Anime fans are probably already familiar with volleyball thanks to series like Haikyu!!, but this season’s Harukana Receive is a bit different, as it focuses on beach volleyball. Volleyball and beach volleyball, while sharing some commonalities, differ vastly in a variety of ways. One of the key differences is that beach volleyball is only teams of two compared to volleyball’s six-player teams. That leads to a key difference that Harukana Receive points out in its first episode—in beach volleyball, there are no aces. A single person can’t carry the team as trying to do so breaks the balance of a two person team and will lead to failure.
Traditional volleyball brings together a group of individuals who usually have a specialty they bring to their team. The setter is key to making sure the offense performs well. The offense will also need players to hit spikes efficiently. Blockers lead the defense to shut down opposing teams. The libero is a defense-only player who is there to make sure serves or spikes are received. Some players might specialize in serves, whether power or float serves. And, finally, the player who is considered the best on the team will be called the ace.
In regular volleyball, this wide variety of skills does not need to be handled by one person, but an entire team. But things are different with beach volleyball, and this is where the “no ace” mentality comes into play.
Since beach volleyball only allows two athletes to a team, designating positions or specializations becomes impossible. Not only does the team have to be good at the basic fundamentals, they have to be good at being a setter, spiker, server, blocker, receiver, and libero. At the same time, one player cannot be vastly better than their teammate. If that were the case, that person would be constantly targeted and shut down since the don't have teammates to hide behind. Having that discrepancy in a team would make them worse and hold back the better player.
Having no aces in beach volleyball also means that the two person teams are closer than in traditional volleyball. Because you have to rely on only one other person, you become more familiar with all of their quirks, flaws, strengths, and playstyle. With this, a team will be able to push themselves even more. In a way, the "no ace" approach to beach volleyball can also be seen as both players have to play at the caliber of an ace to succeed.
No aces and team size aren’t the only things that make beach volleyball different. One other aspect is the playing field. As seen in Harukana Receive, playing in sand creates numerous problems that playing on courts don’t have. Sand doesn't provide the best footing, so running up to a ball or trying to get into position can be difficult. Even hitting spikes can be harder due to not getting as good of a jump.
Another part of the game that the sand field hinders is setting. A few episodes of Harukana Receive have talked about why beach volleyball doesn’t rely on the two-handed toss seen in traditional volleyball. The less reliable footing makes a two-handed toss more difficult, possibly leading to double touching the ball or having the touch be seen as an illegal catch. The sun can also be an issue here as it may impair eyesight. This is why you will more frequently see a team set up a spiker with just a bump toss or skip the setting phase entirely if the initial receive is good enough.
One part of beach volleyball that you might have noticed while watching Harukana Receive is one player giving hand signals behind their back to the server. These are important as a way to communicate without the other team knowing. The hand signals—known as block signals, which correspond with various fingers given to the other player, are actually for information regarding blocking. They tell the server how to block, which way to block, who to block, or if their teammate will be the primarily blocker. Since coaching is not allowed during a match, this is a key component to being strategic during a match.
Harukana Receive shining a light on this Olympic sport will allow viewers to see the differences between volleyball and beach volleyball. The competition and action remain fierce on the beach as the series continues its run. With it still being summer, perhaps Harukana Receive will inspire you and your friends to hit the beach and try out the sport yourself! That way you will see what the sport is about and also what Haruka and Kanata enjoy so much about beach volleyball!