Welcome to volleyball on steroids. A young Shoyo Hinata joins the Karasuno High School volleyball team several years after he watched them reach the national finals as a child. We follow his journey from not playing a single game in middle school to returning his new school to their former glory at the Japanese Boys Volleyball National stage.
I need to preface my approach to this show. I watched the first season while snuggled under 5 blankets because it was snowing outside. I immediately messaged the Lotad Gang (my weekly anime group), “Wait, why did people like ‘Haiku!!’ again?” Season one was about as impressive as cooking bagged rice and had as much character development as an ad break. But I decided to give the next season a try. Then the next season. Then the next season… and it gets way better. Because of this, I am weighing the show as a whole, and taking into account how season one drags the scores down.
Shoyo Hinata is gifted. He has an incredible ability to jump and his reactions are unmatched. He is the team’s speed powerhouse and scores a lot. Hinata is suitably the main character of the show and we primarily follow him and the situations surrounding him and Kageyama. We quickly get the impression that Hinata does not have the capacity to do much of anything other than play volleyball. Even when he is playing, he is not particularly intelligent. Despite this, I couldn’t help but feel attracted to the energy that he brings to the team and the amazing plays he generates. He is neither the hero we asked for nor the one we wanted, but he works.
Tobio Kageyama is Hinata’s foil. Where Hinata has instinct, Kageyama has experience. Where Hinata is emotional, Kageyama is calm. These characters are naturally paired as teammates and rivals because it wouldn’t be an anime if the two main characters didn’t hate each other at least a little bit. Kageyama’s story revolves around his ability to overcome his past as a demanding and toxic teammate. This is particularly interesting because Hinata craves a talented teammate and Kageyama demands it. The two work together well while occasionally feeding into each other’s weaknesses. But I won’t spoil too much of that.
Daichi Sawamura is the Mario of the team. He’s an all-around solid guy who keeps the team together, motivated, and level headed. We don’t get to explore a lot of his past outside of volleyball, but it’s clear that his role as a captain is taken very seriously. Daichi is a character you could get by not talking about, but his leadership and strong sense of setting an example brings more to the team than the credit he gets from many viewers.
Yu Nishinoya is that classic meme of “copy my homework but make it look a little different.” He is pretty much the exact same character as Hinata but he is a libero. A libero in volleyball basically can’t attack, so they specialize in defense. I can see the writers saying, “Wait, what if we took Hinata, but he couldn’t attack.” I mean… I guess that is cool? The character himself is as likable as Hinata but I didn’t want two of the same characters.
Ryūnosuke Tanaka was one of the least interesting characters in my eyes before the fourth season. He really didn’t get any development or do anything that special other than fill the role of the airhead spiker. In season four, we get to learn a little bit about him, understand how he feels, and the writers throw him a little romance… just a little. You know me, I’m a sucker for romance, so my ass latched onto that so fast — but I was given crumbs. I mean, these writers gave me less romance than my last girlfriend and I dated her for six months.
Koshi Sugawara is a character whose role I am still trying to understand. He doesn’t play much. He doesn’t offer a lot of personality. He doesn’t have any crazy skills. He plays second fiddle to Kageyama in the setter position and second fiddle to almost anyone else in every other way on the show. I was really hoping that Sugawara would have a shining moment, that he would seriously contend for the starting spot, or that he would completely shift the dynamic of a match but he never really did. It feels as if many of the other characters got moments, plural, and he MAYBE got a moment, singular.
Kei Tsukishima is that one disenfranchised kid that writers throw in a show for no reason at all. He acts cold the whole show and when you find out why, you just roll your eyes. He is the team’s blocking power and actually gets a sweet little arc in season three. It took awhile for him to get any love from the writers but he is a likeable character once he gets the attention he needs.
Asahi Azumane is the team ace. This ban-bun volleyball bro looks like everything he is not. He looks like a cross between a powerlifter and a lacrosse bro but is actually a sensitive guy who gets in his own head. We aren’t given a lot of Asahi but his competition with Hinata to score the most points really drives both of them to improve. While he feels underdeveloped, he feels impactful in the show at the very least.
