Review for Haikyu!! Season 1 Collection 1
Is it right to be concerned? Animatsu (Manga in all but name), are trying to release a long form anime on Blu-ray, although when they licensed it, they probably didn’t know Haikyu!! would be in its second full length series by now, broadcasting in Japan and streaming to the world as I type. But Haikyu!! is a sports anime, and sports anime have traditionally failed to reach audiences in the West, and I’m hard pressed to think of suitable examples in the UK. I think Bamboo Blade might be the closest to a traditional sports anime, pretty much everything else “sporty” has fantastical elements to it like IGPX or Angelic Layer. Would you believe that there was a football anime in Japan in 2012, Knight in the Area? If any anime show should come to the UK in a World Cup year, that would be it. 2016 is another World Cup year, although I don’t know about football. It might just be a good year for sports anime in general though. We’re getting Ping Pong later this year, and Free will take us into the world of competitive swimming. Maybe Animatsu are surfing the right wave with Haikyu!!, a show about volleyball. It matters less what the sport is (volleyball isn’t exactly a UK sports staple), and more how good the anime is, and from all accounts, Haikyu!! is very good indeed. It might just be the sports anime to crack the UK market!
Shoyo Hinata is an unlikely volleyball player, as he’s certainly short of stature. But he fell in love with the sport at a young age, when he saw a TV broadcast of a game, with a similarly short player making the most exciting plays. He wants to be just like the Tiny Giant, and fly on the volleyball court. He singlehandedly formed a volleyball club in middle school, and through sheer dint of effort and cajoling, had a team gathered for a tournament by the end of his third year. The trouble was that Yukigaoka Middle School’s team of enthusiastic first-timers drew Kitagawa Middle School in the first match, the tournament favourites, and Shoyo Hinata ran headlong up against their setter Tobio Kageyama. The result was inevitable, but what wasn’t, was the animosity engendered between the two and their differing attitudes to the game.
Shoyo Hinata vowed to keep on training, continue to improve, and get onto Karasuno High School’s volleyball team, so that he could one day come up against Kageyama in a tournament and get his revenge. He wasn’t expecting Kageyama to go to Karasuno as well, and he certainly didn’t expect to be on the same team as him. But the two entrenched rivals might just become the ultimate combination in volleyball.
The first thirteen episodes of the first series of Haikyu!! are presented across two Blu-ray discs from Animatsu.
1. The End and the Beginning
2. The Volleyball Club of Karasuno High
3. The Most Powerful Ally
4. The View From the Summit
5. The First Time Jitters
6. An Interesting Team
7. Vs. The Great King
8. The One They Call the Ace
9. A Toss For The Ace
10. The Dream
11. The Decision
12. The Cat and Crow Reunion
13. Worthy Adversaries
Haikyu!! gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. I have no complaints about this anime’s presentation in HD. The image is clear and sharp throughout, there are no issues with compression, artefacting or even significant banding, and the animation is smooth and fluid. It’s all to the good, as Production IG have gone all out to bring this anime to life. The character designs are likeable, individual, and memorable, while the world design conforms to the usual modern high school aesthetic. It’s detailed, colourful, and very appealing. The real joy comes in the action animation. Volleyball is a fast paced, high energy, and fluid game, and Production IG have managed to maintain, and even enhance that sense of pace and action, as they animate the games. These are fast paced, breathtaking gameplay sequences, and you’ll be tempted to skip back and watch scenes again, just to take the brilliance of the animation in.
The images used in this review were kindly supplied by Animatsu.
This one is also a subtitle only release, with just a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese track. Haikyu!! really is a show that would benefit from a dub, as it isn’t exactly steeped with localisation issues, and an English dub would flow well. But as it’s a Sentai title, maybe it’s better off subtitle only. The audio is fine, the stereo gives the show a good deal of space, and the voice actors are suited well to their roles. Haikyu!! also has some great music to it, and not just the theme songs. It’s a great, uplifting soundtrack, perfectly suited to the subject matter. The subtitles are timed accurately, free of typos, and unfortunately are locked during playback.
The discs present their content with static menus, and since the episodes are in Japanese with locked subtitles, there are no set-up options.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Soni-Ani, Super Sonico the Animation.
Disc 2 offers the textless credit sequences, and trailers for MEDAKA BOX, Gingitsune, To loveru Darkness, and Campione!
I know I have a really special anime in my hands if my first urge after finishing the final episode in a collection is to put the first disc in and start watching again from the beginning. I got that urge with Haikyu!! The last time I had this feeling was for Chihayafuru, another sports anime, and perhaps the best in its genre. Haikyu!! isn’t as good as Chihayafuru, but at its best, it comes tantalisingly close.
