Haikyuu!! is an anime show adapted from a manga that started in 2014. It tells the story of a pair of high schoolers, Shoyo Hinata and Tobio Kageyama, and their high school volleyball team. Karasuno, the high school, was known as a regional powerhouse back in the day but went through a period of decline. Now Hinata and Kageyama have joined a rebuilding team as the two centerpieces. The two have friction and rivalry but must come to understand one another in order to play together and achieve their dreams. It’s an extremely popular anime series, and here are 10 reasons why Haikyuu continues to reign as the best sports anime.
The Wide Roster of Characters
Haikyuu!! has a very large roster of characters. There’s the Karasuno team, which besides the main duo has multiple fun personalities like the aloof Kei “Tsuki” Tsukishima or the boisterous Tanaka. Then the series makes an effort to increase the size of the roster by also including other notable teams and the personalities on them, like the Karasuno rival Nekoma High. Each of these characters is delightfully fun to watch and unique in how they relate to Karasuno and how they play volleyball.
This can create very strong character dynamics and these relationships can often have a lot more nuance to them than other anime do. Take the relationship between Kageyama and the setter on a rival team, Tōru Oikawa, who were on the same Junior High team. Oikawa and Kageyama have a rivalry born from the fact that Kageyama wishes to exceed the older highschooler in volleyball skills and Oikawa had to deal with a fear that Kageyama would replace him on the team in Junior high, so Kageyama represents that insecurity of being overshadowed for Oikawa. Characters have reasons for disliking or liking one another that often go beyond the surface and have a lot to do with character psychology.
Attention Paid to Side Characters
You may be afraid that side characters might fall by the wayside in favor of developing the main duo of Kageyama and Hinata. It is, sadly, a reality that a lot of anime introduces intriguing side characters just to abandon them in favor of making the main character look cool. Haikyuu!! is not one of those shows. Not only does the Karasuno team get well-rounded development for each of its members, but it also does a lot to develop side characters on other teams.
One example of this depth is Oikawa, who gets a lot of fleshing out at the end of Season 1. However, the prime example of this care paid to side characters can be seen in Tsukishima. We understand Tsuki as a cold and somewhat aloof first year in the first season, but then in the second season, the show goes into explaining why he is that way. His personal experiences explain why he doesn’t bond with the team as well as the other teammates.
The Gorgeous Animation
Haikyuu!! is an extremely good-looking show. While this is largely due to the amazing art, much of the show’s visual oomph is in its use of movement and speed. Still frames don’t really do the show justice, because so much of the show’s aesthetic power comes down to key moments when the series plays with the speed of its characters.
Haikyuu!!, as an animated sports show, takes full advantage of its power to use camera angles and speed to show the skill and power of its athletes. Some moments will be slowed to a crawl, so much so that characters will almost float in mid-air. This contrasts sharply with the moments where if you blink, you’ll miss an exceptionally fast spike. All of this is done without making the characters feel superhuman or unrealistic, but rather what is happening on screen feels like a heightened reality, one which lets the viewer appreciate what’s happening on screen.
The Strategy and Skill
The reason why any given team wins or loses in Haikyuu!! comes down to their strategy and skill. Occasionally luck can factor into it, but only as much as luck factors into an actual sports game. If you’re used to Shonen anime, know that there are no power levels in Haikyu!!. Even when teams are presented with incredible special moves like Hinata and Kageyama’s High-Speed Quick, they still have tools and strategies they can use to stay in the game or even neutralize them. Teams never feel like useless mooks for the main characters to steamroll.
Every game feels real and intense partly because the teams on both sides are thinking, strategizing, and adapting to the game. A game is not won because there’s a player that’s just better on one team or another but because of the skill of those players working in conjunction with one another and with overall strategic decision-making in mind. Each game feels meaningful because of this.
The Protagonists are Guaranteed Nothing
The first episode of this show painfully demonstrates a truth at the beating heart of Haikyuu!!: underdogs don’t win because they’re underdogs. The first episode is a flashback to Junior High, where Hinata’s team is in their first real game. In a lesser sports story, Hinata’s team would have won or at least made things close. Instead, they are brutally crushed in a one-sided battle where Hinata shows some potential, but otherwise, his team is destroyed and demoralized.
