There is a lot of sports anime out there. For the most part, they all follow a pretty similar pattern especially if it’s a high school/university team sport – inexperienced player with raw potential, underdog team surprising everyone, upperclassman that have one more chance at a trophy/championship, etc. – but I can’t seem to get past the first 3 or 4 episodes before I get bored. Except for a few that have managed to catch my attention. One of those is about high school volleyball. Say what?!?!?! I know, but it’s true. Of course, I’m talking about…
What’s the scoop:
In his first year of middle school, Shoyo Hinata catches a volleyball game on a local station. He’s immediately drawn to Karasuno High School’s wing spiker who is nicknamed “The Little Giant” due to his short stature, a trait Hinata shares. After watching “The Little Giant” Hinata immediately becomes obsessed with playing volleyball and in following in his new idol’s footsteps. It takes a couple of years, but he manages to talk some friends into joining him on a team so they can play one tournament in his last year of middle school. They lose, but that doesn’t dampen Hinata’s spirits. However, what does get to him is the other team’s setter, Tobio Kageyama. Kageyama is called “King of the Court” not because of his talent, which he is very talented, but because he tends to be a bit of a tyrant towards his teammates and other players. After the game, Hinata swears to play Kageyama again and next time beat him.
Hinata graduates middle school and has finally made it to Karasuno High School and can’t wait to join the volleyball team to follow in “The Little Giant” footsteps. Only there are a couple of problems with this plan. One is that Tobio Kageyama is also attending Karasuno High and is also planning on joining the volleyball team. And the other is that Karasuno has fallen short of their past glory and therefore have not played in any major tournaments for the past couple of years, earning them the moniker “The Wingless Crows” (karasu means “crow” in Japanese). Soon Hinata and Kageyama realize they have to work together to help the team succeed and along with the other players they start to regain the glory Karasuno volleyball once enjoyed.
How an anime about volleyball can be exciting, heartwarming, and at times stunningly beautiful to watch I do not know, but this show manages it.
***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***
Why do I like this anime?
Honestly, I’d be surprised if anyone watched this anime and didn’t like it. While on the surface it seems to follow the standard anime sports tropes in my humble opinion it takes those tropes and makes them something more. I’ve given a lot of sports anime a try and what I always found lacking in most is the type of character development that draws me into a show. Mostly they focus on the abilities the athletes have that makes them almost supernatural and unbelievable in a way that I can’t see anyone in real life achieving those moves. But not this anime (and I’m guessing the manga which I haven’t read – sorry).
They make you believe that you too could be a volleyball master:
While Hinata and Kageyama, along with some other characters you meet along the way, do have some crazy stupid abilities they almost seem attainable for anyone. Watching the characters fail a maneuver and then practice it over and over until they get it right makes me say “oh, practice does make perfect.” Watching the crazy good players screw-up every now and again makes me think “wow, everyone makes mistakes and I could’ve done that better.” I feel like if I just got off my lazy *ss and practiced I could jump crazy high for my height, do a killer spike, a perfect set up, an amazing float serve, or protect like an impenetrable wall. In fact, they make the sport so accessible that I actually started to notice when a ball might hit the net, or get blocked, or someone was going to pull a crazy maneuver. I started identifying what characters might do because of the position they played. I don’t even know when I learned all this stuff, I just suddenly knew and even more astounding, I cared. A whole season focuses all of its episodes on one game. One game. Any other show tried that, regardless of genre or who is in it, and I’d peace out and move on, but I found myself on the edge of my seat nearly every episode. If they did ten seasons and each one was one game I’d still watch.
I can’t pick a favorite character:
The show does an amazing job of focusing on and giving all the Karasuno team a growth story arc to the point that I don’t even know who’s really supposed to be the protagonist. I’m assuming Hinata and to some extent Kageyama but honestly I root for their teammates more often than I do the two of them. Take Kei Tsukishima, another first-year and middle blocker, he spends a lot of episodes putting in as little effort as possible and almost seems bored by the whole thing but then there is one moment where he makes one block and he finally gets “it” that indescribable moment when it all comes together and every time I watch his yell of victory it gives me chills and I just want to yell with him because I get so caught up in that moment too.
You start to care for each player on the team so much that you can’t help but get wrapped up in their emotions and if you told me I’d cry while watching this show, I would have said you were insane, but watching the scene, after they lose a huge game and go eat…it’s so powerful. No one says anything, they all just sit in the restaurant pigging out while bawling their eyes out and I couldn’t help it, I started crying too. It’s one of the best scenes of any show I have ever watched.
