Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sub.Blu-Ray - Collection 2
Practice time is over – the Karasuno Boys Volleyball Team is headed to the Inter-High tournaments in hopes of making it to the Nationals. They're stronger than they were, but they still aren't the team they could be, and a lot of their issues are inter-personal ones. Can Kageyama bring himself to work with his teammates rather than around them? Can Asahi regain his confidence? When they come face-to-face with Kageyama's middle school teammates, now the tough team at Aoba-Johsai, they'd better hope that they can resolve their issues, because if they can't, the game could be over before it begins.
Not enough tournament action for you in the first half of this shounen volleyball show? That will absolutely not be a problem in the second half, where the Karasuno team heads off for the Inter-High games. Where the previous set was all practice games and learning the basics of working with a team, this time it's all about the tension and thrill of the game – and man, is it ever tense. Even from the perspective of someone who really couldn't care less about sports, it's really easy to find yourself watching with baited breath, hoping against hope that our heroes will carry the day. To put it another way, the first thirteen episodes were about making us care for the team so that now we can have a personal stake in their playing as the second half chronicles five matches over twelve episodes.
The tournament, as we have seen in numerous sports anime and manga previously, is based on a series of smaller match-ups, with the brackets slowly narrowing down the competitors until only two teams are left to compete for the honor of going to the Nationals. Karasuno plays against two different, very strong, teams: Date Tech, which is famous for its “Iron Wall” defense, and Aoba-Johsai, a high-ranking team composed of many of Kageyama's former middle school teammates. Both teams carry their own specific dangers for Karasuno, with Date Tech's super tall defensive players potentially being a serious problem for Karasuno's shorter members, more specifically Hinata. (It's worth noting that only Hinata is ever referred to as “the little guy,” even though he and libero Nishinoya are comparable in height, with Nishinoya actually being a bit shorter.) Although the fact that they're going to play against Aoba-Johsai as well more or less gives away how this turns out, it's still a very tense set of episodes, and it features a very well done section in episode sixteen where the action shifts between the boys' teams and the game simultaneously being played by the Karasuno girls. It's nearly seamless in its execution, showing the rise in production values in these episodes, which generally speaking look better than the first half. Mostly this comes out in the decrease in the stylization of the moves, making everything look much more natural, but also in the postures of the characters and the beautiful fluidity of their movements. Every time someone swings his arms back in preparation for a jump, it honestly looks like he's about to take flight. This is true of all of the teams, not just bird-themed Karasuno, and the grace of it really is gorgeous.
While the plot is specifically about winning the games, there's a lot more going on here than just gameplay. The story really gets into how the players themselves are emotionally wrapped up in their sport, with Asahi regaining his wavering confidence and Kageyama having to learn that the games are important for each individual player, not just him alone as the setter, or as a group. We get an intriguing flashback to Kageyama as a seventh grader interacting with the setter of Aoba-Johsai, Oikawa, showing him before he became so selfish, and it is to be hoped that the upcoming (as of this writing) season two will go into that some more, because it's clear that both boys had a major impact on each other's emotional states and growth. And it is important to stress that these are boys, teenagers, who despite their athletic prowess are still sorting themselves out in terms of who they are and how they function in the world. It's easy to forget this, especially when looking at characters like Asahi (physically mature) or Sugawara (who sounds very adult in his speech), and Haikyu!! does an excellent job of reminding us, particularly at the end of episode twenty-four. It's touching and a little heartbreaking, but also very hopeful – there's a lot ahead for these guys, even if they themselves don't understand that yet.
Once again a highlight of the show is that everyone has his own distinct personality, with the opposing teams being no exception, and the way that Oikawa essentially uses psychological warfare against Karasuno says a lot about him. The underlying theme for all of the players is that there is a difference between being confident and being conceited, a lesson very specific to both Oikawa and Kageyama, but applicable to all of their teammates as well. Likewise the difference between Sugawara's style and both Oikawa's and Kageyama's is worth paying attention to, as is the slow understanding of the actual game by Oikawa's trio of fangirls, who are sitting near Karasuno alums in the stands. That's a more subtle piece of the story, but it still bears keeping an eye on.
The music this time feels rather improved from the first half. It isn't always perfect in terms of reflecting the mood, but when it's on, it's on. The art still takes some getting used to, especially if there's been a gap between when you watched the first half and this one, with the major issues being oddly square groins, the shading between chin and neck (half of them look like they're sporting really weird beards), and the fact that every single time a crow is shown flying, his legs are dangling down. Perhaps this is nitpicky, but it was oddly irritating to me, as most, if not all, birds hold their legs to their bodies when in flight.
Haikyu!!'s second half is much more exciting than its first, but it still retains the character building and distinctions that helped make it good in the first place. Even if you're the sort of person who never thought you'd find anything sports-related remotely good, this is worth trying out. It's fun, it has things to think about, and in this set it really keeps you on the edge of your seat, even as you wonder how Tsukishima can get through a game with his glasses intact or how many broken fingers everyone has.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Consistent character development and lots of tense action, little to no knowledge of the actual sport needed to enjoy. Some good backstory on Oikawa and Kageyama. When the animation and music are right, they're really right...
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