Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Haikyu!! LAND VS. AIR and THE PATH OF THE BALL
While the Karasuno team is busy playing their way to the top of Miyagi Prefecture to qualify for Nationals, their Tokyo rivals are doing the same. Fukurodani and Nekoma go up against each other and other top Tokyo teams for the chance of playing on the big day and for the hope of the Dumpster Battle between Karasuno and Nekoma to stay alive.
These two OVAs, the third and fourth respectively, have an unenviable task: not only must they cram the contents of two entire action-packed volumes into fifty minutes, but they also have to cover characters that viewers don't know as well and aren't quite as likely to have formed attachments to. It could be done, but sadly it doesn't really come off, and these adaptations of volumes twenty-two and twenty-three really fall short of the mark.
As you might expect from looking at the numbers, each OVA adapts one volume. Land vs. Sky covers the game between Nekoma and Fukurodani while The Path of the Ball focuses on the showdown between Nekoma and Nohebi, throwing another animal-themed pun our way. (Nekoma has the character for “cat” in its name while Nohebi has the character for “snake.” If you've ever had an outdoor cat, you'll know it's a fairly common backyard rivalry.) Arguably the first episode is a bit better on the character front, if only because we know the players on both sides from when the teams got together with Karasuno to practice. That said, the second episode does feature some good character development for Lev which could prove important for later in the currently-airing fourth season, so both do have their strengths.
Regretfully, none of those are the actual games, at least not in the same way that they are a driving force in the main TV series. Mostly this is because they are so condensed as to feel truncated. We see the very beginning of sets and then the last few all-important points, but the main body of each game is left out, making each set feel very disjointed. In part this is due to the fact that we only know where we are in a game by shots of the scoreboard; that means that we go from seeing a little action and a score of, for example, 0-2, to a little more action and suddenly the board's at 22-24. Since most viewers of the series will have been watching from season one, they'll know that the amount of playing shown does not correspond to the jump in numbers. That makes these both somewhat annoying and also disheartening – if this is all leading up to a projected Nekoma vs Karasuno game during Nationals, getting to really see what Karasuno will be up against feels very important. (Fukurodani is a bit more icing-on-the-cake here, although Bokuto's always a treat.) We do see that Lev, Nekoma's enormous blocker, is improving by leaps and bounds and that Kenma is still the brains of the operation, but it's not quite enough to make the episodes feel fully worthwhile.
None of this is to say that they're entirely without appeal, however. Haikyu!! has a talent for giving us distinctive characters who are easy to like (or hate, depending), and these episodes do a nice job of building on that. Bokuto's easily-swayed mind is on full display, which is clearly more fun for us to watch than for his teammates to deal with, and even the little detail that his knee guards are longer than everyone else's, looking almost like he's wearing leggings under his shorts, tells us something about him. On the Nekoma side, Lev realizing why volleyball is a team sport and what exactly that means is a good piece of character work, and one which not only parallels some of Kageyama's early realizations but also could spell trouble for Karasuno in the future, since previously Lev's height was balanced out by his lack of familiarity with the game. We also get some good moments with Nekoma's third-years, Kuro, Yaku, and Nobuyuki, showing how they started on the team and their current close friendship; the final scene for Nekoma with Nobuyuki and Kuro supporting an injured Yaku as he hops out of the gym is not only a beautiful piece of animation but also a firm statement of their bond.
The animation goes between still shots and some really impressive scenes. Consistently worth watching for is the way that Kenma moves in relation to everyone else. His low-energy sets and the way he's clearly trying to move as little as possible are very nicely shown against the backdrop of his frantically speeding teammates, even when he's not the focus of the action. Another well-done element is the way that things that are supposed to hurt look like they hurt – when a Nohebi player with a dislocated thumb is subbed in to serve, you can see the pain flash across his face when he hits the ball, and when Kuro smacks a ball with the wrong part of his hand, you know he's injured himself even before we see the blood. Also interesting are the two times a play leaps the boundary fence to go after a ball – when Yaku does it, he looks like he's performing a jêté (increasing the risk of a rolled ankle if he lands wrong), but when a Nohebi player jumps, he's positioned as if he's hurdling. This sort of attention to detail salves some of the pain of the attempt to do too much in too few episodes, although it isn't enough to fully save this. (Some viewers will also be happy to see that the character designs look more like seasons 1 – 3, as opposed to the newer versions of season four.)
While the events of these OVAs will be important later on in season four (assuming it goes that far), they are, on the whole, rather uninspiring. There are good moments for both characters and animation, but the story is too condensed to make them truly enjoyable. It's almost worth picking up the relevant manga volumes instead, even if you're not normally a manga reader, because this is the SparkNotes of the storyline contained therein.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : C
+ Lev gets some good development in the games, moments of great animation. Cats add to the (dull) main series eye-catch.
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