We’re two episodes in, and so far the Haikyuu adaptation is doing pretty much everything textbook perfect. I’m hard-pressed to believe the only thing Mitsunaka Susumu has directed before this was Cuticle Detective Inaba – a mediocre series if ever one existed – because the quality of the production at every level is damn impressive so far. It almost makes me suspicious of whether the source material is really all that strong, because with as flawless as the execution is with Haikyuu I think it could make something middling look pretty damn good.
That said, there’s no denying that these first two episodes have been very well-written too, even if they haven’t broken a lot of new ground. The premiere was mostly about establishing Hinata as a main character we should care about, and succeeded thoroughly in doing so. This week takes on the challenge of introducing the first of the supporting cast, and does so with equal verve. These guys are on a level with the seniors in Yowamushi Pedal as far as being interesting and likeable sempai in their own right. It should be added, though, that the facial expressions in this series are really top-notch, and that goes a long way towards humanizing the characters.
First off we have Sawamura Daichi (Hino Satoshi) the captain of the Karasuno Volleyball Club. He initially comes off as a bit of a soft touch who can’t get anybody – including first-years Hinata and Kageyama – to listen to him. But he reveals a quite commanding presence as the episode progresses. There’s also Tanaka Ryuunosuke (Hayashi Yuu), who initially projects the stereotypical bullying sempai but likewise reveals another side of himself as the episode wears on. The third is Sugawara Koushi (Miyu Irino), who despite having the best seiyuu in the cast is the least flashy introduction so far – he projects a sort of slightly bemused kindness of nature, but if there’s a “hook” to his personality it remains well-hidden.
I like the fact that it takes only a few moments for us to realize that initial impressions of Sawamura and Tanaka were deceiving – it’s a sign of good writing – and I love the fact that the first scene with the three sempai features a truly hilarious sequence where the Dean’s toupee gets knocked off his head by the ball and ends up on Daichi’s. That comes about as a result of the challenge Hinata has issued Kageyama, which comes about as a result of the fact that they start snapping at each other like mad dogs as soon as Hinata walks into the gym (which mostly comes about because Kageayama is an arrogant prick – so far). Hinata declares that he’s matured (if not grown much taller) and can now return the King of the Court’s serve – only to discover that the King (who hates that name) has developed a truly intimidating jump serve (which is pretty much the universal standard in top-level volleyball these days). Also making an entrance is Shimizu Kyoko (Nazuka Kaori), who I presume is the team’s manager.
So far, all in all, this is following the template pretty closely. The plucky first-year, the fated rival, the three sempai, the hot manager, the first big game as the chance to prove yourself – it’s all very familiar. But the key with Haikyuu is that the execution is above-average in every facet, and occasionally brilliant. From the casting to the animation to the backgrounds to the way the characters are written, it’s just really well-done stuff, plain and simple. It’s the sort of story that’s very easy to lose yourself in, and Hinata (“Gwaa!”) the kind of hero it’s incredibly easy to root for. Plus, there’s not a sign of WSJ superpowers in sight. I don’t expect the kind of trailblazing sports anime we’re going to get from Baby Steps or Ping Pong here, but Haikyuu is simply trying to be the best straight-up sports shounen it can – a damn fine one it is so far – and I love the fact that the current schedule has so many really good sports shows that approach the genre differently from each other. It really is a great time to be a fan of sports anime.