boys from Karasuno had to put an incredible amount of effort to scale peak after peak. They had to constantly become better than they were in the last match, defeat seemingly undefeatable foe after foe, and even at their best, their best wasn’t always enough. And if it was, would that one victory be enough to satisfy them?

I have historically not been the biggest fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not particularly fond of arbitrary goal setting based on the revolutions of the earth, and I’ve come to accept that my goal setting is best done at my own tempo (yes, this is entirely intentional). But as the calendar change looms, it is hard not to look at the journey thus far and wonder where else you can go from here. Of course, the journey looks a little different for a pop culture journalist and aspiring nonfiction writer than it does for a volleyball player, but I think the sentiment is the same.

For writers, sometimes the goal is a byline, is a book deal, a screenplay, a script. We all are looking to write our Magnum Opus, the defining work that we will be remembered by, the best thing we ever wrote. But that’s also impossible to assess in the moment.

Back in 2017, when I first joined Black Nerd Problems, my third ever piece was “Trains of Thought on Asian American Representation in Comics” and at the time, it was the best essay I ever wrote. Comprehensive in its viewpoints, reasonably complex in its structure, the piece was emblematic of the work I always admired BNP for producing, the cross section between pop culture and deeply personal. I felt like I hit it, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that I’d never be able to produce something of that caliber again.

But then in 2019, I managed to dig deep thanks to the works of Raphael Bob-Waksberg and found it in me to write another thousand some words on the absurdity in fiction and reality. I weaved in anecdotes, I juxtaposed against media samples, I wrote one of my favorites line that still stings whenever I read it:

If you were to be on the other side of the beer-bottled kaleidoscope, would it really be that unfamiliar? Doesn’t it cut deep because it’s supposed to? Doesn’t it cut deep because it is a shard of glass?

And that was my best piece until the Haikyu piece came, and then even that was eventually displaced by my first ever non-pop culture related byline when I got to spend a thousand words talking about an abandoned cement factory in St. Louis. That was back in February of this year, and while I’ve written other things I’m proud of in the intervening time period, I have yet to write something quite like that, something that galvanized me to write it and something that reached readers. 

Stagnation is a scary thing when you’re climbing, when you’re trying to reach the top. Stagnation means you’re wasting so much energy just staying exactly where you are, and in a world where the peaks are rising steadily, staying still feels awfully like going backwards. I’m about to quote a very silly source, but I often think about the final scene in Zac Efron’s We Are Your Friends, where he screams: ARE WE EVER GOING TO BE BETTER THAN THIS? Before dropping the beat, and I have already admitted that this is a silly thing, but I think it’s a valid question, an important inquiry, and one that still motivates me in a weird way.

I think I can safely say that I will write something better. I think as long as I keep trying, keep pushing the limits, keep tinkering, I’ll manage to find yet another thing only I could write. I’ll string together words in a novel way that will resonate like mountain winds.  And all of these “best things I ever wrote” will act like a map to a summit I’ve yet to reach and will try to. The view from the top is not a fixed point, it is a relative point to reach, it is a modular mindset, and if you think you can be better, there’s probably a good chance you can get better. 

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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