After losing his first and last volleyball match against Tobio Kageyama, "the King of the Court," Shoyo Hinata swears to become his rival after graduating middle school. But what happens when the guy he wants to defeat ends up being his teammate?!
I love this series. It's hard to say why; it isn't very popular and there isn't anything special about it. There is the typical hot-blooded shounen hero who is a little ehh... on the IQ scale but is actually a hidden genius at the game and his dark-haired talented rival who initially clash in everything but gradually realises that they have things in common and work extremely well together to pulverise their enemies. Oh, and in true sport manga fashion, they are the underdogs. Does it sound a bit familiar? So, my point is, there isn't much to differentiate it from the rest of the sports manga aside from the fact that it's about volleyball which is considerably rare compared to all the baseball mangas that are a dime a dozen. But nevertheless Haikyuu!! is a manga that I look forward to reading, suffer heart problems when there isn't any new chapters, and fangirl immensely over cool scenes. Why? Like I said at the start, it's hard to say. It has nothing in particular that stands out from the crowd, but what it does have is simply a combination of little things that works, and works very well. There's just something about it that makes you feel good. The cliched talks and speeches and one liners makes me inspired instead of wanting to groan and shout for them to get along with it, the comedy actually makes me laugh and the characters are all so likeable! Plus, some (important) matches are done in like four or five chapters! Do you know how much of a miracle that is? Do you know how weird that is, how strange, how praise-worthy? I have read my fair share of sports manga and let me tell you, NO (important) MATCHES ARE DONE IN MERELY FOUR/FIVE CHAPTERS! There is one particular manga called Rookies whose matches can drag on for twenty-odd chapters. Can you imagine the pain in slogging through them? (I would recommend reading it anyway fyi) I have nothing to entice you to read Haikyuu!! except for my whole hearted recommendation that this is great which I can't back it with actual proof but man, you've got to read it! Also, Furudate Haruichi really knows how to make things cool. There are some important scenes where the pose, the angle, the facial expression and all-round awesomeness just made me stop for a moment and seriously fangirl.
I'm going to preface this by saying, I'm not usually a fan of sports. I have no interest in real life sports, however, Haikyuu! brings something to the table that makes me keep coming back and anxious for the next chapter. I truly love this manga, the characters are well developed and believable as is the storyline. I also thoroughly enjoy the art.
Plot/Story/Themes: The first thing I will say about Haikyuu's plot/storytelling is that it never allows itself to be too predictable; the manga consistently throws curve-balls at the reader, some big and some small. The first example of this is putting Hinata and Kageyama on the same team - obviously I knew this would happen, but if I had been reading this when it came out, or if I had gone in with 0 outside knowledge, it would have surprised me. I think the next big example is Karasuno losing to Blue Castle in their first match, which wasn't completely unpredictable (I went into the match knowing it was 50/50 on whether or not they'd win), but the standard/lowest common denominator way of doing things would have likely been to make Karasuno win that match and then hit Shiratorizawa at full momentum. Other examples of this include the reveal that the "Little Giant" quit volleyball after HS, having Hinata get injured and taken out of the game against Kamomedai, and the final twist of the tournament arc in which both Karasuno and Itachiyama lose in the quarterfinals. Regarding that twist, my first instinct was to say that it was a stupid idea, that it ruined all the narrative buildup of Karasuno reaching the finals and playing off against the #1 favorite team. However, on second thought, I don't actually mind it. It was used to build a decently interesting theme about defeat and how it can always be around the corner, even when you think you're the strongest sitting at the top of the mountain, someone stronger may come along and knock you down at any moment - and that's okay. That isn't to say I thought the twist was pulled off perfectly, I do still have some issues with it (mostly that Itachiyama and Sakusa's hype were never given a narrative payoff) and I think it could have feasibly been done in a better way. Somewhat related to the theme of sudden defeat, another aspect of Haikyuu's storytelling I enjoy is that the manga never makes it feel like Karasuno has very much plot armor, if any at all. This is done by giving them multiple losses throughout the story, whether those be minor losses in a game they will overall win or just complete losses. One of my favorite examples of this is when Tsukki's friend (I will never remember his name) tries to do a badass serve during the game against Blue Castle and he just straight ups fails, even though it was at a pivotal moment and he may have saved the game had he made it. Sometimes you lose even when you feel like you're "supposed" to win, and those moments of failure even after giving it your all are some of my favorite moments in fiction. Characters: Overall I like Haikyuu's