This is my favourite anime for sure. And not just because I’m horny for it.
Haikyu!! is a sports anime about high schoolers playing volleyball. There are a lot of sports anime and I’ve seen a lot of them, so I feel pretty qualified in saying this is one of the better ones if not the very best one. It knows its genre and the archetypes associated with it inside out, and it uses the sports anime tropes in fun ways that are never boring to watch. It’s really good.
There are going to be spoilers in this review for the Haikyu!! anime, not the manga, because I haven’t read it.
The plot is pretty straightforward, as the plots of sports anime are. Hinata Shoyo wants to play volleyball because he’s short and he saw a short volleyball player on TV once and started to idolize him. He works really hard to start a team in his middle school and gets to a competition, only to lose right away to a better team and their star player, Kageyama Tobio, who is an asshole to Hinata and to his own teammates. Flash forward to high school, when Hinata excitedly going to join Karasuno High’s famous team, only to discover that they’re not doing too hot (as happens in sports anime) and also that Kageyama is going to be his teammate.
All of that is pretty standard sports anime setup, to be honest, but that’s okay. That’s the first episode, pretty much, and after that begins the big sports anime journey to play in the national tournament before the third years graduate, where the main characters will learn how to play volleyball, learn the power of friendship, find a family in their teammates, have a lot of gay subtext and also meet way too many people who are way too into sports.
Just to quickly take up that last thing, all sports anime are built around the idea that in this world, the sport that the characters are playing is the most important thing in the world. Everyone cares so much about that sport that hundreds of people will go to see high schoolers play it, even though their actual families hardly ever go to their games. Sports anime universes are kind of like porn universes that way. When you’re looking at a porn universe, you just sort of have to accept that the rules don’t work the same was as in our world; the characters are just going to have sex all the time and the most important thing is going to be them having sex, and everyone just wants to have sex with everyone else all the time. Sports anime universes are exactly like that. In Haikyu!!, volleyball is the only thing that matters to anyone, which is why people who graduated from high school years ago come to watch their old team play, and people take long breaks from their minimum wage jobs at grocery stores to be insanely supportive of one particular player and teach him everything they know, and retired volleyball coaches live in idyllic huts in the mountains where they train people to play volleyball next to rivers and junk. Volleyball is just the most important thing in the Haikyu!! universe, and accepting that is just part of the contract of agreeing to watch the show.
So once you’ve accepted that and accepted that the show is going to use all the sports anime tropes, you’re good to go. And that’s when Haikyu!! gets really good. You see, nobody cares about the sports in a sports anime. In good sports anime, you care about the characters, and the sports matter to you because you want the characters to do well, and because their emotions when they win or lose really come through to the audience. And that’s what happens in Haikyu!! The characters are well written and interesting and they have such interesting and cool relationships with each other that you can’t help but want to care about them. Hinata is a tiny ball of sunshine (literally symbolized by the sun repeatedly) who is just so excitable and joyful and happy to be there that even when he’s struggling he’s still optimistic, but he’s hot tempered and easily upset as well, and cares so very deeply about everyone. He’s not afraid to love his friends and teammates deeply (and yes, there’s a ton of gay subtext in this show, so I do assume they probably love him, ahem, deeply, in the locker room after practice), and he develops a deep friendship and partnership with Kageyama. Kageyama is a gifted kid but for volleyball, but who let his gift be an excuse for him to be an asshole and lost all his friends because none of them could keep up with his talent, and he let them know that. So he’s learning how to be less of an asshole and how to balance his talent with being sociable, which is a tough storyline when part of the thing of it is that Hinata is the only person who can keep up with him. But they balance that by having Hinata have no fucking idea what he’s doing and need to be taught all the time, which forces Kageyama to learn patience—with him and with everyone else.
