The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Review: It might not be fair to compare Haikyuu! to Baby Steps. After all, they're sports shows aiming for the same audience that air on the same day. It's just 40 minutes of your week. Why compare at all? Why not watch both? Well, they're both perfectly adequate shows with a lot of potential on display, and I think if you're a sports anime enthusiast, both are well worth trying out, but if I were forced to choose only one, it would be Haikyuu!! by a forceful two exclamation points.
First of all, if your love for anime is rooted in a love for animation, Haikyuu!! is worth at least one episode for the visuals alone. Now yes, the character designs are a little off-putting. We can only assume these teen volleyball players are in that "awkward" phase of puberty where your eyes begin to slide apart and engulf both sides of your skull. (Wait, maybe that's tadpole puberty.) However, if you can get past the scruffy fisheye faces, you'll get to enjoy a series of incredibly well-animated volleyball action scenes filled with dynamic angles, bone-crunching weight, and a resulting enthusiasm and tension rivaling many sci fi action shows, much less other sports anime. Haikyuu!! is Production I.G. at their scrappiest and wildest, and the strong animation combined with gleeful, smart direction is a joy to indulge.
If that's not enough for you, we've only met two characters in Haikyuu's court, and both of them are supremely likable and entertaining. Protagonist Hinata has the underdog gene going for him right off the bat: he's a Shorty McShortStub in a sport that demands players who can tower above the net. So strong is his love for the game, however, that denied a spot on any boys' volleyball team, he joins the girls' team just to practice by himself, for years, without an opponent. Not that he's a loner, either, as he desperately pulls friends and acquaintances into the game to help him practice, and dreams of someday finding a team who can appreciate his passion. His soon-to-be rival Kageyama is a whole different ball of wax, but to see how they interact, you should probably just watch the episode for yourself.
The plot is fairly paint-by-numbers sports anime fare, but with impeccable execution and a cast you're already raring to root for, Haikyuu!! rises above the standard and becomes well worth recommending. It doesn't hurt that volleyball is a game with such simple rules and dramatic action. This one may very well leap past expectations and grab a wider audience of fans with its guts and glory.
Haikyuu!! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: Shoyo is a short guy who, during his youth, was inspired by a volleyball player nicknamed “the little giant” because he was a successful spiker despite being much shorter than most of the other players on the court. For most of his middle school career he entirely lacks a team, but in his final year he is finally able to cobble one together so that he can compete in a volleyball tournament. While he's got talent and gumption, though, his team simply is not good enough to seriously compete, especially not against a school of favorites led by Tobio, who is commonly-known as the King of the Court. However, his efforts do catch the full attention of Tobio, who seems to feel that he is surrounded by less dedicated slackers. Instead of a rivalry being borne, though, they wind up at the same high school the next year. Can they learn to work together to achieve the success that they both seek?
Well, duh! This is a sports anime, after all, and sport anime, with rare exceptions, are nothing if not formulaic and predictable. Although the first episode of this one has heart, a potentially interesting dynamic between Shoyo and Tobio, and actually somewhat succeeds at making volleyball interesting, it has little else to offer that has not been seen in countless other sports anime. Indeed, it even seems content to wallow in the stereotypes; does anyone in real life athletics actually give out silly nicknames like that, for instance? Character designs that are unattractive (to put it nicely) do not help, either, nor do visual effects that bring out all of the worst sports anime clichés.
The one saving grace for the series is that it comes out in the same season – heck, within an hour on the same day – as Baby Steps, which is, so far, a dramatic stylistic contrast. That comparison helps both series, but that isn't going to be enough to help Haikyu!! break through to audiences who don't normally watch sports anime.
Haikyu!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: Haikyuu!! has all the trappings of a generic sports anime—it has an overly enthusiastic (and predictably shrimpy) protagonist whose only goal is to go to nationals for whatever sport he's super into; a pre-established rivalry between the main guy and the taller, more handsome athlete; and ludicrous nicknames, like "King of the Courts" and "The Little Giant." And yet, I am absolutely hooked, and I daresay it has the potential to be up there with fan-favorites like Kuroko's Basketball.
For starters, it has one of the key elements that every good sports show needs—a team worth rooting for. With Haikyuu!!, all of that is set up by the end of the first episode. There's a wunderkind setter, and a scrappy young spiker who refuses to give up even when his team is a point away from losing. Undoubtedly the rest of the locker room will be filled in with other archetypes, but already, the foundation is set. Shoyo and Kageyama are like the volleyball version of the BFF catcher and pitcher duo. And as far as dream teams go, Haikyuu!! has the advantage of being about a sport that hasn't already been written about to death, so the team basically has a blank canvas on which to build its roots.
The series also has just the right amount of cheese. For instance, Main Rival Character Kageyama has so much kingly charisma (he is the "king of the courts," after all), his aura is visualized as a fluttering, velvety robe. Sometimes he even has bird wings! It is absolutely ridiculous, and it's pretty darned hard not to laugh, but if ever there's a genre where this kind of silliness gets a free pass, it's sports anime. Heck, the characters burst into tears twice, just from emotional excitement.
