Haikyuu!! – 02

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OK, exclamation points just in the title line only.

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.

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15 comments

  1. L

    Long-time lurker unlurking here.

    I'm a huge fan of Haikyuu! and the adaptation's exceeding my expectations so far. It's only been recently that I've gotten into sports manga though (I began with Baby Steps due to your recommendation) so you can take my comment with a grain of salt: even across genres, I find Haikyuu! to be very well-written: solid story, characters develop, there's a sense of restraint once it comes to drama (extremely refreshing for a shoujo/josei reader like me, haha). In short, I do think the source material is that strong. You should give it a read once you have the time!

    I love the little details in this show. Sugawara's face whenever he had to close the gym door was priceless!

  2. t

    after 2 eps, there is no doubt, HQ is the best new sport series of the spring, and one of the best new in all spring series.

    once again we see how crucial it is to interact correctly with your teammates.
    yes, there is some sort of rivalry as they pointed out (we saw it in YP and DnA), but it's important to work together. if players can't do that in team..then they worth nothing.
    and there is no one fits to this task rather than the second and third years. they are a bit intimidating but damn smart to identify this problem and trying to take advantage for the team if this works.

    this is IG production and it's fantastic – pace feels right, I love the facial expressions and the vibe the series is inducing.

  3. R

    Come on Enzou, it's only 2 exclamation points. 😛

    That being said, as manga reader and fan (definitely biased), I'm going to ferverently add my lot into insisting that the manga is really just that good. It really is straight up shounen manga spriti crammed into a sports series. And it does it very well. The matches are rousing, the comedy is great and the characters are lovable (Tanaka easily is my favorite though, especially later on. Those reactions.)

    On an unrelated note, I actually liked Cuticle Detective. Nothing ground breaking but it had some genuinely funny moments going for the comedy. I laughed quite a bit, which really is my only standard for comedy XD

  4. R

    Also, funny you should mention facial expressions in the anime because that was one of the things that stood out to me in the manga. No matter if its a small panel or distant shot, all the characters are always expressive and you can clearly see their reactions to what's happening.

  5. h

    the characters are really really likeable,I loved the three sempai
    and hahahahaha the look on Sugawara Koushi face when he was closing the door is priceless,yeah ,those 2 episodes really shows that a good mangaka is behind these,true that the execution is strong but I think that one got good material

  6. R

    I like Haikyuu, period. One of the things that I like about this show is that I forgot how much I enjoyed playing volleyball in junior high, and I was a setter. It wasn't that I was madly in love with it as you are with baseball — I was 13, and my mom chose it for me because it was cheap. However, I'm biased — Haikyuu absolutely brings back memories.

    There are a lot of details that the show just gets it right — you can so totally catch the little details in the character movements if you play the sport — and that makes me give I.G two thumbs up. The talk between Hinata and Kageyama about spiker and setter was so completely spot on — that was the emotions that I had and the lessons that I learnt. Yes, it felt so much more glamorous and powerful to spike — the attention that a spiker gets is huge — and that exactly was how I felt when I was 13. Being assigned to a setter role did make me upset in the beginning, but as I played along, I learnt how important this role is — it's the brain of the team, and it's like the role of a central midfielder in a soccer game. I couldn't help but rewatch that sequence, and, you know what, Ishikawa Kaito did a fine job conveying the emotions and passion.

    I wouldn't say Haikyuu is a superb show, but it does a good job telling the story with a solid execution — it makes it easy for the viewers to follow and to like the characters. I don't know why, but it feels like watching Noragami — I guess it has similar entertainment value. I quite like the BGM — I wouldn't say it elevates the emotions but for sure it complements the story and everything that you see on screen. I'm also curious about Murase Ayumu — he did a fine job playing Shun in SSY, and so far he's been doing pretty well portraying Hinata, a totally different character. The only thing is that — like Ace of Diamond — I'm going to ignore the female character because she doesn't seem to have a role to play other than being a hot-looking figure of the opposite sex.

  7. g

    I have to say I'm upset how they introduced her in the anime. In the manga she was nowhere near so much sexualized like in the anime. And, of course, her role isn't prominent but I have to say there's more of her & she's more lively now, when the second manager has come. I guess she was still a little lonely as a sole girl.

  8. R

    That's good to know, but it's just that it's too often to give female characters the role of a manager in sports anime. This is where Baby Steps has the edge over. I still like Chihaya way more than Natchan, but at least she has an ambition, and her role means something.

  9. Have you read the Baby Steps manga, Ronbb? If not, you really don't know Nat-chan yet…

  10. R

    No, I have not, but I will have the patience to let the story move me and make me fall in love with the characters. I like the start that Baby Steps is giving a meaningful role to a female character.

  11. R

    MY ADORABLE TENNIS DORKS.

    *coughs* I'm sorry, I love Nacchan and Ei-chan's relationship. Like, bury my face in my pillow screaming like BECAUSE ADORABABBUS.

    That's fangirl mode right there. Not ashamed of it at all. I'm just sad that there's practically no way they're getting to that part of their relationship in 25(?) episodes.

  12. w

    I love the fact that Tanaka clearly loved playing the delinquent sempai role to Hinata and Kageyama. Hearing Kageyama's explanation of the setter role made me realise how perfectly it fits him, since he wants to basically be a one man team (then why play a team sport, Kage? Why?) I think it'll be a good thing if he's not allowed play that position until he learns better, and I like that the sempais realised this as soon as I did. Also like the fact that everyone openly him an arrogant prick.

    No actual volleyball in this one, but still somehow an exciting and exhilarating watch. Perhaps not my favorite, but possibly going to be the best show this season.

  13. I think you get a sense for why Baby Steps is the more ambitious series with these episodes , and potentially the better show. But for straight up execution HiQ is hard to fault so far.

  14. w

    Potentially being the key phrase. Baby Steps is obviously playing for the longer game (literally) here, which generally means a bigger reward later on. If it overtakes Haikyuu in terms of quality, I don't expect it to be until at least towards the end of the spring season.

  15. R

    I swear at first I was almost convinced he was just meant to be parodying one of those old school anime cliches with the delinquent with a heart of gold type characters. Who's also an idiot who likes being called senpai XD

    And he sort of is, but he's seriously comedy gold later in the manga, and much more than a trope parody, but it's still a lot of fun to watch the anime and remember, oh yeah, I used to think like that XD

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