Haikyu!! Anime Review and Full Character Breakdown
Author: Wiley Gillam
The wildly successful anime adaptation of Hairuichi Furudate’s Haikyuu!! first aired in April of 2014. From that point, the entire franchise soared to the top of the leaderboards. The manga is currently ranked at 15 while seasons 2 and 4 of the series are both within the top 50 anime. Haikyu!! is easily one of the most recognized sports anime to date alongside Ashita no Joe and Hajime no Ippo. All of this success can be attributed to the creative genius of Furudate and hard work at production I.G. Finally, Haikyu!! can not be classified under typical genres of shounen or shoujo. Instead, it utilizes aspects of both to widen the appeal which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of fans both in Japan and the rest of the world.
Haikyu!! Season 1 Summary
The series begins with Shoyo Hinata (age 15), the sole member of the volleyball club at his middle school. His passion for the sport pushes him to practice every day on his own until finally, he is launched into a competition against a powerhouse school led by genius setter, Tobio Kageyama. Here, he meets the harsh reality that he can not sufficiently practice volleyball without a team and vows to work hard in highschool so he can surpass the “King of the Court” Kageyama. The timeline then fast forwards to Hinata’s freshman debut in which he eagerly signs up for the Karasuno High School volleyball club. On his first day of practice, he learns that Tobio Kageyama will be both his classmate and teammate.
During the next few episodes, we meet the entirety of Karasuno’s volleyball club. Kei Tsukishima is a giant, lanky boy with glasses who possesses great potential as a middle blocker. Daichi Sawamura, the club’s captain, is a fierce, hard-working third-year who boosts team morale with his intense presence. Asahi Azumane, the ace, has a powerful spike that can break through defenders with ease. Ryunosuke Tanaka is a second-year wing spiker with a love for the sport and the club manager, Kiyoko. The final member of the main lineup for Karasuno is Yu Nishinoya, a genius libero nationally recognized for his abilities. The main dilemma during this arc is convincing Asahi to rejoin the team and move past his failures against Date Tech’s infamous “Iron Wall.” Furthermore, we learn that Nishinoya has been suspended from school for a week and barred from participating in club activities for a month. All during this time, Kageyama and Hinata develop a special quick attack move to be used in competition.
Once the team is finally all together, they begin their first practice match against Karasuno’s greatest rival, Nekoma High School. We are then introduced to even more characters. Notably, Kenma Kozume is a first-year setter who enables his team through incredible tactics and reads on his opponents. There is also the “scheming captain”, Tetsuro Kuroo, who has incredible reflexes and height advantage which make him a ruthless middle blocker. During this match, we learn the long history of Karasuno’s rivalry with Nekoma. We also learn that the team plays very passively. They are extremely persistent and make hardly any unforced errors. This results in long points which physically and mentally exhaust Karasuno. Ultimately, Nekoma prevails with a score of 25-22 after a heartbreaking set point in which Hinata and Kageyama’s quick attack is completely shut down.
Although this initially upsets the Karasuno team, it ultimately pushes each member to practice with even more intensity in preparation for the InterHigh tournament. The season closes with the InterHigh arc in which Karasuno defeats Tokonami first round and Date Tech second round. Asahi spikes the game-winning point through Date’s Iron Wall which greatly elevates his confidence. Finally, Karasuno faces Aoba Johsai, which ends in a crushing defeat and wake-up call for Kageyama. Toru Oikawa, Aoba Johsai’s setter demonstrates how teamwork and communication is more important than natural skill in the game of volleyball. This forces Kageyama to turn over a new leaf.
Haikyu!! Season 2 Summary
This season encapsulates the Spring High Preliminary Arc. This season consists of many matches within the Spring High, in which Karasuno competes in an attempt to represent their prefecture in the National championships known as the Spring InterHigh. Karasuno defeats Ohgiminami, Kakugawa, Johzenji, and Wakutani South. This brings them to a rematch against Aoba Johsai for the tournament semi-finals. Amazingly, they finish with a victory of two sets to one, leaving the team with an incredible feeling of accomplishment. The major development that allows Karasuno to prevail is Kageyama’s attitude adjustment and trust in his teammates. Oikawa is stunned by this irregular behavior from Kageyama, the self-centered “King of the Court.” Furthermore, the amazing teamwork between Hinata and Kageyama undergoes significant transformation during this match. In order for their quick attack to reach a new level, it requires complete confidence in each other’s abilities. Hinata declares that although Oikawa is strong, with Hinata there, Kageyama is invincible. This powerful statement not only reaches Kageyama, but also Aoba Johsai who start to fear the duo. After winning the semi-finals, Karasuno advances to the final round of the Spring High preliminaries against the powerhouse, Shiratorizawa, who placed incredibly high in the previous year’s national championship.
