Inspired after watching a volleyball ace nicknamed "Little Giant" in action, small-statured Shouyou Hinata revives the volleyball club at his middle school. The newly-formed team even makes it to a tournament; however, their first match turns out to be their last when they are brutally squashed by the "King of the Court," Tobio Kageyama. Hinata vows to surpass Kageyama, and so after graduating from middle school, he joins Karasuno High School's volleyball team—only to find that his sworn rival, Kageyama, is now his teammate. Thanks to his short height, Hinata struggles to find his role on the team, even with his superior jumping power. Surprisingly, Kageyama has his own problems that only Hinata can help with, and learning to work together appears to be the only way for the team to be successful. Based on Haruichi Furudate's popular shounen manga of the same name, Haikyuu!! is an exhilarating and emotional sports comedy following two determined athletes as they attempt to patch a heated rivalry in order to make their high school volleyball team the best in Japan. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
The most important thing in a team sports is, without a doubt, the team. This holds especially true for volleyball. Having six talented players is all fine, but as long as they aren’t a team and don’t show team spirit, that talent is surely in vain. But what if it’s the other way round; is it a surefire way to win when you have one team where not everyone is talented?
Not really. But the chances are higher when there’s one team, rather than six players.
Haikyuu!!, or High Jump in English, is about Hinata and Kageyama, two players who originally stand at the opposite side of the volleyball net – plus are personality-wise polar opposites too – and are, due to the fact that they attend the same high school, forced to work together. During that process, they learn the importance of a team and that you don’t lose or win alone. The show eventually does focus on the entire Karasuno volleyball team (and on other teams too), but it’s still obvious who the main characters are.
As with most sports anime, the plot starts with Hinata and Kageyama meeting (and fighting), then joining the Karasuno volleyball team, and the team battling others all the way to the Inter-Highs. The volleyball aspects are well explained though and nicely weaved into dialogues. We learn about the libero when the libero appears. We learn about Quick As when Kageyama and Hinata perform a Quick A. There is no huge info dump in that manner; the viewer is pretty much spoonfed with information, one term explained at a time. The plot isn’t very original and average at best, but to be fair, Haikyuu is an anime where it’s more about the characters than the story.
What I liked about Haikyuu was the fact that the show doesn’t rely on superpowers, even though it was somewhat unbelievable at some points. There is the fact that Kageyama can exactly pin-point where to toss the ball, for example, or Hinata jumping a felt hundred metres high. But except that, there are no laser beams emerging from the player’s eyes, there is no “super saiyan”-mode, nothing like that. And the best part is: Even the supporting cast thinks it’s weird. They think it’s weird when Kageyama perfectly tosses the ball to Hinata, who jumps a felt hundred metres high. They laugh when a character names his moves. I simply loved that because most sports anime tend to take those things for granted, which isn’t realistic at all.
As previously mentioned, Haikyuu lives off its characters. The first eleven episodes are about the main team, Karasuno, which helps the viewer to learn and love the boys one by one, as most are characterized well, have good interactions with each other and their motivations are shown too. Then the opposing teams and characters kick in. There is the ”fated rival” Nekoma, who appears in three episodes and then vanishes into thin air with the promise to meet again in the Inter-Highs. There is Tokonami, the loser team, and Dateko, the team that caused the ace Asahi to have a volleyball trauma. But the only opposing team truly worth mentioning is Aoba Johsai which we get a lot to know of, as many of the players were once teammates or upperclassmen of Kageyama, but especially so Oikawa, who can be seen as the antagonist of Haikyuu. He gets such strong characterization and his motivations are laid out so well that it makes him easily one of the best characters in the series. Other characters who develop really well are Karasuno’s Tanaka – who gets introduced as one of the comic relief characters in the beginning and gets fleshed out properly later on – as well as Nishinoya, who is introduced as a hot-blooded, loud character, but quickly turns to one of the pillars of the protagonist team.
I wish I could say the same about Hinata, but sadly, that isn’t true. While his motivations do get shown early in the series – as he is the main character – he still acts most of the time like a “volleyball Naruto”; hotblooded, highly friends-focused and especially annoying in matches, when he screams “Bring it on!” for the tenth time (even if it does get revealed that it has a reason why he screams that way). As for the other main character Kageyama, he certainly develops from the mean, oppressing attitude which brought him the nickname “King of the court” (no, that’s definitely not praise), to a person who learns to depend on others and to listen to them for once. I really like Haikyuu’s cast, save one or two characters, and they make the show very good.
The animation, as the studio behind the series is Production I.G, certainly does not disappoint. The scenes look crisp, the matches look fluid, and what I loved especially was, in some parts of the show, when the characters smash the ball – that was when the animation became a lot like a sketch and that was very impressive in my eyes. There is also a scene which was reminiscent to the Monogatari Series to me in Episode 21; when the vice-captain Sugawara wants to tell Kageyama to “do his best”, but stops in the middle of the sentence and the plain text “Let’s win” gets shown for two seconds. Sometimes the characters look off-model (especially the ones watching the game), and sometimes scenes are reused over and over again, but overall, it’s certainly a visual feast.
As for the sound, it always fits to the mood, and varies from electronic to straight up swing over rock; this applies to the opening and ending themes as well. A special mention belongs to the voice cast; there were many familiar and unfamiliar names, and all of them did a great job. All of them suit to their respective characters, but the one that shined the most was Oikawa’s voice actor and my favourite, Namikawa Daisuke, who made Oikawa to the great antagonist that he is.
When I watched Haikyuu on a weekly basis, I was looking forward to every next week, and loved every single episode. When I rewatched it once the show was over, I didn’t enjoy it that much. I thought the events before the Inter-High (which starts in Episode 15) to be average at best. But after the Inter-High started, that was when my enjoyment had a peak, especially so in the last match, Karasuno vs Aoba Johsai. To me, that’s when the series really evolves from the average sports anime to a great one.
Haikyuu’s core theme is the team. It’s about learning to trust each other when you’re in a team, it’s about winning and losing as a team, it’s about overcoming obstacles as a team. For being that team-focused, Haikyuu really spends lots of its time for the viewer to get to know the team, and handles its characters with great care, even though the plot is by no means unique. It has great animation, a fitting sound and a wonderful voice cast. If you are debating whether or not to watch this, then don’t hesitate and start Haikyuu. You won’t regret it.