First Impressions – Haiykuu!!

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As sports anime this season go, Haikyuu!! was definitely the appetizer for me.  But damn if it isn’t making its case to be a main course.

OP: “Imagination” by SPYAIR

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Seven series covered in one day…  That ties a record for me, I think (maybe even breaks it) but after watching the premiere of Haikyuu (forgive me if I dispense with typing 1000 exclamation points henceforth) I really felt like covering it while it was fresh in mind.  I’m saving Baby Steps for tomorrow because I want to be really fresh for that one, but if I’d known how good Haikyuu was going to be I might just have rolled that over too.

I’ve talked about that first “wow” premiere of the season, and how it’s always a little nerve-wracking wondering if it’s never going to come (usually it does, but not always).  Mushishi Zoku Shou was splendid, but the continuity with the old show was so total that it’s hard to count that one.  Needless to say I really wasn’t looking for that out of Haikyuu, but that’s exactly what I got – a first episode that exceeded my expectations in every possible way, and I was expecting it to be pretty decent.

Let’s clarify a couple of things up front.  This series is going to be a monster commercial hit, the heir apparent to the KuroBas/Free fanbase.  That’s fine – it’s neither a selling point or a deterrent for me (that’s the group that largely drives YowaPeda’s sales too, so Goc bless ’em I say).  I don’t care one way or the other about that, but I do care that this is a Weekly Shounen Jump series.  I’ve never found a WSJ sports series that I’ve really liked – I think I’m too much of a sports fan to tolerate the super-powered silliness that usually drives them.  That was my biggest worry going in with Haikyuu, by far, though by reputation it isn’t necessarily KuroBas‘ heir apparent in that specific sense.

What we got in the first episode was, in a word, terrific.  It was everything sports anime should be – funny, exciting, emotionally accurate, and realistic.  It was beautifully animated even by Production I.G. standards (there was some real hard-core sasuga here) and the characters designs and backgrounds were great.  The cast was superb, led by real-life bouzu Murase Ayumu as main character Hinata Shouyou (even the guys who played his two middle-school pals, who I suspect we’ll never see again, were faultless).  And it presented a scenario that was immediately both engaging and believable.  It definitely plays to the paying audience by focusing on the sensitive side of the boys, but that can work if done well – and there’s definite Ookiku Furikabutte DNA in the Haikyuu gene pool.

Volleyball isn’t a game I especially love, but that’s never stopped me before with sports anime.  The hero is a short kid who dreams of being the “little giant” of the volleyball world, but ends up at a middle school with no other boys who want to play (this is a common problem for boys who want to play volleyball, thought of more as a girls sport in America as well).  He practices by himself, leans on his pals Izumi and Kouji (basketball and soccer respectively) to help, and is informally adopted by the girls team.  Finally, in his third year, he scrapes together enough guys (including Izumi and Kouji) to play in one tournament, only to run up against a powerhouse opponent full of real giants in the first round.  That team is led by Kageyama Tobio (Ishikawa Kaitou, also great), the “King of the Court” – a setter, and a superb player who makes up for all that talent with a complete lack of social skills.

What follows in the match is predictable, but it’s still one of the better game sequences I’ve seen in ages.  Apart from the spectacular visuals (choreography as well as animation) the pathos is palpable.  How in the world can you not root for Hinata – undersized, fighting alone for three years, trying so hard to salvage some respect and honor yet never aspiring to anything less than winning?  And he has real talent, too – he’s an amazing leaper (which allows him to be a hitter/blocker despite his size).  Most importantly he absolutely busts his ass (literally) trying on every point and never stops rallying his overmatched teammates.  It’s inspirational without being preachy, in the way good sports anime can so often be.

It’s pretty obvious where this is headed (and it’s portrayed in a beautifully shot changing of the seasons) – Hinata and Kageyama will end up at the same high school, the national powerhouse Karusano (appropriately enough, it seems to be overrun with crows) and Kageyama will be tsundere for Hinata.  He already is, really, because the little wolverine earned more respect from him that his own apathetic teammates did.  If Haikyuu can avoid falling into the WSJ trap (and those who follow the manga swear it can) this has a chance to be really special – and to run for a long time, as it’s sure to be a commercial smash.  It has an extremely likeable main character, a compelling sports premise, a glamour studio behind it and a cast full of big names (including Irino Miyu) set to join the cast as Karasuno teammates.  The premiere is summed up by one of its best moments, as three Karasuno players watch Kageayama’s team finish off Hinata’s team and one remarks on what a tough future opponent “The King” will be.  “My money’s on the little guy.” says his teammate – and that’s how I feel after this episode.

