Note: This is going to be more of a final impressions post than an actual review, since I don’t really want to try to quantify my enjoyment of series as much anymore, and I want to be painting broader strokes here considering how everyone clearly has different ways of analyzing and judging the stuff we consume.
Now, on to the actual meat of the post!
I’ll be frank – I didn’t expect much from Haikyuu!! when it was first announced. It was a sports series, yes, but there were so many of them in the market right now that it did not stand out to me even as a fan of the genre. I was expecting it to be above average at best, but damn is Haikyuu!! great.
Haikyuu!! has a simple story to tell – it is essentially about a team of male volleyball players that strive to be the best at the sport. They learn to work together, improve themselves, and ultimately bring out the best of themselves through volleyball. Our protagonists, namely Hinata and Kageyama, are two first-year members at Karasuno High School’s volleyball team that identified each other as rivals back when they first met at a middle school match, but must now work together as teammates in the same team. Even for a Shonen Jump sports series the plot can be a little too…sparse.
Average as the plot might sound, the series does wonders with its simple premise – in fact I would say it is this simplicity, this clarity to its story that becomes its main draw. A big reason why I adore sports anime in general is because of its often romantic portrayal of youth, and honestly youth in its essence is loud, melodramatic, with many ups and downs that tie in with the challenges and obstacles that team Karasuno faces. The brash, straightforward nature of the story parallel the mindsets of its feisty, equally straightforward characters. The series understands what it means to be young, to be passionately in love with something, and to be obsessed with it.
Also, straightforward as the characters may be, that in no way makes them less engaging or charming. Every character had their own story to tell, no one was there just because, and everyone had a part to play in the team, regardless of who the ‘ace’ is. Haikyuu!! uses its characters to emphasize the idea that volleyball, like many other sports out there, is a team sport. Karasuno’s supposed ‘ace’ label belongs to Asahi, the giant of the team with a glass heart, but every other character has a major role to play in the team as well. Nishinoya shares Hinata’s problems of being short, but is a fantastic libero. The captain, Daichi, may not be the best at offense, but he’s experienced and does great receives. Even Hinata, our protagonist, is too short to claim the title of ‘ace’ as we’d expect him to, but he soon establishes his own important position in the team (what it is, I won’t spoil), and understands that he, as well as the rest of his teammates, are all ‘aces’ in their own right.
Hell, another thing about Haikyuu!! that I adore is its portrayal of characters outside the court as well. The losers, the ones being sidelined, those not good enough to stand on the court with the others. Haikyuu!! doesn’t shy away from the pain and fear of losing either, and is never afraid to face those often overwhelming moments of sadness with lots of courage, just like its characters – the girls’ volleyball team, the 2nd years in the Karasuno team that got kicked off the regular lineup, Yamaguchi the sidelined 1st year. Vice-captain Sugawara in particular represented this pain of not being able to stand on the court with the rest the most. It is not an easy feat to watch your friends play without you, yet he still had the selfless desire to see the team win, even if it meant that he would be replaced. Seeing him stand on the court was often a bit of a bittersweet feeling – the moment was fleeting, and Sugawara knew it, yet he would do nothing but his utmost best for the team.
Another aspect that made me adore Haikyuu!! was its presentation. It had some amazingly fluid movements, there was never really a static moment on screen, the characters and the world was bustling; it was alive (which is very important for a sports series!). The series makes some interesting creative choices with regards to its artistic direction as well, cheesy as some of the attempts may have been they made the series all the more endearing to me. There were lots of unique, dynamic shots and sequences that kept the matches on screen interesting despite their length. There were also transitional dissolves and whatnot throughout the series that featured its ‘flying birds’ motif, most notably the crows that represented our underdog team Karasuno. Once again these are simple things, but they do give the series a personality and help tie in its main themes well. Also I should note that the sound direction in this series was surprisingly well-done. Anime often focuses on non-diegetic sound (namely the background music), but Haikyuu!! put a clear focus on both. In particular, moments where a school cheers for its star player in some of the later episodes were immensely captivating, as the movements were completely synchronized with the sound and gave the match so much more impact, keeping me in suspense.
I won’t lie, this series isn’t perfect. There are certain characters that really did not click with me, the melodramatic moments were sometimes too overwhelmingly cheesy to take seriously (when you hear characters shouting and giving encouraging pep talks to each other week after week it does get exhausting) and sometimes I wish the series would pick up the pace a little. Still, I feel that these issues weren’t big enough to really detract from my enjoyment of the series and I can gladly say I truly appreciated Haikyuu!! for what it was and what it made me feel. It made me look back on my days as an athlete, got me to reflect on my experiences with my teammates and made me feel like what I did was worth something, it made me feel like I was really testing myself and understanding what my true potential was (even if only for a split second). As I watched it week after week, it made me smile, and that’s something I’ll definitely miss now that the series is over.
Season two please!