It would be hard to overestimate just how infectious Haikyuu is. Six episodes in and it hasn’t lost any of the momentum it blew onto the scene with in the full-bore premiere – there have been a few gradients of success, but no real lulls. It’s a bubbly, frothy, kind of drink – champagne, or maybe a big old Rum and Coke. I was a little concerned that it might be the sort of confection that you get tired of pretty quickly but so far, so good.
I haven’t wavered in my sense that there isn’t a whole lot of subtlety here, but I’ll tell you what – making it this easy to see why a show works is a pretty darn good formula too. And it really is easy: total sincerity in the writing. Great energy, and solid comedy. The fact that pretty much all the players are straight-up goofs in their own way, which punctures any possibility of false pretentiousness. There’s definitely something of Ookiku Furikabutte both in the look and content of this show, but Haikyuu is nowhere near as emo as Oofuri was (and don’t get me wrong, I liked Oofuri quite a lot). And, not to be forgotten, absolutely top-shelf production values – you just don’t see sports animated and drawn this well very often. If this is a Rum and Coke we’re not getting Bacardi, we’re getting Wray and Nephew.
The first part of the episode is, to be blunt, mostly comedy at Hinata’s expense. There were times I felt bad for laughing at the little guttersnipe, but laugh I did – especially when he knocked over the umpire’s chair (and we then saw the poor fellow with a bruised forehead). Hinata is a complete wreck at the prospect of facing Aoba Johsai – squirting from both ends, and everything everyone says makes it worse. It’s endearing for me that the captain has no clue how to make him feel better, despite the fact that he feels it’s his job – Daichi just isn’t that kind of captain. He’s a likeable goof with plenty of flaws, just like the rest of them, and the crown doesn’t seem to rest too easy on his head.
Then there’s Kageyama’s old middle school teammates to make things worse. One of them, Kindaichi – who Hinata remembers from the middle school match and dubs “Turnip Head” – especially revels in twisting the knife. And frankly, Kageyama’s behavior before and during the first set of the match doesn’t do much to disprove his taunts about The King. Predictably the first set is a drubbing, with Hinata screwing up over and over. It ends when he serves directly into the back of Kageyama’s head – which seems to be the moment that defuses the tension for everyone. The Karasuno teammates find this utterly hilarious too (which I also find very appealing about them) and Kageyama takes the opportunity to logically argue with Hinata that this is certainly as scary as things can get. It’s Tanaka though – the biggest goof in the goofy bin, probably – who finally manages to loosen up Hinata in his own inimitable fashion.
Fundamentally, the question for Kageyama is whether Kindaichi-kun is right that what he needs are “pawns”, rather than teammates. If the answer is yes we don’t have a series, and things start to click with Hinata in the second set. Even Tsuki is a bit unnerved by the accuracy of Kageyama’s tosses (I’ve seen great setters appear almost to have ESP) and we’re treated to another bout of the (sigh) blind spikes from Hinata. Hinata’s impact on the game becomes clear here – by roving all over the place he breaks up the formation of the enemy blocks, especially as he jumps and swings as if he’s getting the toss even when he isn’t. Karasuno rides this pair to a narrow win in the second set, and Aoba Johsai’s coach seems to be rather enjoying the prospect of his powerful team being challenged by an interesting and unpredictable opponent.
The next shoe to drop is apparently this fellow, Oikawa Tooru. I see he’s played by Namikawa Daisuke and that alone means he’s probably going to be memorable (Namikawa-san is now in 60% of the sports anime I’m covering and yes, he’s probably overexposed – but he’s just so damn good). I figured – as did Kageyama – that Aoba was probably sitting on a couple of their stars for a practice match they figured to lope through, and Oikawa is the team’s ace setter. It’s fine if he comes in and leads them to victory – this is just a practice match after all, and you can’t be too good too early in a sports anime (unless your name is Honda Goro). With Haikyuu, it isn’t so much about the results as it is about putting the top down, feeling the wind in your hair and enjoying the ride.