The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
HAIKYU! 2nd Season
How would you rate episode 1 of
Haikyu!! Second Season ?
Haikyu!! is back! Aw babykins, I missed you.
I missed Production I.G's primal yet polished animation, with everything from the harsh impacts on the court to goofy comic relief shenanigans getting the heft and fluidity it needs to make it shine. I missed having a show with fanservice appeal for women that's never afraid to give the boys goofy and twisted expressions, instead of making them boring stone Adonises all the time.
I missed this show's bald emotional vulnerability, as this season opens with a flashback to the catastrophic loss that closed the previous season, but then segues right into Karasuno getting their bearings again with a practice match that shows just how far they've all come as teammates. (Kageyama is getting used to giving high fives! Someday he may even give them with enthusiasm!)
I missed the show's readiness to turn rivals into allies, as their relationship with Nekoma High offers them the chance to compete against the biggest of the big dog teams in Tokyo once they conquer their school exams. I missed the joy this show takes in not letting its dark moments get too serious, like when it defuses Karasuno's intense confrontation with future rich bigwig arch-rivals Shiratorizawa by reintroducing the specter of the team's bad grades.
I didn't even realize I missed Haikyu!! this much until I saw this second season premiere, and I think that's the true hallmark of a good episode. I enjoyed Haikyu!! a lot when it first aired, but I thought I was okay with leaving that story behind at 25 episodes. (Not that I.G. would ever do that; the show was a smash hit with female otaku in Japan, so they're going to milk that cow a little harder.) So for me, this introduction to the battle against Shiratorizawa was mostly about justifying the need for more Haikyu!!, and this episode's excellence promised that more could be done with this premise, giving me a mighty need indeed.
They are repeating themselves a little bit here. The choice to contrast the "fertile soil" of Shiratorizawa with Karasuno's "concrete jungle" is really similar to the crow vs. cat dynamic that dominated their relationship with Nekoma in season one. Still, the episode's decision to emphasize how much each member of the team has changed since season one gives the series plenty of openings to play with brand new ideas, and it's safe to say that Haikyu!! will look damn good playing around too. I'd gotten used to returning seasons of past shows devolving into surplus recap, so I'm glad that Noragami and Haikyu!! both brought out the big guns instead, choosing to remind us of what we loved about them from the start.
Haikyu!! 2nd Season is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
I had to be very strict with myself to make sure I wasn't just giving Haikyu!!'s second season a good grade because I like the show in general. But I think it actually merits the score of 4, because even though it's largely focused on reminding us what everyone's personality quirks are, how they like to play, and how much it means to them to play against other teams, this episode also sets the ball rolling for the next story arc, while throwing in some obstacles and hints of what's ahead. As a first episode, it does what it ought to: it's interesting, tense in places, and it sets the stage. Given that this could very easily have been a recap episode, I count myself pleased.
There is a brief flashback to Karasuno's devastating loss in the previous season, but the show doesn't dwell on it, or Oikawa, although both do come up. Instead we dive right in to a practice game between the two halves of the team, with everyone inventing strategies to overcome each others' strengths. Not only is this a great chance to see everyone in action without having to wait too long, it also throws Sugawara fans a bone in that he's getting to be the setter for one of the teams. It's hard not to be pleased to see him playing, given the development that went into his character in the second half of season one. More important, as well as amusing, is how devoted the boys are to improving and playing in general. There's a wonderful scene when their coach tells them they're done and both teams look up at him with the exact same look my cats and dog give me when I tell them they can't have treats: a mix of entreating, desperate, and dangerously on the edge. It really captures the spirit of the group, and this enthusiasm on their parts, particularly the dynamic duo of Hinata and Kageyama, is a large part of the appeal captured by this episode.
Naturally the gameplay is important as well, and when it counts, the animation does a good job of showing the team's bodies moving in a believable, fluid fashion. With Hinata there's a tendency to rely on a series of stills to show how quickly he's moving, which doesn't work quite as well, and thus far there hasn't been the attention to hands shown in the first season, which is a shame, but it's early days yet. The art still has the issues that plagued it before, with the lower torso never looking quite right and the shading around the chin and neck really not working. There's also a sketchier feel to the way the characters are drawn this time, and I think, though I'm not positive, that the outlines may simply be thinner. In any event, both Hinata and Kageyama make some seriously scary faces in this episode, so fans might not be seeing them in their dreams the way they expect.
At the end of the day, this episode sets up the next challenge before the Karasuno team: pass their exams so they can go play in practice matches in Tokyo. It also looks like manager Kiyoko, a third year, may be planning to pass the baton, or at least to train a replacement, so a new female character looks to be entering the mix next week. How will that shake things up? I, for one, am looking forward to finding out.
When we last left the Karasuno volleyball team, the players were nursing a loss to Aoba Johsai's Toru Oikawa and ultimate defeat in the Inter-High tournament. Senior members Daichi, Koshi, and Asahi had the added pain of graduating without tasting a victory in a major competition. Things were looking low for Karasuno's team of underdogs, including former ace setter Tobio Kageyama and pint-sized decoy Shoyo Hinata, but these aren't the same bickering kids we met last year. Instead of wallowing in defeat, the team is preparing for a series of practice away games in Tokyo, so long as all the members pass their academic exams. While going on a team run, Shoyo and Tobio get lost and end up scoping out the area's top team, Shiratorizawa, and lead player, Wakatoshi Ushijima.
This second season opener not only hits everything I want when returning to a show I enjoy, but everything I want out of anime in general. Haikyu!! has a contagious kinetic energy, from its humor to its exciting sports sequences. I laughed out loud when the team's teacher lamented over the players' grades and grinned more than once while the Karasuno kids performed running leaps, or when Yu Nishinoya somersaulted to save a ball. Production I.G was on point over and over again. Why can't all the action shows be as engaging as this show's practice volleyball matches?
There was a perfect balance of series set-up and action, including the new rivalry between “fertile ground” Shiratorizawa and “concrete” Karasuno, even if it's the same underdog dynamic the team always had with their rivals. I'm looking forward to the crew proving themselves to the lauded, better-funded team. There's just something satisfying about scrappy, crazy-eyed Shoyo putting an overconfident opponent's foot in their mouth. The episode's last five minutes delivered that in spades.
The opening sequence also promises a little romance for Shoyo, with the introduction of a new blonde manager. She doesn't make an appearance in this episode, but she is present in episode two's preview. This could be a welcome addition of emotional conflict once the typical tournament struggles get a little stale.
Overall, the episode delivered just the right amount of sports action to get me riled up for the rest of the season and enough comedy to remind me why these characters are so fun to watch. I'm eagerly awaiting episode two.
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