Then there are the other teams and their players, some of whom we get to know pretty well through matches and training camps, and I find myself rooting for a rival team even when they’re playing Karasuno. I even start to care about the coaches, and managers, and supporters…somehow this show has found the secret sauce that really makes you care about almost everyone it introduces. It’s unreal.
And then there is the crazy good animation:
This anime can have some of the most beautiful and creative moments that I’ve seen. Watching the way Hinata’s arms float behind him almost like wings as he prepares to jump. The way some shots are set up like looking through a convex mirror, so a player’s menacing eyes stand out, or through a concave mirror so their arms take on a more threatening look when blocking.
The way a hand hits the ball, like a boulder hitting water.
A simple eye shift that catches a move in time to stop a play. The position of a player’s body as they hang in the air right before they hit the ball or make a block.
Sometimes the visuals are so stunning I have to rewind a scene just to see it again.
Ok, maybe I should talk a bit about Hinata and Kageyama…
But again, they’re really not the characters I care about most, although Kageyama’s scowl gives me life:
But they are the catalysts for the show in a way. After all, it’s their reluctant partnership and constant rivalry that really drive the team and motivates everyone to do better. It’s their crazy quick attacks and unexpected maneuvers that inspire not only their team but other teams into giving everything they have and then giving even more which is why the games are so exciting.
They feed off each other’s drive to be the best on the court and take everyone along with them. But they also get some great moments of character building. Watching Kageyama start to realize that the best setters aren’t the ones who know where to put the ball for the best play, but where to put the ball for the player to make the best play is really gratifying. Watching Hinata go from hyper-active player with a lot of innate talent but no real control to taking the time to start really watching other players, learning from them, analyzing plays and then absorbing that into his own style is really satisfying. So yes, they are the ‘stars’ in a way but honestly the more you watch, the more the other players really start to stand out too, but in a way isn’t that what makes a great team? But ok, honestly when these two really connect on a play it is something to behold.
But enough about them, let’s talk about….
Just a few of my favorite players/characters (because really there are too many to name):
Kei Tsukishima (Karasuno High) – Yeah I’ve already mentioned him, but his sass is the best. You might want to have some extra water nearby when watching this show because this kid is salty.
Yu Nishinoya & Ryunosuke Tanaka (Karasuno High) – Both are second-years and they really have to be mentioned together. Noya is even shorter than Hinata and almost has an even bigger personality. He likes to give goofy names to his “special moves” but the best is a dive-and-roll that he executes while yelling “ROLLING THUNDER!” Tanaka is a bit rough around the edges and can come off as a delinquent, but he’s got a big heart and really cares about his team and his teammates. These two are a lot of the comedic relief.
Saeko Tanaka – Ryunosuke Tanaka’s older sister and in some ways is even crazier than he is. I love the fact that she may pick on her brother but there is a lot of love and support for him. She is often at Karasuno games and even drives Hinata and Kageyama to a training camp when they have to stay behind for some summer classes. She’s just awesome.
Tetsuro Kuroo (Nekoma High) and Kotaro Bokuta (Fukurodani High) – Both are third years and their schools are part of a group that trains together in Tokyo. They invite Karasuno to come join and these two really play a big part in Tsukishima’s growth arc and Hinata’s in a way. Also, like most of the teams whose names are derived from animals (neko is “cat” and fukuro is “owl” in Japanese), some of the players take on qualities of those animals, especially Bokuta. The creators really went all out on him. They’re hilarious, but also crazy good at the game which is why their teams are some of the best out there.
Kenma Kozume (Nekoma): Second-year, setter. This kid loves video games and always has a controller in his hand when he’s not playing volleyball. At first you kind of wonder why he plays, but then you start to realize he really does enjoy the game he’s just a little introverted in nature so doesn’t say much. He’s a great analytical player. He and Hinata really hit it off and he’s just too adorable for words.
Wrapping this up:
This was a little shorter, but I found it a little difficult to put into words all the awesome that is this anime. Maybe because there are so many episodes, characters, moments, etc. It’s really one you just have to watch and experience in order to get. I resisted watching for a long time and now kick myself for doing so because it really is that good and deserves all the hype, so really the only thing I can say is watch it. Now. Do eeeeeeeet!
“Oh love me mister, oh mister…”
Look at these adorable goofs cheering on a teammate:
Coordinated attack and Kageyama’s Dump:
These show breaks are really some of my favorites for any anime:
Beware these crows
They still take flight
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