Review — Haikyuu!!

Karasuno High School Volleyball Club

A tall, tall wall looms over me. What is the view on the other side? What does it look like? 
 The view from the top. It’s a view that I could never see by myself. But if I’m not doing it alone, I just might be able to see it.

Opening Line of Episode 1 of the anime, Haikyuu

Such an opening, while certainly obscure at first will begin to make complete sense once you take the plunge and watch Haikyuu.

An anime about high school volleyball, Haikyuu follows the story of Hinata Shoyo who joins Karasuno High School after watching a player nicknamed “The Little Giant” on television at the National Volleyball Championships. Although it’s introduced this way, the show begins putting equal emphasis to other players in the spotlight just as much as they do Hinata himself.

Short Spoiler below covering much of what happens in the first episode. You can skip it if you like.
 Season 1’s first episode covers some backstory of Hinata in Middle School and how he faces a setter named Kageyama Tobio in his very first Middle School Championship match. Facing a crushing loss, he vows revenge on him with volleyball in High School. Only to see that even Kageyama has joined Karasuno as well. And so marks the beginning of Karasuno High School’s volleyball club.

Alright, you’re safe now, no more spoilers from here on out. Enjoy the read.

With the backstory covered, the story actually begins to start rather slowly for a sports anime. Going into this show after watching anime like Kuroko No Basket (which goes at breakneck pace right from episode 2), I was rather taken aback by how long they were taking to put them in a match. I started watching the show with the belief that the best moments are stored only when showing matches. And boy, was I wrong.

Haikyuu is definitely a slower paced show than much of the other sports animes out there. But in all fairness, when it’s fast, it’s fast. It’s a show that, while certainly testing your patience and making you feel a little restless to see some high paced volleyball as soon as possible, will reward you greatly whenever the time came for it.

That said, season 1 was still decent at best. It had a mix of slow paced storytelling to showing about 4 matches and leading up to quite a nice finale with a match against Aoba Josai. It did not feel complete in the slightest of course, what with the manga still going on (as of the time of this review) but it lacked a level of enthusiasm that I derived from watching something like Kuroko No Basket’s first season that made me crave for its 2nd one.

Until I moved on to Season 2 anyway, which was the best move I’d ever done.

Season 2 makes you forget much of whatever you thought lacked in Season 1 and gives you the thrills you’ve been dying to feel since you’d have begun watching this show. Everything about this season and its episodes felt perfect. And it’s here where you begin appreciating the uniqueness and the novelty of how it wants to show Volleyball. It’s here that you realize it needn’t always be about what happens in proper matches and that it can be equally about things like training sessions and backstories. The storytelling and the action that follows is marvelous in this season alone. Not to mention the music composed by Hayashi Yuki and Tachibana Asami was spot-on and incredible to hear in the background at all times.

And it’s not even that Season 1 was bad in any way at all either. The way this second season ran and showed merely outshined its first in so many ways that it makes watching the whole thing such a worthwhile experience. Add to that the anticipation and excitement of a third season on its way (as of the time of this review) and there’s that innate joy that it’s still not anywhere near the end yet.

As I mentioned earlier, even though the show starts off as a story about Hinata and Kageyama, beyond the first 3 episodes it puts much of the other players into focus and starts building a lot of personality and depth to the story. Haruichi Furudate (the Manga’s author) is not afraid to take away the spotlight from the main character at any point of time and make entire episodes about other players. This is even more apparent in the second season of the anime and also when there were chapters in the manga dedicated to showing a different team’s matches and their progress in the Spring Invitational tournament. Haikyuu quickly becomes about the sport in general instead of showing it through the eyes of just Karasuno High or even individually through Hinata and Kageyama.

And boy if he doesn’t make you love the other teams and their players very quickly. Furudate simply manages to pick the right personalities and put them into the other players to pique your interest on what they say and think both on and off-court. I personally love Kuroo Tetsuro of Nekoma High and Bokuto Kotaro of Fukurodani Academy for characters outside Karasuno. All of their interactions in the training camp arc in season 2 are quite memorable for me (So much so that I transcripted their dialogues on my phone and try to mutter them to myself whenever I’m alone thinking I’d sound cool. Insane, aren’t I?) And even the characters with the least focus still manage to stand out at moments where they alone mattered and would have done things remarkably enough to inspire something in later episodes. In fact, almost every incident serves as an inspiration to someone somewhere later on and it feels refreshing seeing all of these as flashbacks in the anime whenever they come up.

This way, Haikyuu is this list of carefully conducted volleyball plays with nothing ever going too awry in terms of what’s being done. You don’t, for even a single second think any of it vague or hard to understand. Everything is simple while still being exciting to watch.

And it strictly adheres to the science of the sport too. A major observation which separates Haikyuu from all the rest is that there are absolutely NO overpowered characters. Nobody is introduced or spoken about as a player who has no equal. Sure there is hype around teams like Shiratorizawa for example, but most of the time through the first two seasons the reason for it is almost always because they are the team that go to nationals every year. And this time around it seems all the more apparent they would because of a player named Ushijima Wakatoshi. However, when they’re brought into the spotlight in the manga later on, you notice that their strengths are based around some very real parameters and nothing built up as any fantasy of sorts that could only be seen in anime or whatever.

Though putting it this way might make Haikyuu sound boring, it’s still a worthwhile watch even for ones that follow the actual sport of Volleyball. The plays themselves are very well made with some, but not excessive drama between points — Constantly keeping the action going. It happens quickly, it’s easy to follow without rewinding and wondering what really happened and it’s filled with information on volleyball to make sense at all times. The characters outside of the volleyball players themselves are key to this. The coach of Karasuno and Nekoma, Ukai and Nekomata always have various insights on what a player’s strengths are and Nekomata is especially seen offering a variety of advice to other players too.

There’s also a heavy focus on thematic representation. Karasuno is thematically shown to be a flock of crows(Karasu meaning Crow in Japanese), Nekoma being shown to have the same wily nature as a cat (Neko also meaning cat) and Fukurodani’s Bokuto having his hairstyle shaped like a horned owl (since Fukuro means owl). Throughout the series, many of the team’s strengths and improvements are chalked up to their very nature of playing volleyball which would commonly be identified as that of a crow’s, cat’s or an owl’s in the case of those teams as well as many other innate themes running in the other teams too. There are still teams merely spoken about but still not properly revealed yet(which will be done in due course, I hope) that will be done in future that could very well have their own themes running for them.

Another reason for me to love Season 2 so much is that it probably has the most heart stopping 4 minutes that I’d have seen in any anime, ever in Episode 24 when showing the final moments of a match. At this point the music, the events that happen made it feel so complete for a match ending. I still rewatch these 4 minutes nowadays just to continue getting the same Goosebumps I felt when I first watched it too. It’s here where one makes the observation that this is a VERY carefully written show.

Overall, with an OK start to the series in the anime’s first season leading to an absolutely stunning second one with so much more to come, Haikyuu is definitely worth the watch because of its amazing simplicity while still being exciting, and for its characters. Give it a watch sometime!