Haikyu!! Season 1 Review
Original Air Dates: Apr 6, 2014 to Sep 21, 2014
Synopsis: After watching an ace volleyball player nicknamed “Little Giant” on TV, Shouyu Hinata is inspired to pick up the game despite his own short height, and being the only regular member of his middle school’s male volleyball club. After being crushed and thoroughly defeated at his first and only middle school volleyball tournament match, Hinata vows to surpass and defeat the star player named Tobio Kageyama of the rival team.
After graduating from middle school, Hinata applies and is accepted into Karasuno High School, the same school that had his idol, Little Giant as a member of its volleyball club in the past. However, to his shock and dismay, when he goes to apply for the volleyball club, he finds none other than his self declared rival. Tobio Kageyama , applying for the club as well.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
I would like to start this review off by issuing an apology to Haikyu!! for having made assumptions about it being yet another fangirl baiting show that got picked after the major success of Free!, a show that seems to use half naked, dripping men as it’s main selling point. Let me make it clear that I have no issues with others who enjoy Free! or with Free! itself but just like I personally have no interest in having half dressed female characters constantly in my anime, I don’t care for half dressed male characters being the main draw either. Hence, I foolishly assumed Haikyu! would be a collection of formulaic ‘heartthrob’ male characters getting all sweaty for your gazing and drooling pleasure with some basic story of a small team and their journey to being the very best..like no one ever was. I was half right..Haikyu!! IS a story about a struggling volleyball team trying to rise from its fallen grace and regain its once prestigious position as one of the best teams in the prefecture/ nation. And yes, you do have somewhat familair sterotypical characters..Hinata is the classic outlier, someone who clearly doesn’t have the stature of presence of a classic volleyball player but is enthusiastic and displays remarkable talent nonetheless. Then you have Kageyama who is universally acknowledged as being a genuis player but is also considered vain and hard to get along and play with. You even have smaller cliches, like the tough delinquent looking guy who’s actually a total softie, and the girl crazed high school boys, and so on and so forth. But these characters also happen to be the best part of the show. Haikyu!! does a great job of making its character feel more than just classic or cliche two dimensional shounen characters. It gives each of its character character development or character exploration, enough to ensure that every character feels like a real person and not just a formulaic work of fiction.
But what truly impressed me about Haikyu!! is how it treats and presents the members of rival teams and schools. It’s not uncommon for shounen shows to often portray rival teams as nothing more than arrogant jerks who exist solely to humiliate and taunt the main cast team until our protagonists turn the tables on them while the viewers cheer them on for finally getting their revenge/ rightful place as the all time champions. In Haikyu!!, every other high school volleyball team is exactly what they are. They’re just a bunch of hardworking high school kids, who have put in just as much if not more blood and sweat into being good volleyball players. They’re fellow kids, with real personalities and no contrived evil streak in them that labels them as nothing but a bunch of mean and arrogant villains. There are a handful of characters who do come off as intimidating or colder than the rest of the cast but even then, they are shown to have personal issues or stories that make their attitudes understandable. Haikyu!! just might have you feeling extremely guilty or choked up even when our main cast wins the match because it does such a good job of portraying the hopes, dreams and ensuing disappointment of the defeated team. It gets you emotionally invested in the match not just for the sake of the Karasuno team but even their opponents.
Haikyu!! also has appeal as a show that sticks to realism a lot more than what one might expect from and in anime. Even though Hinata and Kageyama are shown to have some rather impressive skills, the characters in the show often mention how unusual their skills are. They do so in a manner that makes it clear that they are surprised that it’s possible, rather than to merely hype it up like some stories tend to do. Besides that, our protagonists and players are shown working extremely hard to be as good as they are. Even the genius Kageyama is shown arriving to practice way earlier than others and putting in more hours of practice than others which makes Haikyu!! feel a lot more realistic and not just another case of flaunting a protagonist who is just naturally and easily better than everyone else. Every single member of the team gives it their all, and are unafraid to ask for advice and help when they encounter others who are more skilled than them. It promotes a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship and really makes it feel like a team effort and a team sport with constant conversations among the players about how they are all allies and there to support each other.
For those who might still be scoffing at the thought of watching a sports anime, let me assure you that Haikyu!! has the potential to appeal and appease even those who aren’t fans of sports anime. It has a LOT of volleyball in it but it manages to keep itself from feeling like watching a sports match by inserting lots of comedy, story and heart. Every match turns into a display of determination, friendship or character development rather than just a showcase for brilliant sports move. At the same time, Haikyu!!! dispenses volleyball knowledge and educates its viewers on the various ins and outs of the games without making it feel like a straight up lecture or flood of intimidating amounts of information. So for those wondering if its worth a watch for the volleyball alone, Haikyu!! doesn’t disappoint either.
Now that we’ve showered a ton of praise, it’s time to get critical. For a show that pulls off character development well for a lot of its supporting characters, it neglects it in the case of its main protagonist, Hinata. He is always cheerful, enthusiatic and determined and a big goof in general, traits you must have seen before often in classic shounen protagonists. And he remains exactly that throughout the show. He is always the one with a big cheesy grin on his face, cheering on everyone else and rarely ever facing any personal and emotional struggles. He always takes everything in stride and never lets anything get him down which might disappoint those of you who have tired of that trope. The show can also get cheesy in the way that all ‘inspirational’ shounen shows do with lines that might make the more jaded viewer wince such as “because people don’t have wings, they look for ways to fly”. It also feels like it takes forever to get Kageyama and Hinata working together and on the team as they are events we all know is going to happen for certain and making it so drawn out proves to be annoying rather than thrilling. In general, the first few epiosdes of the show might feel a little slow if you aren’t already gravitating towards the characters introduced in the episodes. Also, for those who are tired of the classic loser team tries to make it to the top story line , there’s no denying that Haikyu!! is yet another classic example of it. Yes, it does do some things differently but that may not be enough for anyone who is completely sick of that trope and it is also sprinkled with some additional classic shounen tropes which would most likely only annoy such a viewer even more.
At the end of the day, this review is a pretty late entry in the Haikyu!! hype train but this show truly does deserve a chance with viewers( like me) who might have avoided it till date due to their assumptions from other sports anime. Haikyu!! is not a flawless shows, and as listed above, there are definite reasons why you might have been right in giving the show a miss and thinking it isn’t for you. However, if you have been skipping it based solely on the fear that it might be nothing but a parade of exaggerated shounen sports skills and generic two dimensional hotties, you might just find yourself being proven very wrong.