The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Haikyuu!!

Title: Haikyuu!!
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Production I.G.
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 06 Apr 2014 – 21 Sept 2014

Synopsis: Hinata Shoyo dreams of playing volleyball, just like his idol the Little Giant. In Junior High, his thrown-together team is thoroughly crushed by another school led by setter, Kageyama Tobio, the “King of the Court”. Hinata swears revenge against the King, only to discover upon joining the Karasuno High School volleyball club that Kageyama is not his adversary, but his new teammate. Together with the other players, they have to battle hard to regain their schools reputation as one of the best in the prefecture.

The Highlights
Sports tropes: Present but masterfully executed.
Players: A well balanced and likable cast.
Volleyball: Used effectively and mostly explained for those not familiar with the sport.
That feeling when your team leaves it all on the court: Captured perfectly.

I watched this entire series with a huge smile on my face. I couldn’t help it. Haikyuu!! is not a show that defies convention or breaks down the tired clichés of sports anime. Indeed, it features all of the touches one would expect: the flash-backs, time-stopping internal monologues, super slow motion and games that span several episodes. Yet it uses these techniques extremely well to capture the emotional rush of competitive team sport. This is very much a sports anime, but the fantastic execution makes it one of the best in the genre.

Haikyuu!! does what all great sports anime need to do: it makes it fun. First, it uses the sport of volleyball to its advantage. Volleyball is not a sport where one player can dominate. It requires a team effort with the players working together. For those not familiar with the sport, the show provides side commentary to explain what’s happening, from the basics of the sport to the strategies employed by the show’s top teams. While the plays and skill of the players are exaggerated, they never quite feel ridiculous and no player is without weaknesses. The series also takes the time to explore the roles leadership, strategy and the ‘mental game’ play beyond the core strength and skill of the players in earning a victory.

Secondly, the show employs great direction and pacing. The games, aside from one later in the series, never drag and feature some dynamic angles and smooth animation. The impact of a spike hitting the floor feels as though it carries weight of the whole team with it. The dramatic and action-filled moments are balanced with well-placed and well-timed comedy moments that not only lighten the tension but also work to develop the characters. It’s clear a lot of care was put into the details, from the facial expressions to the movement of the ball to the charming eye-catches bracketing the commercial break.

Lastly, the players on Karasuno’s roster are distinctive and likable. While they can be quickly categorized according to sports anime archetypes, they have enough personality and heart to grow beyond their established roles. Hinata’s childish tenacity pairs well with Kageyama’s pride, but the two never overshadow the goals and battles of their various teammates. Each player is given their own character arc and moment to shine, whether in success or in failure.

Haikyuu!! is notable in that the story never strays from volleyball. The characters are not shown dealing with school, family or any other issues beyond the court. The story stays focused, but because the narrative can bounce to different players, it never feels stale. Haikyuu!! is also fairly unique in that it portrays the opposition not as evil adversaries, but as players who have the same goals and aspirations as the Karasuno players. Several flashbacks tell the story of these opposing teams, leaving me almost rooting for them.

Most of all, Haikyuu!! captures what it means to play comparative team sports. The intensity of the game, the rush of victory, the agony of defeat, the passion you feel inside  it’s all here. These are the joys of sport and the reason why we play. There’s nothing else like it. At the end of episode 24, after the credits, there’s a short segment that perfectly illustrates the release of built up emotions. Moments like these show the creators got it.

Haikyuu!! is built from a familiar template, but its characters, emotion and storytelling show why the formula works. I had a blast.

The Rating: 9
9/10

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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