Haikyuu!! begins with the dream of flight. The anime revolves around the sport of volleyball, focusing on competitive tournaments, and has aired for four seasons. The series follows the athletically gifted but short Hinata Shoyo and his partner Kageyama Tobio along with their team, the Karasuno High School Volleyball team. Together, they strive to reclaim their long-lost glory of being a team worthy of playing at the Nationals.
Haikyuu!! as a sports anime
Haikyuu!! follows most of the tried-and-tested tropes of mainstream sports anime but manages to never fall into mediocrity. Hinata Shoyo would fit perfectly into the role of the extroverted shounen anime protagonist, with Kageyama Tobio as the sullen, quiet genius who is his partner and ultimate rival.
Meanwhile, characters like Tendou Satori and Oikawa Tooru could easily fit the role of the petty arrogant kid who is destined to lose to the protagonists.
But with each new season of Haikyuu!!, subtle layers in all the characters are revealed, separating them from two-dimensional stereotypes. Each of them, be it teammates, friends from other teams, and rivals, have their own struggles and motivations which make them likable and relatable to the viewers.
Even the most obnoxious of characters have some quality that we cannot help but admire, albeit grudgingly. There aren't any "evil" or malicious characters in Haikyuu!!, only high school boys engaged in a highly competitive sport. Here, one loss is all it takes for their dreams of flight to be wrenched out of their hands.
What Makes Haikyuu!! Different
When one thinks of sports anime, one does not usually think about poetry. But there is something poetic about the way Furudate Haruichi uses symbolism in Haikyuu!!, especially in the naming of the various teams and their approaches to the game.
Karasuno, the primary team that Haikyuu!! focuses on, represented by the karasu or crow, is unpredictable and heavy on the offensive. Nekoma is more cat-like, steadily waiting and slowly wearing down their opponents' defenses to find the right moment to pounce upon victory. Inarizaki is fox-like in their quickness and adaptability, among several other teams such as Fukurodani (owl), Shiratorizawa (white eagle), Johzenji (monkey), Nohebi (snake).
On the more non-animal side, we have the Iron Wall of Date Tech, a name that referred to their absolute, impenetrable defenses and their ability to score consecutively off failed spikes by their opponents
The symbolism behind the Aoba Johsai team name is unclear. Oikawa Tooru would probably kick up a fuss for not mentioning the seamless rhythm of the team, with Oikawa himself as the conductor leading the orchestra. These characteristics also appear in the slogans and banners of the teams in Haikyuu!!, sometimes even in the personalities of the individual characters as well.
For instance, Hinata gives an obsessive and almost predatory look when he walks up to Shiratorizawa's ace and captain Wakatoshi Ushijima. Hinata declares that they'll defeat Shiratorizawa and go to Nationals.
Another noteworthy example is when the ball reflects in a character's eyes while they're in "the zone", showing a raw hunger for winning, for being able to stand on the court and play just a bit longer, for the sheer love of volleyball.
The exaggeration of dialog and action is a staple in more action-focused anime genres. However, unlike older series like Kuroko no Basuke, Haikyuu!! does not sacrifice realism for effect.
Most of the superhuman jumps, spikes and perfect receives in Haikyuu!! have solid realistic foundation, backed by the rules and technicalities of the game. The otherworldly effect is achieved through seamless animation of motion during plays, slowed down or sped up to create the desired impact. It is then blended with more animated mascot animals and nuanced voice-acting.
Is Haikyuu!! Better than Other Sports Anime?
Objectively, yes. Haikyuu!! has the advantage of retrospect, being a fairly recent anime. Years of trial-and-error equips Haikyuu!! with all the arsenal required to create an engaging storyline, lovable characters and relatable struggles.
They fail and get better over time, slowly but steadily, through constant practice, relearning things from scratch and practicing them till it is ingrained in their bones. Not only is the Haikyuu!! series entertaining, but it is also optimistic, and at times, downright hilarious.
Subjectively speaking, everyone has their favorites in the sports anime genre, ranging from basketball series like Slam Dunk and Kuroko no Basuke to Yowamushi Pedal and Hajime no Ippou.
However there is no doubt that Haikyuu!! has captured the hearts of sports anime lovers with its attention to detail and single-focused storyline. With the long promised "Battle at the Garbage Dump" looming ahead, fans eagerly await the release of Season 5.