I suspect Haikyuu may end up being one of those shows (as sports anime sometimes are) that are quite difficult to blog despite being ridiculously easy to enjoy. This may in fact end up being deeper and subtler than I expect (some of the manga fans swear it will) but for now, Haikyuu is as WYSIWYG as it gets. In three episodes it’s pretty much avoided any missteps so there’s nothing to criticize, and the characters’ roles in the story and their emotional development seem extremely straightforward so there’s not much to interpret.
Haikyuu never needs to deliver any more than that to make me a satisfied customer. I love good sports anime, and this is damn good sports anime. So far the magic isn’t in doing anything that’s in itself surprising, but in doing the expected surprisingly well. Production I.G. is generally very good at this sort of thing, but only as good as the source material – and clearly this source material is heartfelt, honest, and cleverly written. We’ve seen mains like Hinata before, but his story is laid out so crisply and earnestly that he’s incredibly winning. We’ve seen sempai like the ones we’ve met here, but there’s just that little bit extra depth to these guys that make them feel fresh and different.
Of course any sports anime that’s attempting to execute the traditional model is going to need antagonists, and with Kageyama now part of Hinata’s volleyball harem and the sempais so sempai-thetic that role was bound to shift to someone else sooner or later. Enter Tsukishima Kei (Uchiyama Kouki, doing a voice that’s unsettlingly close to The King’s), the 188cm titan who’s called “Tsuki” by his wingman Yamaguchi Tadashi (Saitou Soma). These are the other two first-years, the ones Hinata and Kageyama must defeat in the play-in match in order to fight their way into the gym, and Kageyama into the setter’s role.
These two may be an acid test of just how far outside the norm Haikyuu is able to reach, because as future teammates these two are also ticketed for harem status. That transition can be believable, or it can be awkward and forced – we’ll see. For now Tsookie is pretty much a straight-up douchebag – he makes Kageyama’s personality look like Miss Congeniality by comparison and even these agreeable seniors don’t take to him. He persists on calling Kageyama “Oo-sama” strictly because he knows it will piss him off (but also pisses him off with a fascinating reference to his “egotistical” setting in middle school), and Hinata he generally treats like a mosquito. As for Yamaguchi he’s strictly the sidekick so far, so it would be foolish to venture a guess as to what his true nature is.
These two have already served one requisite function, playing the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” card for Kageyama and Hinata. Kageyama still does nothing much to make us like him here – he continues to be dismissive of Hinata, refusing to set for his spiking and telling him he’s not essential to the team’s chances. At least he continues to drill with Hinata morning and night, even if not to set for him, pretty much all the focus going on Hinata’s ability to receive (either a serve or a spike). What we’re seeing here is that in addition to his physical limitations, Hinata is also severely lacking in proper training. But his height he can compensate for with his insane leaping ability and quickness, and his inexperience with his relentless determination and refusal to be discouraged.
Among the seniors, it’s the third-year Sugawara who makes the most impression this time – and it’s really not from doing anything except being quietly decent and supportive. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop with Sugawara, but so far there’s no hook with him – unless it’s his general lack of assertiveness (he tells Hinata he “tries to avoid fights with people stronger than he is”). As a setter whose job Kageyama would like to steal I supposed that could be an issue, but for now he’s definitely the “good cop” especially where Hinata is concerned. And as for Hinata, he continues to tolerate Kageyama’s verbal and physical abuse and come back for more, and the moment when he finally earns Kageyama’s respect enough to merit a toss (along with the soaring theft of the ball from Tsookie) and spikes the ball away are the “martial spirit” highlights of the episode – delivered, as has been the case for all three episodes, with marvelous animation and direction.