Without getting into spoilers, it’s important to understand that Haikyuu!! is not willing to let protagonists win just because they’re protagonists. This is for the better of the series, especially because you feel invested in each game. There isn’t going to be a game where our heroes are guaranteed a win, but at the same time, the show emphasizes there’s always a chance of turning a bad situation around.
The Relationship Between Kageyama and Hinata
Kageyama and Hinata are important both in the context of the Karasuno team and in the context of the story. Despite not overwhelming the narrative, a big part of the story is how these two people with nearly opposite personalities learn to work together for the betterment of their own skills, the success of their team, and for the glory of winning.
Kageyama is the arrogant and intense setter of Karasuno, being a prodigy in his field of play. Hinata is a raw talent, but more boisterous and happy. The two begin intensely disliking one another, and though their relationship they begin to improve that friction. How they learn to communicate and function as a duo is very important because their in-game connection is a big part of Karasuno’s strategy. Sometimes the stakes of the show hinge not just on an important match, but on whether or not the duo will get it together in time for that match.
The Intense Drama
Haikyuu!! is living proof that smaller stakes do not mean a downgrade in narrative intensity and drama. There are movies where the world is at stake that feel less compelling than Haikyuu!!. Ultimately all that is at stake are the feelings of the high schoolers, which are explored carefully, and the show makes these feelings feel significant and important.
Some of the team members only have so many games left before graduating, and so want to make the most of their chance to win a tournament before they do. Some of the team members love the team and want desperately to see it do well despite the fact that Karasuno are seen as “fallen champions”. Some just find losing intensely demoralizing, which makes sense for young, emotional high schoolers. All these emotions, felt by characters you like and relate to, can make you really root for them. Who hasn’t been in a competition they lost, and felt bad after losing? A lot of the dramatic beats of the show are very relatable.
Haikyuu!! Will Make You Care About Volleyball
You may be skeptical about the ability of sports to make you care. Maybe you had bad experiences with your own high school sports, or just never saw the appeal. Haikyuu!! does its best to change your mind and convince you to care. Anyone who watches Karasuno will never be able to look at a volleyball game the same way again.
Volleyball isn’t just a bunch of people running around and hitting a ball and Haikyuu!! works tirelessly to convey the devotion, thought and heart put into sports by athletes. If you’re worried about not getting the volleyball-specific terminology and the game itself, the show usually either explains what’s going on or teaches you through the narrative. You come out of the show learning a lot more about the sport than you would have known normally and it doesn’t feel like it has to slow down to explain things to a newcomer.
The Philosophy of Sports
Haikyuu!!, besides simply being an anime about sports, also has a lot to say about sports and athletes in general. Viewers of longtime sports YouTuber Jon Bois may be able to get the most out of the occasionally philosophical and introspective nature of this anime when it comes to the sport of volleyball. This examination of why people play sports is at the core of Haikyuu!! and its characters.
Haikyuu!! takes its time to explore the emotions and feelings of the athletes, but also explores greater points about how people should play. Kageyama, for example, has an arc where he is supposed to be learning a more unselfish style of play that benefits the needs of his team. Kageyama is called the King of the Court, but this nickname is more of a sarcastic dig at how selfish and arrogant he can be. For Haikyuu!! it’s important to understand that a team is not a one-player show. That victory doesn’t just come down to the most talented athlete.
The Team Camaraderie
Ultimately what makes the Haikyuu!! experience complete is the camaraderie of the various teams, both within the teams and with each other. Some team rivalries are more bitter, like between Kageyama and Oikawa, but most of the time rivals in Haikyuu!! are not really enemies. The rival teams often end up liking Karasuno and vise versa, with Karasuno and Nekoma having a particularly friendly rivalry.
That banter and fun keep the tone light and helps keep things in perspective. While team fandoms may have bitter, hate-filled rivalries in the real world sometime, this anime imagines an ideal version of that relationship, where rival teams see each other as worthy opponents that they can have a good game with. A good rival, in Haikyuu!!, is someone you can go up against and learn from the experience and improve.
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