(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Haikyu!!
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll
The Pitch: Shoyo Hinata is a first year high schooler who dreams of becoming the ace of his volleyball team. But there’s one problem: he’s only 5’4″. He joins Karasuno High School’s volleyball club, where he becomes teammates with his middle school rival, Tobio Kageyama, a prodigy player with an antisocial streak. But they’re forced to work together and become an unexpected dream team amid a colorful cast of characters who all unite to become the best team in the country.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: What’s better than this? Just guys being dudes.
Everyone loves an underdog sports story. It engenders immediate sympathy — you root for the one who has the biggest obstacles to face and the biggest hurdles to overcome, because you know that when they do, it’s going to be the greatest feeling ever. Now imagine that feeling, but it comes crashing in waves every three episodes. That’s what watching a sports anime is like, and that’s definitely what watching Haikyu!! is like.
There isn’t anything particularly special about Haikyu!! when you first start watching it. There’s the obvious underdog of Shoyo Hinata, the short wing spiker with unnaturally fast reflexes who dreams of becoming the ace. The age-old rivalry between him and his personal and professional opposite, Tobio Kageyama. The coming-of-age story of a group of misfit boys who all must put aside their differences and overcome their own demons in order to be a better team. It’s all familiar elements, and yet, something about Haikyu!! just sings.
There’s a reason it’s one of the biggest hit animes of the past decade. First, there’s the crisp animation courtesy of Production I.G., which renders the action in breathless, forceful energy — working in motion blur, lines, and even steam to communicate just how fast these kids are moving.
But it all boils down to the insanely lovable cast of characters. The boys of Karasuno High are all extremely likable and richly detailed, and given their due in terms of storytelling and characters arcs, beyond just being Hinata’s story. Even the rival team members get their own arcs, with Haikyu!! willing to go deep into the most obscure supporting characters’ backstories. Almost all of the action takes place on the court — both volleyball-wise and character-wise. The amount of times the characters go through an existential crisis while the ball is in the air, or make an impassioned speech to their teammates in the middle of games may be ludicrous to first-time anime watchers, but it’s what makes Haikyu!! so devastatingly earnest and compelling to watch. Volleyball is the world to these characters, and every time they lose a point or make a humiliating mistake, the viewer feels that world crumble along with them.
I’m about the furthest you can get to being a sports fan, but Haikyu!! turns the ins and outs of high school volleyball into the height of drama (and comedy, let’s not forget, this is a very funny show). And about 10 episodes in, I found myself crying over the emotional stakes and dreams of these boys. They’re not just friends, they’re teammates.
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