Haikyu

One of the best and most underappreciated genres within anime is the sports anime. You may think you have seen some incredible athletic achievements in classic sports like football, basketball, boxing – but you haven’t really experienced sports until you see a tennis player jump 15 feet in the air just to hit the ball, or a basketball player that moves at mach 3 while their eyes start glowing red before he shoots the ball so hard that the ground cracks. 

Sports anime in a lot of ways are the purest form of the shonen anime, or YA anime. By this I mean that they have all the classic tropes of the genre: the coming-of-age story, the hard training in order to achieve a goal, the rivalries, and the sheer joy of accomplishing that goal. And there’s arguably no sports anime more popular right now than Haikyu!! And for good reason.

The show follows Shoyo Hinata, a boy who wants nothing more than to be the very best, like no one ever was… at volleyball. The only problem is that he’s very short (5’4”). He ends up joining his high school’s down-on-their-luck volleyball team, where he becomes teammates with his middle school rival player, Tobio Kageyama. They are forced to work together with a larger cast of wild characters and try to become the best team in the country. 

What starts as a pretty standard underdog story becomes something else, as pretty much everyone in the team is a fantastic player in their own right, but they are terrible at working together. The show tackles realistic problems, all while delivering exhilarating sports action in each episode. It is clear that everyone involved has a clear love for sports and sportsmanship, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up not only as a fan of volleyball, but wanting to check out other sports anime too.

What Makes It Great

The first thing to notice about a sports anime is that it’s almost always more visually stimulating than watching an actual sport, and Haikyu!! is no exception. The landscapes in the background and the details of the volleyball court all look stunning. Showing speed through animation can be a difficult thing, but the show goes to great lengths to really make you feel how fast the game moves, how hard the spike hits the ball and just how fast that ball is actually moving – thanks to animation being able to add color, lines and even steam in order to better portray speed and force. The characters move so much they seem to fly, and the action can be stop mid-frame or slowed down to bring forward the inner thinking of the characters, all before that all-too-important final move changes the game. The choreography during the games alone is absolutely incredible, and Production I.G. makes the movements feel so fluid that, aided by a fantastic string-heavy score that elevates a simple game into an operatic duel of fates, and visual metaphors that turns every pass into a battle between David and Goliath.

Like all good sports stories, a big part of Haikyu!! is the character development and the drama that follows them to the court. But the show keeps the sport on the forefront by having the characters develop through playing volleyball, not just outside the gym. What may look like a simple toss suddenly turns into a vital lesson in building trust with your teammates, and the planning and staging of a spike also means addressing and confronting years of self-hatred and doubts before finally finishing the spike means you’re free from the burden of your past. Every character has a backstory, everyone has doubts, baggage, and potential, and the best part of Haikyu!! is the way the show integrates those relationships and character stories into the actual sport. Some characters are overcoming stigma of being talented but controlling, others feel insecure about being in the shadows of the team’s star players, but everyone is important, and you may find yourself shifting favorite characters every couple of episodes. Even beyond the “good guys,” Haikyu!! has a tendency to focus on the rivals during matches, showing you how they’re fighting for the same thing as our main characters, and making you instantly feel bad for them when they lose. Be prepared for lots of emotional losses!

What It Brings to the Conversation

Though we’re clearly watching the story from the perspective of Shoyo Hinata, the show handles the story of the entire team with equal care. This brings us to the big theme of the show: sportsmanship. As new teammates are added to the cast, the show starts focusing on their relationships to one another, and their love for volleyball. Like volleyball itself, the show isn’t about any one character growing through adversity but about everyone coming together as a team and helping each other grow.

The members of Karasuno High School’s volleyball team fight, bicker and at times can’t even stand each other, but that all stops once they step inside the court. Players we see about to punch each other in the face in one scene are suddenly cheering in support of each other while playing the game. Even opposing teams can’t help but cheer and get excited when their opponents overcome their fears and do a new move, even if that means they’re losing the game. Personal quarrels and years-long rivalries are nothing compared to the love of the sport, and Haikyu!! has a heart the size of a volleyball.

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

Haikyu!! takes the best elements of an underdog sports story and plays them through the lens of over-the-top animation. The result is not only a show about overcoming challenges through teamwork and about building relationships, but also about the intensity of playing volleyball. You may see this for the stunning animation, but you will stay for the great character work that makes you fall in love with each team member, no matter how hotheaded they can be. 

This show also strips the genre to its most basic elements, making for a great sports anime for beginners. And if you find yourself enjoying Haikyu!!, there are sports anime about every sport imaginable, from baseball and soccer, to running, cooking, and even a show about the martial art of armored tank combat. 

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Watch This If You Like: Rocky, The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot.

Haikyu!! is streaming on Netflix.

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