In many ways, it is a typical sports story. You just have to pick a sport, have your main characters the underdogs, inspired from an early age, and with grand ambitions to succeed at the highest levels of their chosen sport, just as their inspirational heroes did. It’s all the better if it’s a team sport, as you obviously have more characters, more stories, and more fun when they interact. And your main protagonist has to be the unlikeliest person to succeed at that sport, have a much higher mountain to climb. That paragraph can be summarised with one word of course, “Rocky”.
Haikyu!! begins with the unlikely protagonist, Shoyo Hinata, who as a child happened to see a championship volleyball game on TV, where the Ace for Karasuna High School was a short player nicknamed the Tiny Giant. From that moment on, he was inspired. He wanted to play volleyball, and just like his hero, he may have grown in age, but he didn’t grow into the typical stature for a spiker. But the short Shoyo is fast, and he can fly. It didn’t matter that no one else wanted to play volleyball, he singlehandedly started a club in middle school, and after three years, he actually had a team put together to take to a tournament, even though most of that team were enthusiastic conscripts rather than players with any experience. Their first match was against the tournament favourites, and it went the way you’d expect. Except that it was long enough for Shoyo to develop a rivalry against the opposing team’s setter, Tobio Kageyama. That match ended with Shoyo vowing revenge, getting good enough for a rematch once he started high school and joined an actual volleyball club.
He chooses to go to the same high school as his inspiration, Karasuno High School, except that when he starts, their volleyball club has fallen from its brief moment in the sun, and isn’t quite competitive any more. They don’t have a coach, and while the third years have dreams of reclaiming past glories, that enthusiasm isn’t infectious. The team manager may be cute, but the club supervisor doesn’t even know the rules of the game. Worse, when Shoyo walks into the gym, he sees none other than Kageyama there. It’s hard to get revenge against him if they have to work together on the same team. Kageyama is a genius setter with an attitude to match, delivering perfectly timed balls, and with a keen grasp of match tactics, whereas Shoyo’s a natural talent but with little experience. The two can’t stand each other, but in combination they turn out to be quite devastating on the court.
And so Karasuno High School’s ascent up the volleyball ladder begin in these thirteen episodes, which at this juncture involve getting the team together, training, and practice matches before the inter-school tournament. Of course it would be a thin series indeed if all it did was concentrate on Shoyo and Kageyama. Fortunately the volleyball team is quite extensive, we initially get to meet captain Daichi, setter Suga, and attacker Tanaka, three distinct characters, and later we meet libero Nishinoya, and ace Asahi, as well as other members of the team. Each character is developed well, and we get to learn of their goals in the team, their hang-ups as well. The show also extends this character development to the opposing teams too, with their first practice match against Aoba a chance for Kageyama to bury some demons, while the match in the latter half of the show against Nekoma is a lot more fun, with their team something of a mirror image of Karasuno.
Haikyu!! is probably the most watchable show I have seen in ages. It might well turn out to be my favourite show of the year, in terms of the sheer pleasure to be had from watching it, although I doubt it will be my most critically acclaimed show. Reasons to watch it... The action is sublime. This is a show animated by people who know and love this sport. They bring energy and passion to the animation that tells in every frame, and you can see every yen of production value on screen. It’s a fantastic looking show. The story may be hackneyed (there are only so many ways you can tell an underdog sports story), but the execution is divine, the pacing perfect, and you hang on every scene, share every triumph with the characters, commiserate every setback. The characterisations are excellent too, and there’s genuine growth in them through the episodes. At the start of their combination, Kageyama is the genius, and Shoyo the idiot savant, or as the Nekoma manager puts it, ‘a demon and his club’. All Shoyo has to do is to jump and strike, and Kageyama ensures the ball is perfectly placed and timed for him to win a point. So for most of this collection, Shoyo plays with his eyes closed. But against Nekoma, this tactic isn’t enough, and Shoyo starts to open his eyes, time and aim his strikes. If he can get it right, they’ll be ‘two demons’ instead. Finally there is the comedy. I found Haikyu!! to be hilarious, I was laughing in every episode at the wit and the slapstick, and that was a major draw to the series for me. If the scene with the Vice Principal in the gym in episode 2 makes you laugh, this series is definitely for you.
The weak-point of Haikyu!!, and what stops it from reaching Chihayafuru’s level in my opinion, is its pure focus on volleyball. The characters’ lives revolve around the game, and pretty much the entire anime takes place around the court. A more rounded story would acknowledge that the characters have lives outside the game, and there would be some interaction between the characters in other aspects of their lives too. Many sports anime include a slice of life element too, to enrich the characterisations and broaden the story. That slice of life aspect isn’t in Haikyu!! To be fair, there really isn’t room, and I didn’t miss it all that much. But it is something to be aware of. When you buy this volleyball sports anime, you are getting a volleyball sports anime.
You really should buy this volleyball sports anime. Haikyu!! is one of the most entertaining anime I have seen in years, and given that the UK anime scene is bereft of sports anime, it’s great that Animatsu are starting out with a show that is this brilliant. You’ll kick yourself if you miss out!