Haikyu!! Karasuno High School vs Shiratorizawa Academy (Season 3) Summary
In the final round of the Spring High preliminaries, Karasuno faces the powerhouse Shiratorizawa Academy. Their team possesses some incredible high school players, like captain Ushijima, who is ranked as one of the top three aces in Japan. They also have a highly talented middle blocker named Tendo, who is nicknamed the “Guess Monster” for his animal instincts that allow him to anticipate his opponent’s next move before they even begin their swinging motion. The match begins with the entire team struggling to defend against Ushijima’s powerful spiking ability. The team seems to be nervous from the large crowd, which makes it even more difficult for them. This leads to Shiratorizawa Academy taking the first set effortlessly. However, this motivates Hinata’s passion to defeat Ushijima even further which leads to an explosive start to the set. Hinata and Kageyama perform the most incredible quick attack they have ever performed which leaves defender Tendo and the rest of the team stunned. This helps the team gain momentum which leads to them winning the second set. The two teams then trade the next two sets which leads to a fifth set tiebreaker. During this set, Tsukishima demonstrates incredible defending talent by shutting down one of ace Ushijima’s spikes. However, he injures his fingers whilst defending so Hinata is forced to fill in. Luckily, Hinata’s competitive spirit pushes him to make an incredible play, returning one of Ushijima’s spikes and subsequently hitting a killer spike set by Kageyama which results in Karasuno’s victory.
Haikyu!! To The Top (Season 4) Summary
After a long-fought battle against Shiratorizawa Academy, Karasuno earns a spot at the Spring InterHigh. As Karasuno begins training camp, the coach announces that Kageyama has been invited to the All-Japan Youth Camp and Tsukishima to the First Year Training Camp. Hinata, envious of these opportunities, decides to sneak into the First Year Training Camp which results in Coach Washijo of Shiratorizawa Academy instructing him to act as ball boy for the camp or leave. Hinata accepts the offer eagerly and uses this opportunity to train his receiving skills. After the camps end, Karasuno heads to nationals. They win their first match decisively, but then enter a match against Inarizaki, who is seeded 2 in the tournament. The team consists of the prodigal twins, Atsumu and Osamu. Both have the ability to set and spike which make them incredibly dangerous. Moreover, ace Atsumu has a killer serve that even Nishinoya struggles to receive. This causes the rest of the team to break down as their libero (best receiver) can not even handle his serve. However, the team pulls off an incredible feat and overwhelms the opponent in a close three-set match. During the match, Hinata demonstrates his new receiving abilities he gained as a ball boy at the First-Year camp and Kageyama proves for certain that he has shifted away from his old “King of the Court” mentality.
Haikyu!! Character Analysis
The wonderful job the series does in developing each of the dozens of characters both on Karasuno and other volleyball clubs serves as the main reason Haikyu!! is highly regarded in the anime community. Having so many characters can make even the protagonist feel shallow or unimportant in most series, but the dialogue and pacing for Haikyu!! does such a great job in making all character development feel genuine. It never feels like a backstory is rushed or filler content. The motivation of each character always seems deep-rooted and connected with a true passion for the sport.
The Karasuno volleyball club’s team members each receive gradual development in every episode. Both in training and competition, a couple members will be of primary focus. During this time, we will often learn some backstory about the character that enlightens us as to why or how long they have played volleyball, what moral dilemma they have at present, and how they plan to deal with it moving forward. Shoyo Hinata, one of our protagonists, has a passion to be the ace spiker of Karasuno so that he may follow in the footsteps of “Little Giant.” “Little Giant” was similar in stature to Hinata, but previously led Karasuno to victory at the Spring InterHigh as the number 1 ace in Japan. This functions as Hinata’s main motivation, but causes problems early on in the series. Hinata learns that Asahi is the ace and that Kageyama wishes to use him as a decoy. This is humiliating to him and at one point, results in a physical collision between Hinata and Asahi in a game against Nekoma. Although this initially causes tension within the team, Kageyama finally breaks it by telling Hinata that the decoy is the flashiest position and everyone’s eyes will be on him. This seems to satisfy him and he is finally able to accept that he is not the ace of Karasuno, effectively restoring the team’s structure. This growth in Hinata leads him to become a significantly stronger player. In fact, his passion to be the ace makes him the most convincing decoy. When he jumps to spike the ball, he will swing identical to that of his normal spike.
Another example of character growth is Tsukishima’s matchup against number 3 ace Ushijima of Shiratorizawa Academy. While the match begins with his blocks rendered completely useless in the face of Ushijima’s powerful stroke, Tsukishima quickly changes things around. His mental toughness is displayed in grandeur as he continues to adapt his style in response to getting passed. Finally, he is able to lay a finger on Ushijima’s spike as he announces, “One Touch!” to his team. Rather than allowing this to be the pinnacle, he continues to observe and learn Ushijima’s style. During set point, he adjusts himself in front of Ushijima and rapidly adjusts his hands at the exact moment of the ace’s follow-through, resulting in a complete shutdown and set win for Karasuno. Tsukishima shouts with excitement and teases Hinata playfully. This further displays his growth as a character who is typically very introverted and rude toward his teammates. Tsukishima is a model example of Furudate’s talent as a writer. Upon first meeting his character and continuing throughout most of season 1, Tsukishima is a very dislikeable character. However, as viewers learn to understand him and how his words do not truly reflect his feelings, we come to shift our perspective about him. After four seasons of Haikyu!!, he is one of the most popular, well-liked characters in the entire series. This is a testament to the incredible character development within the anime.
