Joji stands at the line waiting for the sash that Jota handed to him. He was ready to run and had his mind set on the race. Unfortunately for him Jota had a hair brained idea that Hana liked him romantically. Jota passes the sash and the idea that Hana is in love with him to Joji. Joji spends too much time thinking about the possibilities. His pace is off as he wonders who Hana really likes between the two of them. Kakeru recognizes there is a problem immediately and with the help of new age technology realizes that Jota believes, on speculation alone, Hana is in love with him. Haiji and Kakeru wonder what message to give Joji as he is running along. Kakeru takes the best route for the team and sends Joji this message, “If you like Hana, run.” This spurs greater effort in Joji. This episode makes it evident that Haiji is a rare breed of leader. Haiji bends others to his will, takes full responsibility for his teammates, demonstrates moral fortitude while grooming Kakeru to become the next leader of the team.
The irony of Kakeru telling Joji that if he liked Hana he should run is the fact that there is no direct evidence that Hana likes him. On the surface they are friends. Joji remembers the fact that Hana was going to tell him how she knew the difference between Joji and Jota, who are virtually indistinguishable to many. Unless their names are said the viewer could easily mistake one for the other. Her ability to tell them apart dumbfounds Joji, then again he isn’t the brightest, and Joji takes curiosity in that fact she can tell them apart. Kakeru plays on the fact that Joji may like Hana and have feelings for her. Of course it is a gamble. Trusting Musa’s words Kakeru takes the leap that Joji has feelings for Hana. The gamble pays off as Joji runs with renewed vigor in the race. Taking the gamble was a relatively small risk with large reward, an easy call for leader-in-development Kakeru. Haiji goes along with the message that Kakeru sent Joji.
While the audience can appreciate the misunderstandings of the Jota and Joji, finding them lighthearted and dismiss the fact that Kakeru takes advantage of Joji’s feelings for the sake of the team, Sugiyama is more complicated and problematic. Sugiyama who is ill before the race has not improved in health in time for his section of the Hakone Ekiden. Haiji who for his own sake put the running team together, trained them from the ground up, and prepared them for the Hakone Ekiden is forced to make a hard call. The dilemma stems from the fact that his team only has 10 runners, with no substitute runners, and cannot substitute Sugiyama. Sugiyama is clearly in no state to run and stubbornly insists to race. Haiji tells him on the phone to hydrate. Sugiyama carries the expectations he runs no matter the cost. Haiji had the opportunity to tell Sugiyama not to race. He does not. Haiji expects and believes that Sugiyama can do this. Haiji’s wish of running in the Hakone Ekiden is unfulfilled. The decision to let Sugiyama run puts Sugiyama health in peril and it is questionable whether or not Sugiyama can do it. There is an option to let him run the next day, but Haiji doesn’t take it. Sugiyama’s will also can’t be ignored either. He does not say that he cannot or will not race. Even when encouraged not to run at multiple points before and during the run he keeps on going. For whose sake is Sugiyama running? Why doesn’t Haiji tell Sugiyama to stop? Haiji doesn’t give Sugiyama a message. The coach shares anecdotes of why there is also honor in quitting when there is no way for a person to succeed. In fact Haiji may be the only person believing that Sugiyama can succeed besides Sugiyama himself. Hearts break as the teammates watch Sugiyama carry on. You get the impression that they all want to tell him to stop and that he has done enough. Sugiyama though stumbling and stopping at multiple times manages to cross the finish line.
We get a rare glimpse into Haiji when we see him and Kakeru sitting on the train at the end of the episode. It would be fair of the audience to think that perhaps Haiji has a heart of iron if they had been paying attention to the decisions he had been making that day. During the course of the conversation it is clear that Haiji is having second thoughts. Does Haiji think he is a monster? Does Haiji feel guilty? It would be hard to imagine that he wouldn’t. He shares with Kakeru that he bent everyone to his will. The only reason why everyone was here and why Sugiyama had to suffer was because of Haiji. Kakeru instead of holding a grudge or judging his team captain as selfish says simply that everyone chose to be there to. Furthermore Kakeru appreciates what Haiji has done. No further words are exchanged. Not only did Haiji let Kakeru make the decision on Joji but he confided with Kakeru alone a small part of his thoughts and feelings. Kakeru is being groomed to be team captain.
Good luck Kansei!