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ED: “Tenchi Gaeshi” by NICO Touches the Walls

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39 comments

  1. A

    The true magic of Haikyuu! to me is how it manages to get the right measure for each device it has used (at least in the manga, and let's hope that the anime doesn't change that). Even when it tries to use elements I consider especially dangerous, it usually just gets them exactly RIGHT. The mangaka truly knows what are the strong points to play and the low points to avoid in each character and plot device they have used. The pace is wonderfully done, too.

    Also I can, like many have done before, preach for the lack of SWJ superpowers in it. The characters also feel like teenagers to me, something I'm personally grateful about.

  2. K

    Volleyball is my least favorite sport as I have some bad memories of it through school & camp but this was a charming first episode.

    And the two main characters relationship already hits many of my favorite tropes.

  3. w

    Wow.. I've never watched a sports anime before and I don't know why I was compelled to try this one, but boy am I glad I did. Top to bottom, I loved every single thing in this premiere. Also, I'm like, 90% sure that's Sho-kun (fair-haired middle school friend) in those group shots so I'd say we'll be seeing more of him.

  4. Never???

    If you loved this, there are many other sports anime I would enthusiastically recommend you also try.

  5. w

    Well, go on then. Throw some names out there. I've been thinking of trying Cross Game since you mentioned Adachi Mitsuru a lot back when you were blogging Robotics;Notes, so it seems like a good place to start. Also I'm aware you regard it very highly.

  6. m

    Cross game is pretty close to perfect (if not perfect) and the sports aspect is done well. any other Adachi work fits what you want as well (H2/Touch) Baby Steps is probably the perfect sports manga in terms of realism and being purely sports based, and hopefully the show will be too. Try Diamond no Ace it has been great. Slam dunk was good as well. I've heard Giant Killing is also good.

    Area no Kishi is mostly realistic, though really falso info about heart transplants. Doesn't have an ending and the manga translations aren't close to being caught up.

  7. R

    C-Can I throw out names too?? Granted its largely Enzou's fault I'm such a sports series fan too. Aside from Eyeshield 21, I never read/watched any until I stumbled onto Enzou's blog.

    I've read Touch and a few of Adachi's work. To be honest, while they're wonderful series, I consider them more character dramas with sports as a setting rather than a true sports series.

    For current day series, Baby Steps is one of my all time favorites (Enzou's fault) while Daimon no Ace is a pretty classic sports manga formula, in a good way (also Enzou's fault).

    If we go back a bit, some of my favorites include Big Windup (Okkiku Furikabutte) and Eyeshield 21. E21 I loved for the cast and bust my gut laughing comedy, which is highly opinionated so keep that in mind. If you don't mind shows aimed for a younger audience, Ginga e Kickoff was also a wonderful series (completely Enzou's fault, wasn't even on my radar before)

  8. e

    Throwing in a recommendation for the criminally under-appreciated Major. It's one of the most complete sports series out there and is just a blast to watch even for non-baseball fans. The main character is charismatic as heck and you just can't help but cheer him on throughout his entire journey.

    Also, I don't think it's very well-liked around this parts but I recommend giving Kuroko a shot too. I've noticed only people who aren't fans of basketball tend to enjoy this though, since it portrays the sport in an entirely unrealistic light. It's a great entry sports show as long as you aren't too opposed to the idea of superpowers being used in a sport.

  9. R

    I loved Major as well, but it's a definite "old school" sports anime (and an old series period XD) so it's sometimes a bit of a jar for newer anime fans, a problem I've had with other series when I tried to introduce them to my other anime friends. It's definitely good, but be prepared to be hit with a dose of very old art style and animation.

    I think sports series nowadays fall in three groups for me. The Prince of Tennis WSJ group (which I place KuroBas as well), which are enjoyable as long as you don't think too hard about the realistic side of things (but good grief can they drag sometimes), the tried and true sports series (like Baby Steps) where the sports and characters drive the plot realistically, and the traditional ones (the old or long running classics like Major, Slam Dunk, Touch, etc I put there). I think Haikyuu's arguable between the first and second for me, leaning towards the second.

  10. I'll jump in later when I have more time, but for now the convo would start with Ginga e Kickoff.

  11. OK, for starters is GeK. It makes me feel the same way HiQ did. As for Cross Game, I consider it to be among the best series of any type I've seen, but I don't consider it primarily a sports series. The baseball is important, but in Adachi works the sports are the canvas, not the paint.

    As for Major, it's old school, yes – but the first season (the best IMO) is quite different from the rest. I love Goro as a character study – he's a huge but not unrealistic talent, and has a lot of insecurities.

    I'd also consider Giant Killing, Capeta, Oofuri and Yolanda, for starters. And of course, Baby Steps.

  12. w

    Oh dear me..

