by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 1

Haikyu!! GN 1
When he was in elementary school, athletic (but very short) Shoyo Hinata saw a TV broadcast of a high school volleyball game where a short player was the star of the court. From that moment on, he decided that he wanted to play volleyball as well and be like the boy known as “The Little Giant.” But his middle school didn't have a volleyball team, so he only played one official game with a cobbled together group, only to lose spectacularly in the first match against a team led by Tobio Kageyama, a talented player nicknamed “King of the Court.” The two boys vowed rivalry only to end up at the same high school as teammates! Can Hinata and Kageyama overcome their dislike of one another to become true teammates and live their dreams of playing volleyball?

For non-athletes, it can be difficult to understand the draw of a sports story, and if your memories of gym class (or volleyball) are mostly made up of getting a ball to the face or being picked last for the team, it might be very tempting to give Haikyu!! a pass. But for all of the volleyball in the story, it's in some ways just a vehicle for a plot that's as much, if not more, about not giving up on your goals and learning to work with others to make them happen, and that's a story that even the most sports-phobic reader can likely relate to or enjoy.

The story essentially has two protagonists, although they are initially set up almost as antagonists: Shoyo Hinata and Tobio Kageyama. Both are beginning high school at Karasuno, a school that once had a formidable volleyball team but has fallen from grace in recent years. That doesn't really matter to Hinata, who has wanted to come to Karasuno ever since he was in elementary school and saw the team play in a major competition. One of their star players was short, like he is, and that inspired Hinata to want to become the next “Little Giant” at the same school. Kageyama, on the other hand, wanted to go to a top volleyball school, but his reputation as a prima donna (and the implication in his profile that he may not be all that academically smart) landed him at Karasuno instead. The two boys are basically polar opposites in terms of personality, and a run-in in middle school has made them both dislike each other intensely.

This dynamic between the two boys is central to the development of the story. Both of them come off as very young and fairly immature, just in different ways. Kageyama clearly sees himself as not only the better player but also as the more mature individual, but his overwhelming selfishness and inability to express his feelings without sounding like a colossal jerk show him to be just as childish as the exuberant Hinata. For his part, Hinata's enthusiasm is both his strength and his weakness: nothing can stop him when he's determined, but he also has no clear picture of his own limits or understanding that there is more to the game than one particular move he favors. (Fans of sports manga may see a similarity to Slam Dunk's protagonist in him.) Essentially Kageyama understands the mechanics of the game while Hinata sees its heart, but both of them need to grasp both aspects in order to be worthwhile players. It is this journey that feels more important in the first volume than the actual gameplay, although that may change as the story goes on.

The major theme of the book could be said to be “teamwork,” and luckily it does not come off as cheesy. Instead Furudate uses the rivalry between Hinata and Kageyama, and the goading by another first year character who comes in late in the book, Tsukishima, in contrast to the way the upperclassmen on the team interact with each other. This volume introduces two third year players, Daichi Sawamura and Koushi Sugawara, as well as a second year, Ryunosuke Tanaka. Despite the differences in their personalities and play styles, as well as their ranks on the team; Daichi is the team captain, the three of them are all clearly attuned to each other and good friends as well as teammates. Tanaka can be brash and obnoxious, but the other two understand that and use it to their advantage in teaching the new guys while also keeping it in check. There's just a sense of ease between the three of them that the other characters lack; even when Tsukishima and Yamaguchi are introduced and shown to be friends, they don't have the sense of being equals – it reads more like Yamaguchi is Tsukishima's follower than his buddy. Hinata and Kageyama may be the two who have been singled out as troublemakers, but they really aren't the only ones who need to learn.

As good as the story is at this point, the art isn't quite up to snuff. Furudate's characters have squat bodies, even when they're meant to be tall, and squidgy faces, giving the impression that they've been somehow compressed. There is a sense of movement, but it isn't as effective as it could be, and Furudate has a tendency to over-exaggerate more than he needs to in order to show an arm reaching or a leg kicking off. He does get intensity very well, however, and that makes up for a lot in terms of facial expressions.

If you're already a fan of Haikyu!! from the anime, you already know you want to read the manga that started it. (Assuming you're a manga reader, of course.) If you've been avoiding it for sports reasons, it's still worth checking out, because right now volleyball is simply the vehicle for the characters. While it will become more central later on, the fact that Furudate is taking the time to make it as much, if not more, about the players as the sport makes this have more appeal than it might otherwise have, and this is a fun, engaging read no matter how many volleyballs you may once have taken to the face.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-

+ Good sense of the characters and their beginning development, nice sense of intensity from both art and story. Story pulls you right in.
Art has some issues, pages can get very crowded. A bit overdramatic at times.

Story & Art: Haruichi Furudate

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Haikyu!! (manga)

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Haikyu!! (GN 1)

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