Haikyu!! Season 1 Collection 1 (Episodes 1-13)(Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 331 minutes approx.
Sports anime are very popular in Japan but very few have made it to these shores but as someone who isn’t a fan of sports I won’t lament this. However even the most hardened cynic of a specific genre has to eat humble pie when their expectations are exceeded.
Haikyu!! is set in the world of volleyball and begins with high schooler Shoyou Hinata as a youngster catching a glimpse of a volleyball match on TV, being impressed with a small player nicknamed the “Little Giant”. Fast forward a few years and Hinata is now so intent on becoming as great as his idol the he has enrolled at Karasuno High School, The Little Giant’s alma mater.
Prior to this Hinata’s first ever volleyball match in junior high school was against a team with included a player referred to as the “King Of the Court” Tobio Kageyama, whose lofty attitude and disparaging words towards Hinata in his victory left a nasty taste in the youngster’s mouth. As it happens, Kageyama also transferred to Karasuno and these two bitter rivals need to work together in order to make the school team.
A familiar story and one which plays out as you might expect it to but with a number of unique plot developments and strong character building to make it stand out from the usual predictable “zero to hero” journey this could have become. Instead we have a tale of ups and downs, taking the main players on a huge learning curve both personally and as volleyball players.
The remarkable thing about this series is how immediate it is in terms of hooking the viewer; one does not need to be a volleyball fan or a sports fan in general to enjoy it, with the main facets of the game explained for neophytes such as yours truly. It’s a slice-of-life show with a strong focus that also contains simple every day human drama with lashing of bespoke anime humour.
Contrary to the above plot summary it is not all about the Hinata-Kageyama dynamic either – the whole team in one way or another play an integral part in the storytelling and are given a moment to stand out and shine. The school team only has a few players to begin with – captain Daichi Sawamura, Ryuunosuke Tanaka, Chikara Ennoshita and Kōshi Sugawara – so having Hinata and Kageyama is imperative.
After immense practice sessions the pair prove themselves in a 3 on 3 match with Tanaka as their partner against Sawamura, Sugawara and another new comer, the tall and arrogant Kei Tsukishima. During the match a supremely effective attack formation is born out of Hinata’s speed and incredible leaping ability, and Kageyama’s precise set ups which ensure their victory and a spot on the team.
Going forward this combustible pairing still have their problems but the mutual respect and need for each other cancels out any enmity once they hit the court. The team is bolstered by the return of maverick Yū Nishinoya and humble giant Asahi Azumane and eventually they secure the services of former player Keishin Ukai, the grandson of legendary Karasuno team coach Ikkei Ukai.
Beginning life as a manga by Haruichi Furudate, the story of Haikyu!! complies with many conventions of the sports drama but doesn’t pander to them in detailing the journey the team goes on. Instead of having them win every match decisively and become the new heroes on the block, there are plenty of growing pains, personality clashes and tight victories attained.
This creates a more believable world for the audience to enter and makes the characters far more relatable, the interaction between who makes up the comedic element of the show. The bulk of the laughs come from the exaggerated reactions of the cast, especially Tanaka, transforming into snarling demons with fiery red hues around them. They don’t go full on chibi or over the top as they would in say One Piece, keeping it just silly enough to elicit many a hearty laugh.
Hinata, a possible distant cousin of Naruto in terms of passion and energy, might be posited as the central figure but he is just one well-oiled cog in a fully functioning machine which is still finding its groove. The juxtaposition of the varying personalities makes for an engaging team dynamic and everyone will have a favourite by the end of this first set.
The only notable female presence thus far is assistant team manager Kiyoko Shimizu, a quiet bespectacled lass who has few lines and while this may be perceived as token role and the fact she is responsible for the laundry and catering, Kiyoko is not exploited as fan service instead treated with respect by the team.
It should come as no surprise that this is a product of animation giants Production IG, as evident by the sheer fluidity and grace of the movements when the cast are on the court and flawless blending of CGI volleyballs in flight few can match. The sound effects are also worthy of credit, the squeaks of the rubber trainer soles on the glossy court surface make this a multiple sensory experience for the audience.
At thirteen episodes in, we break at a turning point for the team and its individual members. So far, the writing has been well paced in terms of depicting the team’s progress with no excessive or contrived leaps in the timeline. The balance of humour, drama and sports content is just right and the cast are already an endearing and fascinating bunch to follow.
If there was ever anime which could be described as “moreish” then Haikyu!! can claim that title; even as a sport hater I found myself hooked after a couple of episodes and devoured this set with fervour – it is that enjoyable and addictive.
The wait for part two is going to be excruciating but for now, we have our first true contender for Anime Of The Year.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – **** ½
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