[Synopsis]: After watching a national championship match on TV, Hinata Shouyou (Murase, Ayumu) gains a fascination for volleyball and aspires to become like the “Small Giant,” one of the championship players who shared his short stature yet performed outstandingly on the court. He starts his own volleyball club at his middle school however hardly anyone joins and he loses his first and only tournament game to Kageyama Tobio (Ishikawa, Kaito) – also known as the “King of the Court”. Determined to follow his dream of playing volleyball, he decides to enroll in Karasuno High School and join their volleyball club however he finds out that Kageyama has joined as well and that they must become teammates despite their past confrontation.
Haikyuu!! has a large cast and so because it would be impossible to go over each and every character in appropriate detail, even on just the main team, I will speak about the main two characters and thereafter paint in broad strokes in regards to the rest of the highly interesting characters.
One of the main characters and the first character we are introduced to, Hinata, can be characterized as determined and eccentric especially when it comes to volleyball. He offers us a newcomer’s perspective to both the Karasuno team as well as the sport in general and has a decent amount of character development over the course of the series though less than a few other characters such as Kageyama in my opinion. His quirkiness and upbeat attitude as well as his interactions with the team generate a good percentage of the shows comedy and so if you enjoy the character then that element of the show may be amplified however by no means does it solely rely on Hinata.
The second main character, Kageyama, starts off in a very different place than Hinata. Though he is equally driven to win (like everyone in the show) he is selfish in his play-style and harbors regrets from his past team because of his actions and outlook and thus seeks to change and improve himself when he enrolls at Karasuno. These themes, of improvement and change, are major character traits of Kageyama and overall he comes off as the more dramatic of the two main characters though both they both have their fair share of dramatic moments and comedic gags so they are hardly one dimensional. The relationship between him and Hinata make up a large amount of screen time outside of practice sessions and games and so they are the main characters in that sense however once the games start their roles are somewhat lessened at times to make room for other members of the team and the opponents as well.
To speak firstly about the Karasuno team – they are all enjoyable and each come with their own ambitions and back-stories. The third years want to enjoy their last season of playing the sport, the second years want to improve the declining team and foster successful first years, and the first years just want to play the game. The chemistry between each of the team members is great and feels very natural – each character interacting with another differently due to their relationships and motivations. Each character is given plenty of time to shine within the course of the game and I found them just as enjoyable if not more so than the main duo of characters. Though volleyball only fields 6 players at a time, the vast majority of the players are enjoyable whether they play or not.
I think Haikyuu! deserves additional praise for how it handles the other teams and opponents of Karasuno. While the school may be in a slump as far as it’s record is concerned, it has a good deal of history that is explored between itself and the other schools and this manifests as tension in the games as the players match up. The show explores the enemy players in a concise and effective way that gives you the long and the short of what they are bringing into the game and how their unique approaches differ from those of Karasuno. I found the opposing teams to be just as interesting as the main team and its hard not to end up rooting for both at times.
My only microscopic qualm is that the only often recurring female character, Kiyoko, has barely any lines and seems to be solely present for comedic purposes and to look good which I suppose is fine however in a show where every character seems to have some level of intrigue and internal complexity – her lack of dialogue and action causes her to stick out to me.
To summarize, Haikyuu!! does an excellent job portraying many different sides of both the game and the players – the tone that ‘everyone deserves to win’ is well executed and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show. While the number of characters is large, it is not so large as some shows and keeps its cast concise enough that you are able to watch each individual character without feeling lost.
The art was actually the reason I myself initially picked up the show – Production I.G brought their all this time around and the art and animation were fantastic. The action sequences were both fluid and sometimes stylistic and really gave a sense of power to the players without seeming unrealistic in their portrayal. The shots and angles used were dynamic and there was never a time throughout the course of the show where I felt an approach had been overused or tired.
The character designs are mostly reserved with a few exceptions such as Nishinoya and maybe Kenma and fit well within the aesthetic of the show. The comedic faces and character designs lent themselves extremely well to the comical parts of the show and were often of more import and more impactful than the jokes or gags themselves.
If I had to highlight one facet of the story it would be its pacing. Its starts off a little slow so that it can ease us into the introduction to the game and the team(s) however at no point did I feel the story dragged during this phase nor was I bored with the content. Whats more, the pacing perpetually gets better and better as once the show frees itself of its explanations and down-time moments the practice games and eventually the tournament games take prevalence and each game is given a proper amount of breathing room within the course of the show without feeling drawn out or too short.
The story itself primarily focuses first on an introduction of the volleyball club at Karasuno High and subsequently the explanation of the game, which it does seamlessly while telling the story – instead of taking the viewer aside and explaining the finer points of the game in an overt manner, they are addressed inadvertently as both Hinata and Kageyama learn to refine certain techniques and whatever explanations are given feel natural to the story rather than aimed aggressively at an uninformed audience. I want to stress the fact that because these explanations are given that anyone wanting to watch this show requires no previous knowledge or even interest an volleyball – I myself was in that position before starting and after finishing found that the show was able to show the game being played in an incredibly interesting way – no more than a few points are scored the same way within the course of any one game and the strategy of each team playing constantly evolves as the match progresses. The show does an amazing job in making each point feel unpredictable and in this way it avoids cliches and tired conventions.
Lastly, because the show has so many characters who each exhibit a great deal of detail, there is a decent amount of character development all around with some players receiving slightly more than others and new dramas and tensions surfacing and resolving all the while – many a character is done justice in this way and it feels like each player gets the focus they deserve. The show may focus a lot of its attention on the game of volleyball however that is where these character traits and differences manifest themselves and so the games become doubly interesting because of this. Your investment is heightened because each point means more than just a point within the game – it is equates to the moral of the players, their progress or setbacks in the attainment of their personal goals, and for some players, their legacy.
I felt the music was good throughout the show however found that the music improved noticeably in the second half – no longer just matching and supporting the scenes, but amplifying them. Some of the key moments and turning points benefit immensely from the exceptional soundtrack and you are really able to feel the drama and tension of the moment because of its presence. I think this category is another place the show succeeds excessively if only not as monstrously as it does in the others.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
For the first time in a long while I have almost nothing but good things to say about a show and whatever small critiques and qualms I might have vanish beneath the overwhelming positive aspects of the show previously cited. For a show that doesn’t necessarily have a premise with wide appeal it does a fantastic job of being engaging on multiple levels and works well despite its potential niche appeal outside the umbrella of the sports genre.
I gave Haikyuu!! a 9 because not only did it far exceed my meager expectations but it did so without going blow for blow with its pros and cons – almost everything about the show was approached and executed in stellar fashion and there was very little I would have wanted changed. I can say nothing more about a show that has so many successes and I believe that if I had, beforehand, an interest in either sports or volleyball like some viewers, that this show could easily be a 10.
As I’ve stated previously, the show does not require any previous knowledge of the game or even sports and so I would recommend it with equal intensity to both sports/volleyball fans and others alike. Honestly I think it is a great show for everyone because it asks so little of its viewers in terms of interests and presents its characters and concepts pretty plainly. There’s a fair share of both drama and comedy amongst both during and between the games and each are carried out at a level that I can safely recommend the show to seekers of both.