characters. I don't think any individual Haikyuu character will stick with me as an all-time favorite in manga or anything, but I think Haikyuu did a very good job of characterizing and developing a cast as large as it did. Hinata is a pretty good MC imo, he's a classic underdog who is easily lovable. Hes kinda like Deku in that he's deliberately throwing himself into a setting where he's inherently disadvantaged, except he's not whiny as fuck and never straight up annoyed me. He also has some pretty chad moments/quotes throughout the series, such as "Do you really need a reason not to not want to lose?" or "I'm from the barren concrete... I'm going to trash your team and go to nationals." Kageyama is alright, I don't like him as much as Hinata, but he has his moments. Noya is an absolute chad and probably tied with Hinata for my favorite player on Karasuno, and I enjoy the sorta shared story/themes he has with Asahi about how he'll always get the ball back in the air so the Ace can smash it. Tsukki was annoying at first, but his backstory was cool and he became less of an asshole throughout the story. Daichi and Sugawara are both alright, they'll never really be my favorite characters, but I like how they put the good of the team above their own good. My favorite team in the whole manga is Nekoma, mostly because I love Kenma and Kuroo, but I also think Lev and mohawk dude are cool too. Other favorites include Bokuto and Hoshiumi. As for the antagonists of the series, I think they do a good enough job fulfilling their roles, and I even like them as characters, but none of them are really standout *enough* to be like "goat antagonist/villain" level. Oikawa is cool ig, but he loses far too much to really come off as that threatening. Ushijima is the opposite; he has all the intimidation that Oikawa wishes he had, but hes just not that interesting or charismatic. Matches: Obviously most of Haikyuu is spent either in the middle of a match or training in between matches, so the matches have to be good enough to basically carry the series. The first real match is the practice game against Blue Castle, which I think is mostly good - my only problem being that having Blue Castle lose kinda destroys the hype for Oikawa. The next match that really left an impression on me was Karasuno vs Date Tech, which in my notes I said was better than the Blue Castle practice match (that's all I have on it idk). However, I think it's only during Karasuno vs Blue Castle 1 & 2 that the real appeal of Haikyuu's matches shows itself entirely. The matches are hype as fuck, as every point feels like an essential stepping stone to victory that must absolutely be fought over until the end. Each character gets their own time to shine, during which they usually grow either as a player or as a person or both. Karasuno vs Blue Castle 2 and Karasuno vs Shiratorizawa are both so hard fought that when the MCs finally win it feels almost unreal. Similarly, Karasuno vs Inarazaki does such a good job of pushing the MCs up against the wall and making it feel hopeless for them that, imo, it's in the same tier as the two previously mentioned matches. The absolute best match is Karasuno vs Nekoma, mostly due to the fact that it had been hyped up for so long and all the characters were some of my favorites. Looking back, that match actually kinda seems like the narrative and emotional climax of the series. World building?: This is a smaller point, and I'm not sure "world building" is exactly the right term to apply to it, but one of my favorite aspects of Haikyuu is how the series goes out of its way to remind the reader that there are dozens of teams in the same tier as Karasuno, each capable of competing with and possibly defeating them. Each team has their own style of play and superstar players. Just because Karasuno beat the incredibly powerful Shiratorizawa doesn't mean they'll be able to breeze through the Nations, because volleyball is more like a game of rock paper scissors than a match of power levels. Even though Ushijima was built up as a volleyball powerhouse (and he is one) he's not *that* unique; there are other players who rival him or even surpass him in their own ways (Bokuto, the Miya Twins, Sakusa, Hoshiumi, Oikawa, Kenma, Date Tech, etc). Art: The art of Haikyuu is good, but not great. Most of the character designs are pretty unique and do a good job of sending the right signals to the reader. You can tell which characters are supposed to be intimidating, which are supposed to be endearing, etc. The art also does a great job of conveying the high speed movement of many of the characters (most notably Hinata when he jumps or runs across the court) and the direction/curve of the ball when it’s hit. However, the faces can oftentimes look kinda weird (especially in the middle of a jump) and I think it's due to the author's struggle to draw mouths correctly? I'm not really sure but it definitely looks off at times. I think another problem is that many of the pages simply have too many panels. It would be better if the author would just let some moments breathe by giving them complete spreads or just a full single page to themselves, but they seem to have a fetish for paneling. As for the volume covers, I think the first like... dozen are overly simplistic and just generally kinda bad. However, as the series progresses, the volume covers generally improve in quality and by the end I liked most of them. Overall: 8.3/10
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