Imagine, if you will, a sport. Team based in nature and just brimming with hopeful up and comers, scorned long timers and the innately gifted. Now imagine that this sport is animated, let’s say in the style of Japanese animation, we’ll call it anime (pending a proper designation). Now you may be thinking to yourself, “But guy who is writing this oddly vague introductory paragraph, that could explain any number of sports.” My immediate response to such a question is, “Of course, but I speak of but one sport this day. Of a sport oft excluded from the forefront of your and my smart brain parts. I speak, my friends, of volleyball.”
Now that that discussion is out of the way, and we’re all better friends for it, let us mosey on over to the review proper ( or the nearest facsimile to proper I am capable). Shoyo Hinata is your classic, upbeat protagonist. Measuring nearer 5ft high than further, he nevertheless burns with a passion for the aforementioned sport of volleyball. Unfortunately, during his elementary school days, this was a passion shared by no other male student. Thus, rather atypical for an underdog story, hos ragtag group of elementary school chums get lambasted in the first round of their first competition. Reality. Luckily however, this is not where our series resides, opting instead for the much harsher world of highschool volleyball. This is of course due to the single fact that every anime fan is, in at least some way, accepting of; every important moment of your life happens in high school and every high school student has the emotional fortitude and knowledge of a 30-something year old.
Anyway, after a surprisingly powerful first episode that carried all the hallmarks of an end of journey storyline, we are thrown through a montage that places us firmly in the present the series wishes to present. Then the rivalry established amidst the drama of episode the first is made much more complicated as Hinata and Kageyama, the rival indicated by the word rivalry, wind up on the same team. Cue exasperation and shock an any other emotions you want, I’ll wait…
Ok, so whilst the whole “friendly rivalry” thing is far from shiny and new, it was a nice little twist to throw onto the series, all before the end of the first episode might I add again. The tension places on Hinata and Kageyama’s eventual rematch is utilised to add an immediate level of depth to their conflict, acting as a kind of shortcut to creating the conflicting characters that are usually built up over the course of a series. So, whilst it may seem a touch too focused to continuously talk about one episode in a series review, I just want to make clear how well thought out the start to this series was. As I mentioned, it played out as the culmination of a journey (specifically that of Hinata’s initial volleyball journey). For that reason alone, Haikyu!! starts with a climactic bang that makes the rest of the series feel like a sequel in a way, like the continuation of a journey we were already a part of, despite not having seen a majority of it. That, my friends, is how you start a series.
Now, on the topic of volleyball itself…I am not a learned man. Like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of volleyball in my life…might have played it a school once or twice…poorly, but still. That being said, my lack of knowledge about the subject is in no way a hindrance to enjoying this series. I know this mainly due to the fact that I enjoy this series. Plus, Haikyu!! is pretty good at teaching you how the game works, both through natural progression of story and from the completely out in the open rookie coach Take who at one point literally reads a list of court positions out loud. You know, just to make sure “he” understood it all (*wink*).
The main thing about the volleyball team that strikes me however is the actual number of players. Rounding out at six on the court, it is a small enough roster to allow each character to develop whilst at the same time permeate the team ideal that exists in sports anime. You aren’t overwhelmed by a bonded force of individuals that number in the twenties. It gives the series a compact, quaint kind of feeling. We also aren’t forced to witness a plethora of the opponents backstories, with a brief exposition telling you all you needed to know, or at least whatever wasn’t made obvious by their demeanours. I’m looking at you Oikawa.
Counting aside, the series really shows its hand when a match commences and things get serious. As is the norm for sports anime, the format lends itself to adding focus an drama to moments that would pass by in live action. So prepare yourself for the near impossible amount of thought that occur within the time it takes to set a volleyball and being able to physically see wind created due to a wicked fast serve. So, to say it another way, prepare to have fun. One particularly memorable scene showcases the ball slamming the court with such force that it completely flattens against the floorboards, before shooting backwards with unprecedented force. It was as awesome as it was dramatic, especially when you remember that this is an after school volleyball club.
Design wise, the characters themselves are also very…interesting. There’s just something about their facial structure that carries an undertone of oddity with it. It’s sometimes feels as if you’re viewing a more traditional anime style through a fish eye lens. That being said, there is nothing wrong with the style utilised and it is used well when showcasing emotion, especially the competitiveness of each player. That gaze of theirs…it pierces the soul.
So, in case my feeling regarding this particular high school after school volleyball club anime weren’t apparent, allow me to lay it all out thusly; Haikyu!! is fun. Though the premise might not sound too engaging, especially for those who lack any knowledge of volleyball, it carries with it much more than logistical explanations of what it means to be a setter. It possesses what sports anime revel in; heart. The stories of individuals who become a part of a team, a ragtag bunch of clashing personalities who develop into something more as they play. Is it cliche? Absolutely. Does that dilute the experience in any way? Not in the slightest. You just can’t help but get excited everytime the team scores or dramatically keeps the ball in play when all hope seemed lost. Not that you would try to help it, after all, this is a series better left to those who want to be uplifted by the never say die, shonen attitude of a protagonist. That in no way implies that the series doesn’t present a good story, just that it’s more fun to sit back and enjoy the endeavours of a once, and soon to be once more, great high school volleyball team.
Feel like standing tall with the Karasuno team? Think carefully before you join, I hear each member is a Madman in their own right