Tobio Kageyama is another character that has changed significantly since season 1. He began as a self-centered genius player who thought all players should play around him. However, his middle school team later ditches him, forcing him to play alone. This is an eye-opener to him that his style of play and attitude are not acceptable for a team sport. He further learns his lesson as he encounters players stronger than himself. He realizes that not only does he need to practice more, but also rely on his team to support him. No matter how good the player, no single person can defeat an entire team. Oikawa of Aoba Johsai teaches this lesson to Kageyama which allows him to finally evolve into a team player. This allows Karasuno to ascend to new heights and defeat powerhouse schools like Shiratorizawa Academy. This aspect of Kageyama makes him admirable to viewers, but also teaches an important life lesson. One can apply this same lesson to the workplace in which we must cooperate with co-workers in order for the business to thrive. Overall, we have seen tremendous growth in Kageyama in these past few seasons and I am eager to continue watching him manifest this new mentality on the court.
Finally, Tadashi Yamaguchi is a bench player for Karasuno and a side character in the series. Despite him being relatively unimportant to the overall plot, he receives development. Karasuno used him as a “pinch server” who can come in during high-pressure situations and ideally hit service aces in order to gather momentum for the team. The series does a great job of identifying the immense pressure one can feel in highschool sports. Especially considering Yamaguchi is not a regular for the team, it makes sense that he wants to make the most of his limited opportunities and contribute to the team’s efforts. This is highly commendable and allows viewers to immerse themselves within the anime and imagine the pressure of the situation. I believe characters like this are what separate Haikyu!! from other sports anime.
Aside from the characters, Haikyuu!! also possesses a solid foundation. The series initially starts with a thrilling rivalry between our two protagonists, Hinata and Kageyama. This becomes even more exciting when the rivalry persists in an unexpected manner. As teammates, the two are constantly competing to prove their superior skills. During practice, they will always try to run the fastest and work the hardest. They also both stay afterwards for additional practice which results in them becoming a great pair on court. They develop a powerful quick attack that strikes fear into all of their opponents. Moreover, their rivalry pushes both of them to work harder than if they were alone. This ironically makes them ideal teammates. Moreover, all other team members have some insecurities that they struggle with during competition. Despite that, they frequently overcome obstacles and display great mental toughness. As someone who took highschool sports very seriously, the mental component was certainly the most challenging aspect of it. I believe the series does a great job of encapsulating the surreal experience of highschool competition. Although it is certainly exaggerated at times, Haikyu!! does a great job of balancing fantasy with reality. Furthermore, it teaches a lot about the sport of volleyball which in turn inspires viewers to go out and play it themselves.
From the large array of characters both on and outside of the Karasuno volleyball club, the sports anime never has any dull moments. There are witty, funny characters like Oikawa but also more serious and determined characters like Daichi and Tsukishima. The dichotomy between characters and the various interactions they have on court during the competitions is the primary reason fans are so encapsulated by the series. The most recent season contains a great example of these interactions in Karasuno’s match against Inarizaki. The Miya twins were a perfect set of characters to compete with Karasuno. As well as the overall competition between Karasuno and Inarizaki, it felt like Hinata and Kageyama were directly competing with the twins to see who is the more talented and in-sync duo. This is the unique style of storyline that keeps viewers entertained and eager for more content. Although the matches themselves are already so stimulating and fun, this additional layer of character interactions brings the anime to a whole new level.
In addition, the matches are all given an appropriately amount of screentime based on the level of importance. For instance, when there is actually a plot point that can be developed during a match, it could span over several episodes. For instance, Asahi’s fear of “Date’s Iron Wall” received development and closure during Karasuno’s rematch of Date Tech and allowed Asahi to grow as the ace of Karasuno and greatly increase his confidence. Moreover, the final match of the Spring High preliminaries against powerhouse Shiratorizawa Academy received an entire season of content due to how much it contributed to the overarching story. This did not feel unnecessary or excessive due to how much character growth occurred. It was certainly not like Dragon Ball where some episodes feel like sheer filler content where no story developments are made. Every episode had a purpose which kept fans engaged.
Personally, this was the first sports anime I ever watched. Because it has continued to shock me every season with the intensity and attention to detail, I have since watched dozens of other sports anime series. Even after watching so many others, I can say with confidence that this is certainly one of the best around. Haikyu!! is a great series so its high MAL (My Anime List) ratings and multitude of fans are justified. The one drawback in my opinion is the category it is confined in; sports anime. Although sports anime is certainly enjoyable, I believe the anime could never be rated with a perfect score. Sports anime is very niche and appeals mostly to males. However, due to the great characters that accompany Haikyuu!!, it has attracted quite a bit of female viewership. This is reflective of the high quality content production I.G. is putting out. In conclusion, I would score this series as a 9/10.