Monday, October 6, 2014

Anime Review: Haikyuu!!

In case anyone is wondering what happened to the movie review last week, a combination of my library woes and Anime USA just left me with no time to watch the film let alone think about it and talk about it so it's happening this Wednesday instead. Sorry folks, I had like a month of no missed updates there!

Moving onto this review, this year has been an odd one for me anime-wise so far and I realized that might be the case when I looked at my upcoming spring shows and noticed tha I wasn't, over the moon excited for any show and the only one I was confident would be good was a volleyball manga I hadn't even read. Thankfully I did enjoy some of the other shows like Captain Earth and Mushi-shi: The Next Passage but I was right to believe the tumblr hype for this show and thanks to how early it aired I always had something to look forward to during lunch at work on Sundays!


In middle school Hinata had a dream, to play volleyball and to someday be as good as the famed "Little Giant" of Karasuno High School. But it was too early for his dream and he couldn't even get together a proper team or club so it was no wonder that his team lost in the first match of the play-offs and he vowed to make the opposing setter Kageyama his rival. It seems the feeling was mutual since when Hinata finally gets to Karasuno the next year he's stunned and unhappy to find that Kageyama is now his classmate and, if the two of them can ever get their act together and play together, his new teammate.

When I started out the spring 2014 anime season there were a few other sports shows airing but the only other one I was watching was the auteur work Ping Pong The Animation and I ultimately dropped it. The way I see it, the characters are the heart of a sports show since the plot isn't terribly surprising or original considering that most of the action is bound by sport rules and anything else is pure slice of life, and I just didn't connect with any of the characters in Ping Pong. I couldn't attach myself to them because of any likability and the way they all thought was hard to empathize with, I found myself going "but I was never like this and I can't see why someone would be like this" which took me out of the show enough to conclude it wasn't for me and shelve it. Haikyuu!! is the polar opposite of the show, the matches are still a combination of physical and mental strategy but where the characters in Ping Pong seemed to carry their analytical, planning selves into their everyday lives the characters in HQ!! were just loveable dorks on and off the court. I mentioned last week in Captain Earth that I felt like the show tried to have too many characters be main characters and suffered by introducing some of them way too late to flesh them out but HQ!! pulls it off much better. Here the show understands the difference between a "main character" (Hinata, with Kageyama being either a deuteragonist or a co-protagonist) and "important side characters" which helps it flesh out not only other members of the Karasuno team but also the opposing teams whenever they come on screen. HQ!! also has the benefit that it's not trying to tell an entire story in 25 episodes, it's clear that all of these other teams will reappear later and that the show will just be able to jump back in with their characterization. 

In fact, the only part of the show that bothered me was Kageyama's characterization, it's just a bit strange to see how completely he's changed compared to flashbacks and for better or worse! We see some of his sempai's flashbacks and there Kageyama is a quiet, even a bit robotic, middler schooler but by his third year he's clearly got an attitude that was bad enough his former teammates can't believe he's semi-willingly high-fiving his new teammates. It's true that he starts high school as an utter ass and it takes a while for him to get better but once he does it's fairly consistent, whenever he does revert back (outside of comedic moments with Hinata) everyone else is able to snap him out of it quickly so it makes all of the contrasts very odd. I'm completely sure that this is a future plot point, it's been brought up in enough ways that not only is it begging to be used but it would be strange to now ignore it, so I can only hope the answer comes sooner rather than later. To touch briefly on Hinata, it's hard to talk about him and make him sound like a real fleshed out character but having him be the decoy on the team, not the ace and probably not the future ace, the story has already indicated who will be that once the current third-year player is gone. Reverse Thieves has a really great post on "the shonen hero" vs "the senien hero" (in sports anime) and that's what got me thinking about it so much; Hinata's position on the team really does reflect his own personality well, hyper and good-spirited so that even if he would really love to be the one scoring the majority of the points he's happy to be able to help in other ways which was a lot more than I expected from the series when it started. And yet, much like Kageyama's growth back into being a good setter, someone whose there to conduct the team, it really reflects what we saw in the very first episode of the show and it's why I say this show has surprisingly good writing, it gets how to flesh out characters without giving them an overly complicated backstory that will take seasons and seasons to unravel. 

And I'm convinced we're getting a second season, the anime has sold ridiculously well so far (I think 34,000 volumes for the first volume and 5-6,000 is usually considered solid) plus it's boosted the manga sales by over a million units combined. From everything I've heard the manga has enough material for a second season soon, especially since it stopped precisely where the manga readers predicted, and this is one of the rare cases where I'm not inclined to go read the manga. Not only is it pretty long already (I don't even want to think about how long it's going to end up being) but this was just such a complete feeling adaption I don't think I would gain anything new from the manga.

This was such a complete feeling adaption not only because it had great material and a good cast but because of the art direction, this show was so fun to look at. The comedic moments were of course funny, and they are numerous, but the matches were just consistently amazing to look at. The character's movements had weight and detail to them, they were never stationary on the court and the even avoided having to use a lot of still shots like pans to save budget, I really have no idea how they did it. As I mentioned on twitter, there are a few characters who have really impressive jump serves in the show and each time their animated it's amazing to watch, you can believe these characters are actual people when you see how every muscle works with each other, I'm glad I wasn't watching any other sports shows at the time since, other than Ping Pong, it probably would have given them a run for their money! And if you haven't seen this fun fun show yet, it's streaming on crunchyroll and hulu and Sentai Filmworks has licensed it, I plan on buying the show someday and then loaning it out to as many people as I can.  

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