One big thing that really makes Haiykuu!! stand out is the dynamic action poses. Whether the characters are actively lunging for a ball, spiking a ball over the net, or just practicing, the show is full of motion. You can freeze the video at any point during the volleyball match and still feel the characters moving. Even a glimpse down this preview page illustrates my point—all of the stills look like true action snapshots, full of momentum and power. It enhances the drama of the scenes, focusing on key plays that would otherwise be over in a split second.
Of course, most of the credit has to be given to Production I.G, which is no stranger to action scenes. A glance at the production staff list reveals a team stocked with experienced key animators. It's a good thing, too—the action shots do a lot to detract away from the heinous character designs, courtesy of mangaka Haruichi Furudate. Everyone has really buggy eyes and hair that looks like misshapen Play-Doh. The show is particularly ugly when the characters are just sitting around and talking, but luckily, sports shows aren't big on dialogue.
While I personally enjoyed Haikyuu!! a whole lot, I'm not so sure it has too much mass appeal. It is very much a Sports Anime, and nothing in the setup of the series or the character relationships are leading me to believe otherwise. At the same time, for those such as myself who do enjoy such genres, Haikyuu!! seems like it could be a ton of fun, if not entirely groundbreaking. I don't personally find volleyball to be interesting whatsoever, but if anything, the first episode of Haikyuu!! has done a good job of convincing me to at least tune in next week.
Haikyu!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Among all the sports in anime, volleyball has to be one of the most under-represented. I don't know about Japanese schools, but every school I went to had a volleyball team. And yet I've never seen an anime about it. Ever. Why? Maybe volleyball doesn't particularly lend itself to sports drama (though it seems like it should). Or maybe it just isn't as popular as, say, basketball. Then again, neither one of those has stopped anime in the past. Golf can't be that popular, and I've seen at least one of those. And if anime can make, say, shogi exciting, then it can make anything exciting.
Which is exactly Haikyuu’s big problem. It certainly makes volleyball dramatic and exciting, but it's doing it in exactly the same way that every sports anime before it has made its own sport exciting and dramatic. You have your spunky lead (Shoyo), who is somehow handicapped (he's short) and must overcome skepticism with grit and raw athleticism. You have your icy, imperious, and supremely skilled rival. You have your spunky lead's scrappy but under-powered middle-school team, the heartbreaker last game, and the move to a high-school with a better team and all of the trials and drama that that entails. You even have the legendary volleyball hero who inspires the spunky lead.
The result is predictably involving, helped mightily by Production IG's impressively mobile animation and attention to human movement, as well as by Shoyo's inherent likeability. Still, when you can predict an episode's last scene the moment the rival shows up, you have yourself a problem. The show is fun though, and presses all the right emotional buttons. Don't expect a masterpiece—the masterpieces are as much about life as about sports, and I don't see that happening—but if pure sports action is your itch, Haikyuu should scratch it.
Haikyuu!! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Shoyo Hinata has aspired to join the Karasuno High volleyball team for his entire middle school experience, despite the fact that he's had to play without an actual team for most of those three years. But he's practiced and practiced, and now he's cobbled together a small team and is competing in an interschool tournament. There he butts heads with Tobio Kageyama, the ace of another school's team and a general all-around jerk. Tobio is so focused on winning that he forgets that there are other players on the team who are, in fact, people, and not just props for his success. Despite all of that, his team wins, sparking a rivalry between him and nice guy Shoyo. A montage at the end of the episode shows Shoyo learning from his loss and pushing forward, while the very end seems to imply that Tobio has done no such thing, but kept on keeping on as he always has...and of course, now they're on the same high school team.
Haikyuu really plays out like most other sports anime about the underdog everyone underestimates who will slowly but surely rise to the top. It's not hard to guess that the two rivals will form some sort of friendship as they work towards their mutual goal of winning. This doesn't detract from the sheer fun factor of the show, and the use of the tried-and-true emotional triggers that are put into play here. There may not be much new about Haikyu, but that doesn't stop it from being a good time. Part of that draw is Shoyo, who, while he is the basic spunky shounen protagonist, is also just a really appealingly nice guy. He's determined, but never to the detriment of those around him. He's talented, but it doesn't go to his head. His enthusiasm dominates his personality, and his high energy is infectious, even if volleyball is not your thing. After just one episode, his success seems like something to really root for, and that alone could make this show work.
While it looks like Shoyo might have stolen Ichigo Kurosaki's hair, other visuals work fairly well. The occasional image of Tobio in a crown and cloak is mildly amusing and probably not necessary, but other recurring shots, such as that of a wall of hands reaching over the net, are effective (and creepy), and most of the movement looks believable. A few short cuts are taken when fast movement is implied, but otherwise the animation looks pretty good. Character designs are, like the plot, basic Shounen Jump style, but there's a lot of height variation, which is a nice touch.
As someone who doesn't like sports, I very much enjoyed Haikyuu. Sure, it doesn't do anything drastic or different with the sports show formula, but it uses what it has well and creates a hero worth cheering for. If you're a fan of sports anime, or even if you aren't, Haikyuu gives us a fun first episode that is worth giving a chance.
Haikyu is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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