Post Reply Haikyu!!
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Posted 4/29/14 , edited 4/30/14
by Eclipsed_Oblivion

Ever since 2012’s smash hit, Kuroko’s Basketball, anime has been struck with an onslaught of sports series. Whether about swimming, cycling, or even ping pong, sports anime have never been more popular, but this has also made it more difficult for any to stand out. Fortunately for new volleyball series Haikyu!!, the prospects are in its favour. While it executes the necessary elements remarkably well due to dynamic characters, Haikyu!! breaks the traditional mold of sports anime by creating intense, sometimes poisonous rivalry within the main team, which shapes its captivating team dynamics.

Team dynamics don’t exist at first for Shoyo Hinata, the only member of his middle school volleyball club. Despite his short stature, he loves the sport immensely, and he manages to assemble a team by his third year of middle school. Inevitably, however, he is crushed in his first and only match by the angry Tobio “King of the Court” Kageyama and his team. Hinata vows to defeat him, but on the first day of high school, Hinata walks in to the gymnasium only to find Kageyama there! Now on the same team, they must work together or face failure. This unusual rivalry both fuels Haikyu!!'s story and creates opportunities to explain volleyball’s technical aspects so anyone can enjoy the series.

Part of what makes Haikyu!! so successful in standing out from other sports anime is its dynamic characters. Hinata is so passionate about volleyball that he practices alone in a defunct club for three years, which isn’t unusual for a sports anime protagonist, but what makes him distinct is how this lonely time has affected his current self. Despite his positive outlook, it quickly becomes obvious how deep Hinata’s desire for real teammates is, a desire challenged by his rocky relationship with Kageyama. As such, us wanting to see Hinata succeed is not limited to within volleyball matches, but within his whole life. Kageyama is also much more than the conceited, dictatorial boy he appears to be. More than an antagonist, he seems to be a deuteragonist with deeper reasons as to why he can’t trust his teammates, especially as he becomes enraged whenever someone calls him the “King of the Court.” Kageyama and Hinata are both very heartfelt characters more expressive than usual for a shonen anime, but they never enter “tragic past” territory; while still dynamic, they also live within an atmosphere lightened enormously by comedy, which prevents their plights from becoming melodramatic.

What is rightfully dramatic in Haikyu!!, however, is the intense rivalry within the main team. Rivalry is a necessary element in sports anime, but the degree to which it exists in the main team is certainly unique. Hinata and Kageyama are clearly the central pair involved in such conflict, refusing to cooperate even if it means not being allowed in to the volleyball club. They’re complete opposites in personality, experience, and even volleyball positions, which spurns extreme hatred for each other, but as time passes and they recognize each other’s similarities and strengths, respect and trust as well. This makes even forced cooperation between the two quite compelling. Some of the rivalry is more poisonous than this, however. First year player Kei Tsukishima purposely provokes Kageyama to the point that he becomes enraged, which brings out some of Hinata’s more positive feelings toward Kageyama, but also creates even more toxicity within Haikyu!!’s main team. The first year players are at one point even made to play not a practice match, but a semi-competitive match against each other rather than foster camaraderie, which, for a sports anime, is incredibly unusual.

What also becomes unusual, as a result, is Haikyu!!’s team dynamics. Any volleyball team that wants to succeed will have to learn cooperation at some point, but the sheer amount of rivalry in the main team makes the journey much more compelling, as the first year players aren’t nearly ready to accept each other as teammates. The upperclassmen prevent the friction between players from becoming stale, however, by keeping the team intact. They provide guidance to help the players acknowledge their true feelings and how to best work together, and they do far more than required to help the first years become the best players they can be. This helps to keep a sense of there being a team without sacrificing the unusual dynamics that occur otherwise. Between the almost toxic rivalry between the first years and the assistance provided by the upperclassmen, the eventual teamwork that does result, even in small doses, seems even more beautiful and satisfying than normal.

While all sports anime have normal, expected elements necessary for the genre, Haikyu!! executes them exceptionally well and adds in unique features as well. With dynamic characters, unusually strong rivalry within the main team, and captivating team dynamics as a result, Haikyu!! is distinct among sports anime, and it may just fill volleyball and non-volleyball fans alike with enough spirit to (try to) ferociously spike a ball that matches Hinata's strength.
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