I figured it was about time to relent and give sports anime a try, and what better way to start than with the rising star of sports anime, Haikyu!!
The world of sports anime is a realm that I’ve kept my distance from for a while. Applying the hyper-exaggerated style of anime to sports seemed a bit silly to me in a narrative sense for some reason, and only the select, “artsy” shows like Ping Pong the Animation ever landed a hit on my radar. However, after realizing that I simply can’t get enough of what’s coming out of Weekly Shounen Jump these days.
Shouyou Hinata grew up obsessed with watching the exploits of a high school volleyball player known as the Little Giant, who played for the local Karasuno High School.
After seeing him for the first time, Hinata sets his mind on becoming a volleyball star himself, despite his lack of height, and eventually enters Karasuno as well. However, he also discovers that Kageyama, one of his rivals from another school, has also been accepted into Karasuno. Hinata and Kageyama must now learn to work together, along with the rest of the team, in order to grow as players and win as many matches as they can.
If I had to pick a single element that Haikyu!! nails perfectly, it would be the insane levels of hype.
This is easily one of the most exhilarating series I’ve watched in a long time, with each match having its own unique flair and intriguing circumstances to keep it interesting. Like many Jump titles, this anime is great at building up hype and suspense and making it grow steadily for as long as it can. Both seasons have at least one game that lasts for five entire episodes, and the excitement never dies down the entire time. Any series that can do that is simply incredible.
It also does a great job of making sure the viewer stays up to speed with the technical sports jargon. It doesn’t ever spoon feed you information unless it absolutely has to, but the expositional portions about positions, techniques, and styles of play are explained to us bit by bit so that we can stay in the loop on what all the characters are talking about without letting the pace drag too much.
I will admit that it can be a bit cheesy and overblown at times though, especially in the first season. I’ve been following shounen anime long enough to understand that this is par for the course, but somehow it feels a little too on the nose when we’re dealing with sports and realism instead of super powers and fantasy. There are also a few moments where I had to think about whether they were actually following the laws of physics with how the ball moves sometimes, but that issue was eventually swept away by the sheer levels of hype and intensity that the story brings to the table.
A lot of this hype is drawn from how the characters manage to grow in both skill and maturity in each scene.
Hinata and Kageyama as the leads fit perfectly together, with Hinata’s unrefined talent and Kageyama’s genius setting a great foundation for both conflict and resolution. The dynamic between them and the rest of the team seems to mimic that of real-life sports teams, though in a bit more dramatic fashion. They might finally come together one minute, only for a new factor to throw off the dynamic they just set, forcing them to alter their styles slightly to compensate.
The intense rivalry between Hinata and Kageyama blossoming into teamwork pushes the team’s growth along at a breakneck pace.
Image provided by twitter.com
The rest of the team also provides a ton of intensity and opportunities for great storytelling.
Each of these characters has some kind of interesting background they bring to the table, and by the end of two seasons, you feel like you’ve been on this team for a whole year. The theme of teamwork and working together is constantly being pounded into our heads throughout the series, and with this being a sports anime, it fits almost perfectly every time it comes up.
Even the rival teams and non-athlete characters add quite a lot. The rival players that are built up as episodes go on almost feel mythic in size by the time the big game arrives, and there’s rarely a character that is outright antagonistic or nasty, making each match more about the game and the characters rather than a “good vs. evil” scenario. Even the support characters turn out pretty engaging at times, be it the assistant manager brought on in season 2 or the retired coach with more lessons to teach.
On the whole, the animation is incredible, as expected from a Production I.G. sports series.
The character designs are unique and appealing, the action is intense, and the camerawork captures the hype perfectly. Then, when the big hits start to roll in and balls are flying around at near mach speed, the animation shifts into overdrive, with exaggerated outlines and heavily blurred motions taking over to convey pure animation bliss.
My one complaint would be that there are also a lot of reused shot templates, especially when someone is serving.
I get that there are only so many ways you can show something over and over again, but it gets a bit too monotonous seeing the same side view shot whenever it’s time to serve the ball, but this is a fairly mild complaint in the grand scheme of things.
To top it all off, Yuuki Hayashi’s work on the soundtrack lends a perfect blend of exhilaration and intensity to this series. Quick rock licks and orchestral fanfares push each scene along and get your blood pumping when the pressure’s on, and the musical climaxes punctuate the best scenes of each episode. Hayashi’s background in sports made him a perfect fit for this soundtrack, and his execution is simply stellar.
If you’re hesitant to try out sports anime like I was, I would say that Haikyu!! is a fantastic place to start.
It’s a ball of pure hype traveling as fast as the best spikers can slam it, with incredible animation and sound work to bolster an already great story. This one will definitely be a necessary addition to anyone’s collection, and the first season is already out for purchase.
Haikyu!! is currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks and is available for streaming on Crunchyroll. Additionally, the third season of Haikyu!! has been set for the Fall 2016 season.
Final Score: 8.5/10