    Wow guys, thanks to all for the suggestions! Although my 'to-watch' list is looking increasingly insurmountable now…

    I was actually intrigued by Oofuri way back, but I never watched any of it in the end and sort of forgot about it. That's a definite maybe. Enzo-dono's made an appealing case for GeK though, and it does have the advantage of being about football.. But 145 episodes for Eyeshield 21? I've heard very good things before, but that sounds a bit too ambitious for now.

    Also, I already watched Baby Steps. Almost immediately after Haikyuu, in fact. ^^

  13. p

    Hikaru no Go is another anime I really recommend for sports shounen type shows that are a little different. It's one of my all time favourites! I've started collecting all of its manga (paperback), and that's something I don't usually do! :O
    It's based on a board game called 'Go'. Not something one would usually type exciting sports shounen stuff, but its really good and amazing! I'm surprised no one recced it yet xD

  14. R

    Ah, for Eyeshield 21 I definitely recommend the manga and not the anime. While the anime isn't "bad" per se, it comes no where close to capturing Murata-sensei's amazingly dynamic and expressive art. There's just no substitute XD Plus it suffered from filler syndrome, being a long running shounen anime….you know, back when those were a common thing.

  15. How could I forget HnG, magnificent – one of the very best sports shounen ever.

  16. l

    There are still a few more older sports anime worth checking out that have not been mentioned. For example, you should give the first season of Hajime no Ippo (circa 2000-2003) a try. Total of 76 episodes. The subsequent 2 seasons (with the 3rd just recently ended) feels like spinning the wheels. The first is where the good stuff is. If you're wondering how popular this manga series is, it already has 106 volumes out and still going strong. It was the 1991 Kodansha Manga Award winner in the shounen category. For football/soccer, you can try Aoki Densetsu Shoot! (circa 1990-1991). 58 episodes. Anime adaptation of the manga Shoot!, a 1994 Kodansha Manga Award winner in the shounen category.

    And if you don't mind going all the way back to the 70s, there's this certain boxing anime which gave rise to many anime tropes…

  17. w

    So… many… suggestions.. But I like your passion! Sports anime fans suddenly feel an awful lot like IRL Sports fans. Should have known there'd be an overlap there.

  18. R

    By certain boxing anime you better be referring to Ashita no Joe or I will throw my computer out the wind-

    …into the pillow on the bed. But seriously, it's a good one. THAT ENDING. I'm nearly 40 years too late and still THAT ENDING.

  19. l

    @Rita, yes, it is Ashita no Joe. The first season (circa 1970-71) is 79 episodes and the second season (circa 1980-81) is 47 episodes. The second season continues from 2/3 point (suggest after Episode 52) of the first season – after a certain boxing match and its aftermath. That said, you can still continue watching past that point in season 1 as further elaboration between that fight and his next official match. It was left out of season 2 start to dive right through. The ending of season 2 is "THAT ENDING" that you mention. It's an indisputably iconic ending. I love both the manga and anime.

  20. Mashiro's favorite manga…

  21. R

    I was blessed enough to go into the series unspoiled (which is like a shock in of itself, it's like saying you went into Citizen Kane unspoiled….which in the modern day considering no one watches the classics anymore might perversely be possible once again….that actually depresses me now that I think about it)

    ANYWAYS, I managed to go in unspoiled I will say that the series left me a mess of emotions at the end. In a good way, but also in a I sort of wanted to chuck my laptop out the window and run down the stairs screaming profanities at the top of my lungs, but that's entirely my fault for being too emotionally invested in these things XD

    But it IS a very good series.

  22. N

    " I've never found a WSJ sports series that I've really liked"

    Even the legendary Slam Dunk?

  23. h

    same question here O_O

  24. Yes, that's the closest, but sadly I've never read it in its entirety. It also ended almost 20 years ago so hardly speaks to the absence of a problem.

  25. m

    Yeah Slam Dunk is more of the exception and not the rule. WSJ sports manga have this way of having training to learn a super move and absurd games that end up taking the emotion out of what working hard really is. And also serves to ruin how great rivalries can really be. It just begs the question that if real life gives you so much material to work with, why do you need to make up unrealistic situations?

  26. m

    I was writing this show off as another bishounen superpowered sports atrocity, but I after reading your post I decided to give it a shot. You and I have similar feelings about sports and sports anime so I watched ep 1, and I'm glad I did. This was done so well. I don't care too much about volleyball, but I love sports in general, and if this show stays this route I think it could be a close second to Baby Steps. Thanks for putting me onto this one!

