by Lynzee Loveridge,

Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts

Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts
The underdog volleyball team Karasuno managed to overcome Aobajōsai High in the Spring High-Miyagi Prefecture Representative Playoffs semi-finals, but they'll have to defeat reigning champs Shiratorizawa Academy if they want to proceed to Nationals. The long-time favorite team is also the home to the intimidating captain Wakatoshi Ushijima and a rivalry quickly develops between one of Japan's top three volleyball aces and the "boys from the concrete," Karasuno's Hinata and Kageyama.

As a compilation film, Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts compresses the 10-episode third season of the Haikyu!! anime series into a tight 90 minute film and cuts much of the talking head commentary from the bleachers and cutaway flashbacks to focus entirely on the central volleyball match. This approach both rectifies some of the television version's most frustrating aspects while simultaneously highlighting its limitations. Much as it might seem like you could cut all that running commentary and get right to the action, it turns out that removing what feels like "bloat" from the original saps the tension from the first two-thirds of the match, and it becomes clear that maybe this "digest movie" format isn't the best one for this material. Ultimately it's kind of a stilted - though still entertaining - experience.

The film starts by throwing viewers right into the deep end with no time wasted getting into the central match. This means contextually, if you haven't already seen the anime series' first two seasons, there are zero clues to help get you up to speed - this is absolutely not a film for Haikyu!! newcomers. A short scene referencing the previous match against Aobajōsai is shown in the beginning, but don't expect any of the characters to introduce themselves or their foes. This includes the players on the Shiratorizawa side too. Without any of the usual commentary, it's hard to get a real grasp on the Shiratorizawa players' strengths and, in turn, why they're such intimidating rivals.

It's a double-edged sword. I recall watching the TV version of this material and feeling frustrated with each cutaway from the match to have synchronized blocking explained yet again. Now, that aspect is gone, and characters like Satori Tendō, who felt like a sub-boss in Karasuno's quest to win, are no longer particularly threatening. Arguably the most important character arc for the Karasuno team is Kei "Glasses" Tsukishima, who finally learns what it means to care about something. The movie truncates this as well - we see his frustration when he's injured and removed from the court, but the gravitas of his desire to return and play the game out is mostly lost. Not everything is compromised, though - the film's final 30 minutes faithfully matches the sheer intensity of the last third of the TV anime, and Production I.G's gorgeous animation shines through. You don't see nearly as many repeated spike shots, either; there are still a couple in there, namely of Ushijima, but otherwise the animation is top-notch.

The television series' main conceit, as referenced in the film's title, is the clash between the different "battle concepts" of Shiratorizawa and Karasuno. Shiratorizawa favors the tall and strong, while Karasuno favors adaptability and teamwork. Shiratorizawa's star is Wakatoshi Ushijima, who has a number of different skills to supplement his massive body size. He can re-angle a spike at the drop of a hat, making him incredibly difficult to block. Karasuno's challenge throughout the series is devise ways to control and return Ushijima's powerful hits, fake out Tendō's blocking instinct, outlast Shiratorizawa, and also implement the new skills they honed to take home the win. Each consecutive success is hard-earned through the team's perseverance, blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately, these key points never really land in this edited version and will probably seem less visible to the uninitiated viewers. The match just looks easier. This drops the tension considerably and the film's soft, tender instrumental soundtrack doesn't help in that regard.

Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts' weaknesses lie entirely in the execution of this compilation film. Haikyu!! wasn't meant to viewed as just a volleyball match and the TV anime wasn't executed that way, so while on paper it might sound like you could skim off all that pesky character development get a dynamite movie out of "just the volleyball parts", it turns out that extra story context is what gives the volleyball parts any meaning or tension or drama at all. It's what makes you care about the game in the first place. Without it, you're just watching Production I.G animate the heck out of a volleyball game. Which is fine, but it doesn't quite function as a real movie with real emotional stakes. It does, however, give you the thrill of seeing that gorgeously-animated match on the big screen, and it serves as a functional basic summary of the third season of Haikyu!!. It could be the perfect choice for fans who might need to revisit this story material if - or maybe when - a fourth season is announced.

Overall : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B-

+ Side commentary bloat is gone, stellar sports action animation
Loss of all side narrative removes characters' quirks and charm, not an adequate replacement for viewing the third season

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