The writers took their sweet time developing some characters and really ignored others as a result. We have to look at their development over the seasons and not season by season, otherwise we could just ignore some people for whole seasons. I was fairly critical of the development of the characters but enjoyed who they were. 4/6
I am a huge volleyball fan. My mom and I watched Misty May and Kerri Walsh play in every Olympics growing up and I played volleyball whenever I could at my university. This show had me mentally jumping for blocks, diving for chance balls, and in utter disbelief when shots got blocked. Huge shout out to the writers, visual teams, and audio teams here because they really captured the essence of the game. I was deep into the competition, the anger about mistakes, the physical drain, and the moment of victory. It’s no surprise that so many people post about this show because as far as anime that gets you hyped up, this is one of them. When Karasuno High School loses, it feels personal. When they win, it feels like you were part of the accomplishment. 5/6
Ah yes…ideas. Here I am sitting at my desk thinking, “Wow, Haikyu!! will probably score higher than I anticipated after watching the first season.” Then I got to this point. You see, the show is not that deep. We get a lot of shouting about the power of practice and wanting to improve, but we can see that in pretty much any anime. In fact, being a volleyball anime isn’t even original — it’s just that this one has no fan service (sorry guys).
I took a break from writing this section to talk to my friends who had also seen this show and I was given one good idea that came from this show: villains not really being villains. Haikyu!! is odd in the sense that characters often have personal rivals or villains. Hinata’s rival for the longest time is some kind of Lebron James of volleyball, Kageyama’s rival is his middle school mentor, and so on. But there is no evil. These are just kids who want to win a game. In fact, they often help each other get better, train together at camps or scrimmages, or just offer unsolicited advice. We feel the tension as a viewer but never really feel like anyone is the “bad guy.” Anime likes to be black and white to this blurring is a nice little departure from the standard.
Pretty mute on ideas overall, but an interesting approach to good and evil here. 2/6
Pacing is always relative. Season by season, there is little that happens in the show — sometimes it feels like we don’t fit in more than one game in a season. Certain games are given lots of importance and others are skimmed by, to a confusing point on occasion. I remember one match in season three where we watched the first set or two and then randomly cut to after the game the next episode.
I was left there thinking, “Wait… wasn’t this the most important match to date”
The show said, “Yes, but actually no…”
So needless to say there are some pacing issues, and given the first season’s pacing was okay at best, the score reflects. 2/4
Season one’s animation felt… underwhelming. For the amount that I had heard about the show, I was not impressed. Season two and three passed by in a blur and before I realized it, the animation was downright impressive. The normal feeling of dropping my phone on my face as I watched was replaced by the ball impacting my face vicariously through Hinata. We were introduced to new art styles, breathtaking moments, clean service aces, funny reactions, and more. The animation improved the most between seasons and is certainly worth watching for amazing moments. 3/4
Haikyu!! does not explore the world to introduce locations, but rather shows the world to introduce characters. There is rarely a concrete idea of “the world” outside the gyms that the games take place in. In place of interesting or new scenery, we get new teams and play styles that feel like what locations are meant to be at the heart. It feels like each play style has a home, and we visit and receive these playstyles on a number of occasions. This, however, only really develops after the first season. The first season is pretty mute in terms of locations development and diversity, but we quickly branch out after the season. 2/3
The score on the court is not the only score that gets run up. Haikyu!! creates an environment that just sucks you in. Beyond any other sound, it is the sound of the squeaking shoes. For some reason this sound just… resonates with me. I will never act like I am musically inclined, but I certainly know when I hear a good orchestra and this show has one. I always relisten to random episodes to remember what the music was like. Haikyu!! weaves in these weird synthetic wave type sounds with orchestral support, a crazy variety of drums, and all kinds of ambience. It’s hard to listen clearly to the music while the action is happening and the subtitle are flying by, but the music draws the viewer in deceptively. 3/3
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||4||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||5||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||2||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||2||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||3||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||2||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||3||3|
Does Haikyu!! live up to what I saw others made it out to be? Probably not. Is the show good? Yes. Watch the show. Your time would be spent well. If you enjoy the first season, I am excited for you. If you do not like season one, stick out for at least season two and then decide if you want to keep going. The show goes faster than you think and the highest moments are incredible.