  27. m

    I think he means the concept of Jump style manga/shows being put into sports. It ruins what makes sports great: the struggle to practice and train hard to improve, not to learn some crazy super move. Realism is the best path in sports shows/manga/movies

  28. R

    I also think he means more of the contemporary series ala everything after Prince of Tennis's ridiculous success with the fujoshi crowd.

  29. R

    First off, opening by SPYAIR gains Haikyuu +100 points for me already. *bricked*

    That aside, this was actually THE top series I was most looking forwards to seeing what your reaction would be to it. It was mainly due to your blog that I even got into sports series in the first place, but once I did and gobbled up all of your recommendations I went out to look for more series, and Haikyuu was one of them which I loved. While I've liked all of the series you've mentioned, I never really knew what your take on series I liked but you hadn't mentioned were (Eyeshield 21, Haikyuu, Ookiku Furikabutte, etc). Call it a case of curiosity killed the cat I'm sure XD I tend to enjoy series you don't like as much (Kurobas was fun, even if I didn't finish it) so it's interesting. But Haikyuu was the one sports series which I really loved and felt like you would like it too, so in a way I'm glad I was right. I'm obviously far too invested in your opinion on anime series now XDD;;;

    That being said, not to get the podium out, but I'm really thankful for your stance on fangirls and it's the sort I wish others would have. If they bother you, ignore them. If they don't, remember they're moving disks. There's no reason to go around insulting everything they like. And it's the kind I really, REALLY wish the fangirl/otome section would take too sometimes and pull the stick out of their collective asses. I consider myself part of the latter section, but man can they seriously drive me nuts sometimes. I wish everyone could be cordial at least, there'd be a lot less arguments. Random aside, but it really was important to me so there you go.

  30. t

    having 4 sports series in Sunday (Somo, DnA, HQ and baby steps), following by a 5th in Monday (yowamushi pedal), this season and its followed, gonna be awesome. like..hell of awesomeness!

    HQ is kinda..born to be successful. it has the production of IG which is very good. and a solid fanbase – it is published in WSJ (love it or not, it's still on top as magazine due to its selling) and of course a fanbase – Kuroko?free? HQ is almost on a different level…

    that being said, it doesn't prevent HQ to demonstrate what a good sports series should be like – it's intriguing, funny, giving vibes of sports emotions with rivals already. and as I already, add to this that it's an IG series..and you get the perfect recipe for success.

    back to the beginning, of course when you have this line-up of sports series in the same day, HQ might seem like the appetizer, but I wonder..if that really is the case?will it stay like that? I doubt. one thing for sure, my adrenaline and enticement level gonna spike. and oh, we know the drill how sports anime enter the phase of cliffhangers week by week…it's not good to the heart..not at all. but who cares πŸ˜›

  31. h

    that has to be one of best first episodes,and personally,I can tell this is going to be much better written than the medicore kuroko no basket

  32. l

    "If Haikyuu can avoid falling into the WSJ trap (and those who follow the manga swear it can)"

    I follow the manga and I'll add my support to vouch for that. Knowing the type of sports anime that you like, Haikyuu!! should reel you in.

    Production I.G. did a fantastic job in adapting the manga. I enjoyed this opening episode a lot.

  33. Glad to see I'm not alone here. This was a really faultless effort.

  34. R

    That animation though. If ever there was a series I considered buying the DVD for because of the brilliant animation, this would probably be one of them. Hopefully it keeps the bar pretty high (I'm not expecting a full season of this level XD but it's promising)

  35. m

    I hope it will have more than 2 cours. Sports manga tend to be pretty long to have the build up from raw talent to elite player that 1-2 cours can never fully cover.

  36. As much as it's ever possible to guarantee such things, I guarantee HiQ will have more than 2 cours. It's going to sell many, many discs and tons of merchandise. They'll probably treat it like KuroBas – take a couple of seasons off and come back. I.G. may even alternate between the two shows to make sure the fans have spending money.

  37. t

    already listed with 25 episodes (captain earth as well). source:
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2014-04-06/captain-earth-and-haikyu-each-listed-with-25-episodes

    I doubt it will go over 25 episodes since only around 100 chapters in manga, so I think they will arrive around 70-80 chapters…
    but I am sure it'll have a sequel in due time.

  38. R

    Oh boy, I'm not sure they can make it to my favorite arc in only 25 episodes. And I certainly don't want it to be rushed. Here's hoping they adapt all the way through the interhigh tournament. *fingers crossed*

  39. l

    Sorry for the late post on this because I needed to dig out some old raws for a screencap. When I first read Haikyuu!! and now again watching it, I can't help but note how similar Hinata looks to Ren Ren*. Hinata is just overflowing with belief and self-confidence whereas Mihashi is on the opposite end of the scale.

    * Those who have watched Ookiku Furikabutte would understand this reference.

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