Shelf Life
Haikyu!!

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

I replaced my nine-year-old laptop recently, and I'm still in that magical honeymoon period with the new one. Everything about it is shiny and new, and I haven't yet felt the need to swear profusely at it or beg it to keep working for just one more day. I give it about a month before that changes. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Haikyu!! season 1

On Shelves This Week

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Shelf Life Reviews

I was quite impressed with Haikyu when I reviewed its subtitled release a couple of years ago, and now the show's first season is available with an English dub in a new collection from Sentai Filmworks. Here's Gabriella's take on the set.

I feel like I've been hearing about these volleyball boys forever at this point. In the circles I travel (which tend to be saturated with fujoshi for whatever reason), these teens in tiger-colored uniforms are always present in between the Free!, Yuri on Ice, and (for some reason) Hunter x Hunter kids in fanart galleries. By virtue of these associations, I've always assumed Haikyu!! to be a quality production, but I never quite got around to starting on its now 60-episode run. So when I got this assignment, I was excited – finally a chance to check out this show that I'd heard so many good things about!

Shoyo Hinata loves volleyball. He's been obsessed with it ever since he saw his first game way back in elementary school, so he spends his junior high years training for a spot on a real team. However, in his first and only official match before leaving JHS, he ends up facing off against a young prodigy, Tobio Kageyama, who has a reputation as “the king of the court.” Of course, the inexperienced Hinata loses, but he manages to display some extraordinary skills for a newbie – top among them are his peerless speed and insatiable enthusiasm for teamwork – while Kageyama nearly causes a scandal with his belligerent and entitled attitude. In spite of their difference in status, the two form a sort of rivalry, which Hinata expects to continue when they start high school. On the first day of big boy practice, however, Hinata arrives to a startling discovery: Kageyama is now his teammate! The prodigy's personality problems sabotaged his chances at a top v-ball academy, so he's had to settle for a mid-ranked school alongside an unproven Hinata. As first years on the team, these belligerent teens must learn to cover each other's weaknesses – Kageyama's emotional and Hinata's physical – in order to perform well and not burden their other teammates. Over the ensuing adventures in ball tossing, the Karasuno High School volleyball team will endure long hours, harsh training, and occasional failures on their path to becoming prefectural volleyball legends.

On a narrative level, I found Haikyu!! very enjoyable. While I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world (I may be in the running for “person who knows the least about anything ball-related”), the show's stellar sense of pacing and excellent staging during its many volleyball scenes was enough to get me invested in the action. The character drama is a bit simple, but I would actually count this among the show's strengths. Haikyu!! features some fairly realistic teens by this genre's standards, who don't angst too excessively or have many melodramatic problems exterior to the court. While protagonist Hinata is a bit idealized in his hyper-enthusiasm, he's exceedingly likable and also displays an angry side that helps ground him as a human rather than a genki ideal. Meanwhile, Kageyama is a brat who needs to get over some entitlement issues stemming from his great talents. He's a personality that seems realistic for a 15-year-old sports star, and it's nice to see him get over himself somewhat (while retaining his amusingly grouchy side) in order to reach his potential. The rest of the cast strikes a similar balance, and the story manages to be compelling in spite of any Free!-style melodrama. This show is really more about the ensemble than any individual players, and Haikyu!! succeeds at making its dozen-plus student athletes distinct and likable over the course of its first season. This fits with the story's themes about learning to overcome your limits in a group setting, so there isn't much in the way of arcs dedicated to developing individual characters just yet. We'll see where the show goes with that in the future, though – as of the end of this first season, the team's journey is far from over,

In terms of production, Haikyu!! is consistently stellar. Production IG clearly brought their A-game to this project, and it's a big part of why the show works. Matches are expertly staged and full of lush and expressive action. In lesser hands, this show could've easily become a visual slog, since so much runtime is spent in one fairly bland environment (the interior of a gym). Under director Susumu Mitsunaka, however, the action is dynamic and varied enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen even when the matches start to last five or six episodes a pop. If it sounds like I'm being overly dramatic about how poorly this material could've been treated by a lesser production, think of what it would it would be like to watch six-episode volleyball matches conveyed largely by still frames and talking heads. It would have been borderline unwatchable! Every year, plenty of perfectly good anime fall victim to this sort of lazy adaptation, and Haikyu!! is lucky to have found a good home.

In the end, I'd recommend Haikyu!! to pretty much anyone with a mild interest in the sports anime genre. It's one of the models for mainstream excellence in this regard: tense, compelling, attractive, and overwhelmingly focused on the sport. As for more specialized audiences, there's a little bit for everyone there too. For fujoshi, while the show doesn't veer into Free!-style deliberate homoeroticism, the boys are still very shippable. For shonen fans, Hinata is the epitome of that plucky, teamwork-loving, all-overcoming hero. And for people who want a story about school life, Haikyu!! is realistic in portraying the sort of conflicts that arise from participating in a team-based high school activity. While I personally never partook in anything that required me to break a sweat, the dynamics on display in this show made me nostalgic for the years I spent working on the school newspaper. Otherwise, this show has received a standard release from Sentai, with the main extra being a quite listenable English dub. I look forward to watching more, whenever the next season gets slated for its complete release.
-Gabriella[TOP]

There's no Shelf Obsessed entry this week, so that wraps things up for now. Thanks for reading, and remember to send photos to [email protected] if you'd like to show off your anime collection!


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