Other characters include Tsukishima Kei, a tall, talented and gifted player who pretends to be aloof because of sports anime trauma with his brother, but actually cares a whole lot and eventually comes to admit that, and Yamaguchi Tadashi, an anxious, meek guy who only plays volleyball because of Tsukishima at first, but loves it in his own right and who develops a really meaningful relationship with some older mentors who teach him some cool techniques. He’s a really fascinating character who struggles with self-confidence and anxiety, and who knows he’s not as talented as some of his friends but wants to be as good as they are, which of course just reinforces all his image issues. Watching him have moments of overcoming those issues, just for short periods usually, makes for some of the most powerful moments in the show. He serves as the team’s backup server, and will sometimes show up to score a ton of points when the team needs him most, and it’s so gratifying to watch him jump float the smug smile off Oikawa’s stupid face.
Oikawa Tooru is the worst character. He’s not like, a bad character, but he’s one of those “talented mean bully” characters who you’re supposed to find sexy and stuff. And he is kind of unfortunately sexy, but I still wouldn’t fuck him because he’s a jerkface and there are plenty of non-jerkface boys in the show to fuck instead. His repertoire includes bullying people, calling them names, preying on their insecurities, and punching twelve year olds in the face when they don’t do what he wants.
I shouldn’t have given Oikawa paragraph space when there are so many other good characters, but oh well. There are a lot of good characters and they’re all great, and you come to care about all of them as the series goes on. Oikawa is the first major villain of the series, his team being one of the better teams in the region where Karasuno plays, and he’s ultimately the one who knocks them out of the first tournament, resulting in me being sad for three days. But they eventually kick his ass and it’s great because it’s well deserved. The first two seasons really build up so well to that, it’s like a major boss fight and it’s just so satisfying to watch it all pay off. It was a really well put together story.
The rest of the anime is also well put together, though the whole third season is dedicated to one long match against the big boss Shiratorizawa, and it drags a lot, mostly because the Shiratorizawa characters have only just appeared and the audience doesn’t care much about them. I wish that season had been a bit tighter, but it got better in season 4, when there was another training camp arc (which I know people don’t like, but I do, it’s always cool to see the characters learning stuff. And also all staying together in a hotel where they all share a bath and bedroom), followed by the start of the big nationals tournament, which doesn’t finish, but which once again is building up in tension to another big promised match with Karasuno’s big rivals, which should be super cool. I’m really looking forward to the fifth season if they make one, I think they’re really back on track with this season.
It would be a mistake not to talk about queerbaiting, though. Obviously I have opinions about the gayness of the show and the characters (and also of the sluttiness of some of the characters. I relate to Hinata, okay?), but at the end of the day that does all stay as subtext, and so you do have to be willing to put up with the show sort of using the hint of queer identity as a way to draw in an (I guess female) audience with all the hot boys being vaguely homoerotic with each other, but presumably being straight at the end of the day (though the end of the day is the best time to like boys, in my opinion). I mean, it’s not ever confirmed that a lot of the characters are straight, so maybe they’re not, but if they’re not we’re never going to know because that’s now how sports anime works. I have to say that doesn’t really bother me in most sports anime including this one, because sports are basically the gayest thing that exist anyway, so the idea that the characters are going to have homoerotic tension with each other is just pretty realistic, but I know it does bother some people when the gay content is hinted but never executed. And for sure, Haikyu!! would be better if it had explicit gay relationships, 50% more locker room scenes with full frontal nudity, a few sex scenes and a celebratory orgy at the end of every game, oh, and a montage of the boys trying on new underwear, and…
Ahem, sorry. I’m being told that horniness is cute but off topic here. I personally disagree, because horniness is at least half the reason I started watching this show, but whatever. I definitely kept watching it for reasons that weren’t horny, and I think you will too. Haikyu!! is a really good anime, it’s got really well written characters and the themes of friendship and family may be exactly what you find in most other sports anime, but in my opinion, they’re done way better here than they are in a lot of others, and that alone I think makes it worth watching. There’s something really special about a typical formula done really well, and that’s exactly what Haikyu!! is, with a lot of stock characters and scenarios that are put together interesting and fun ways that feel fresh and original.
You really ought to check it out. I promise you won’t regret it.