Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
It's training camp time for Karasuno's volleyball team, and that means preparing for their upcoming practice game against Nekoma, their historic rivals. That was a long time ago, however, and Karasuno has only just gained a coach in the famous Ukai's grandson. With Hinata still a largely unformed player and ace Asahi just returned from a month away from the game, is defeating the Tokyo team even within the realm of possibility? They'll just have to play it to find out, and maybe get one step closer to becoming a real team.
The previous two volumes in Haruichi Furudate's volleyball series were mostly concerned with assembling a full team for Karasuno High School, which was really a stand-in for how shattered the team had become since the days of Hinata's idol, the Little Giant. When Hinata and Kageyama joined up, the team appeared to lack a libero and an ace, both important positions, and the group as a whole suffered from a feeling of disconnect. Then in volume three both of those players returned in the formerly suspended Nishinoya (whose name is still a struggle for Hinata) and the surprisingly meek and gentle Asahi, but is that really enough to bring the boys together as a true team? That's the underlying theme of Haikyu!! as a series, and one that Furudate really begins to explore in this fourth book as the Karasuma team takes on their historic rival, Nekoma, a high school from Tokyo.
That they get to play Nekoma at all is a testament to the determination of their under-informed faculty adviser. Takeda mostly exists as a point-of-entry character for readers unfamiliar with volleyball as a functioning sport (as opposed to knowing it consists of passing a ball back and forth over a net), but with this volume he begins to play more of an actual active role in the story. It was his persistence that eventually won his team a coach and that pestered Nekoma into agreeing to come out for a practice game in the first place. He still serves as an excuse for Suga to explain the basics of the sport to the reader, but there's a real sense that he's becoming a character in his own right as well, truly devoted to this ragtag team he's been put in charge of. In part that could be because of the changes he sees within the players – the evolution of Hinata and Kageyama from dire enemies to a killer duo would be a major enticement to a teacher, and seeing Nishinoya and Asahi resolve their interpersonal issues as well would make him want the team to succeed.
In large part, that's what helps to make Haikyu!! so appealing to us as readers as well. From our privileged outside viewpoint, we are privy to the mindsets of all of the characters, so we know that Kageyama is covering up a lot more hurt than he wants anyone to know. Where other people just see him as grumpy, we can understand that he's really trying to change the way he views the sport and his teammates; he's just got the social skills of a brick. Likewise we can see Sugawara's own conflict at the entry of Kageyama on the scene, something that is handled very well in the beginning of this volume. Previous to Kageyama's arrival, Suga was the sole setter for Karasuno, but now in his final year of high school his place is usurped by the much more talented first year. While Suga puts on a brave, friendly face, we can see that he really does want to be relied upon by the team. The story may call Daichi the character who's supposed to be encouraging and nice to everyone, but this volume especially shows us that it's Suga who plays that role as he reconciles his wanting to play with the fact that Kageyama is the more skilled player – and that if Kageyama takes the lead, Suga will ultimately get to play in more games as a pinch setter. More than any of the other characters, Suga is the one who wants to hold the group together, as is shown by his worry about how Tanaka and Nishinoya, who are not long on tact, talk to Hinata and Asahi, arguably the most emotionally fragile members.
The game itself doesn't quite have the tension that volume two's practice match against Aoba Johsai did, possibly because at this point the rivalry between Nekoma and Karasuno is more a thing of the past, where Aoba Johsai was home to many of Kageyama's former teammates. In that match, he needed to prove that he had changed, while the Nekoma game is about showing that Karasuno has a chance at all of making any sort of headway competitively. We as readers are once again the in position of knowing that they do have that capability, so the tension comes not from whether they'll win or lose (as it did in the Aoba Johsai game), but whether or not they can make Nekoma's elderly coach recognize their potential.
As sports stories go, Haikyu!! remains one of the best for non-sports fans. The story is as much, if not more, about the people playing the game rather than the game itself, and that gives this volume a layer of human drama that drives it more than the mere idea of winning or losing could. Furudate does a good job of making each player an individual in both looks and personality, even those on other teams, and if his action scenes don't always quite carry the dynamic sense of movement they need to, things have still improved from volume one. Haikyu!!'s fourth book allows us to care about the people playing the game and to want them to succeed because we like and understand them, not just because they're “our” team – and as long as Furudate can maintain that, we can all settle in for a good, long ride.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Each character is worth caring about or understanding, art is increasingly dynamic, Takeda is becoming more than just an excuse to infodump
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