Boys and balls!
This was the only show I was looking forward to this season, really – yes, that’s right, I was only looking forward to the show about cute, barely adolescent boys playing volleyball. Cute, barely adolescent boys who could be counted on reliably to cry because of their intense and squishy feelings about their choice of sport, and who could also be relied upon to blush at least once per episode. Gimmmmeeee.
Delightfully, Haikyuu! not only obliges on that front, it also is legitimately good. In particular what impressed me in this episode was the direction – a potential slog of a one-sided volleyball match is intercut with flashbacks to the previous three years of middle school as Shoyo, our rather optimistic lead, first glimpses a high school volleyball match on TV and then dedicates himself to becoming a good player and to convincing classmates to join him on his quest. The presentation of the material does a good job of establishing Shoyo as a character, as well as establishing the roots of the story itself. Shoyo certainly is a type – hardworking with huge goals, a bit of a spitfire – but he’s fairly shockingly nice. The match that forms part of this episode is both his first and last match as a middle schooler, something he’s been striving toward for literally years, but when his severely under-practiced team-mates screw up, he doesn’t belittle them or snap at them. That we also witness him bickering with other people in the episode, though, shows that he isn’t a syrupy goody two-shoes, so it doesn’t come across as eye-roll worthy. [Bob] is a good kid with big ambitions.
Shoyo’s foil is Kageyama, and it’s obvious that they’ll be rivals going forward from the second the much-taller Kageyama appears on the screen. Kageyama is the hardworking guy who isn’t sympathetic to the mistakes of his team-mates. It’s a little surprising to see him depicted as being so explicitly abrasive; even his team-mates and the scorekeepers observe that he’s got talent but that he isn’t at all a team player.
To be fair, Haikyuu!’s basic set-up isn’t particularly novel. It is, however, extremely well-executed, and the little variations from the general formula do help freshen the entire thing up. And, unlike Production I.G.’s other recent sports show, Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyuu! looks good. It has a fairly simple art-style with clean design (nary a neon hue of hair in sight), and the animation, while it does utilize cost-saving tricks like still frames from time to time, is sharp, something one always hopes for in a sports show.
I am pleased as punch with this show on the whole. It isn’t terribly often that I am enchanted by a sports anime (I more or less am in the “why watch this anime when I could actually watch this sport for real?” camp), but typically when I am, I am realllly into it (see: Taisho Baseball Girls, Hikaru no Go, Battle Athletes Victory), and at least from this first episode that is certainly the case here. Thumbs up!