Tuesday, December 02, 2014

'Haikyuu!' Made Volleyball Awesome to Me

I was not expecting much from Haikyuu! at first.  My sister recommended it to me when I asked her if she knew of any good anime series I would likely be interested in.  She described it as “like Kuroko No Basuke” but instead of basketball, the featured sport is volleyball. With nothing else to do – and since I enjoyed Kuroko No Basuke a lot when I encountered it last year (but I was greatly disappointed of the manga’s anticlimactic and underwhelming conclusion this year) – I proceeded to watch it… and found out that it’s better than Kuroko No Basuke in so many levels.

I’m wary to make a definite “best sports anime I’ve ever encountered” proclamation since following seasons may not be as fantastic as its 25-episode first season.  But if the same quality is sustained all throughout its run, then it’s a no-brainer for Haikyuu! to get such title since I find no other sports anime that has been nigh-perfect in totally nailing what the genre should be. 

If anything else, Haikyuu! has made volleyball fascinating to me for the first time.    


Like all sports anime, Haikyuu! was able to enhance the energy and excitement of the actual experience of watching the sport in real life.  But it was able to do this without having over-the-top player abilities (like in Kuroko No Basuke, Prince of Tennis, and Eyeshield 21).    I’m not saying that everything is realistic, but it was down-to-earth compared to most sports anime.  Still, even without having the benefit of ridiculous action sequences, it was still as fun and thrilling as those sports anime that went that approach.

The drama is just as important as the action in making the story engrossing.  Not only did Haikyuu! feature exciting volleyball action but it was also able to convey deep emotion.  It accomplished making the audience feel the sweet victories, bitter defeats, and exhilaration of the contest with much empathy. 

Moreover, it has several times made me genuinely laugh.  Haikyuu! is probably the funniest sports anime next to Eyeshield 21.   Since Eyeshield 21 is wacky and hilarious, that’s saying something.  Humor is always a big plus.   


The primary thing I like about this anime is how good it was able to handle its characters.  For me – more often than not – if the characters are made worth caring about, the audience will be deeply drawn to the story that the characters are in.  Haikyuu! was able to make me care about every single member of the team, which made me emotionally invested in the team itself.  If I had encountered Haikyuu! before I’ve written my top 10 fictional sports team list, Karasuno High School’s volleyball team would end up in number 3.          

Every member was given the chance to have his respective talents, passions, and struggles explored by the narrative.  Thus, every member of Karasuno has been given enough personality for me to appreciate what he brings to the team and the story.  Of course, most of the development and exposure are on the main characters, which are rightfully so, but the supporting cast has never been made irrelevant.  

Not everything about the characterizations are unique or original.  I can find several similar character elements from other sports anime – e.g. the central characters being some form of phenomenal rookies, adopting the mold of the usual anime character archetypes, club members in hiatus re-joining the team, characters figuring out the “there’s no ‘I’ in team” principle, etc. – but they were so well-executed and satisfyingly justified in the overall narrative and characterizations that I’ve no complains.   


I’ve never been a big and knowledgeable sports fan, so sports anime are often very informative to me.  But more so with Haikyuu! and volleyball.  I’ve never been educated by an anime on a sport by such extent ever since Slam Dunk taught me a lot about basketball

Example, I got to have a deeper understanding on the rules.  Like the way you can return the ball to the opposing side can be made dependent by how you received it.  You can’t just set and spike by whim. 

Moreover, I finally learned that the positions in volleyball actually have particular roles just as much as the positions in basketball, American football, and soccer.  This was never made clear to me when I got to play volleyball in school and summer camp when I was still a teen.  I thought that since the players are rotating anyway, each player has basically the same roles. 

The most mindblowing thing I learned is the role of a libero and why he or she has a different uniform from his or her teammates.  Prior this, when I saw professional or collegiate volleyball games in TV, I thought that a player has a different uniform because he or she was the captain.            


Okay, this is probably unfounded in my part, since I’ve never watch much anime these days (even with the current major titles – Naruto, Bleach, Fairy Tail, and One Piece – which I mostly follow by manga and only watch their respective anime occasionally).  Nonetheless, it’s the best anime series of 2014 that I’ve got to watch (Attack on Titan is really the best anime series I’ve seen this year, but it originally run in 2013, so it’s technically not an anime series of 2014).  So for what my recommendation is worth, I say that Haikyuu! is the best anime series of 2014.

Miscellaneous musings:
  • Up until now, I still have no idea what the word “haikyuu” means. 
  • I applaud the visuals. It’s beautiful and really enhances the overall narrative, characterizations, and gags.     
  • I think volleyball is more fun to watch if the players are females.  So, if I can make any change in this anime to improve it, I would have centered it on a female volleyball team instead. 
  • Ryuunosuke Tanaka’s brash-and-tough demeanor always cracks me up.  His death stares are greatly fun moments.  
  • Kōshi Sugawara is the classiest “benched senpai” character ever.  
  • The main characters, Shōyō Hinata and Tobio Kageyama, are both “super rookie”-type characters.  The former is a technically limited volleyball player but a very phenomenal jumper and spiker; the latter is a genius setter as well as a well-rounded volleyball player.  One interesting unique detail is that the “ace player” of the team is neither main character but a B-tiered character named Asahi Azumane, a senior.
  • Seriously, it’s only now that I understood how volleyball is much of an awesome team sport as basketball and American football.

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