Saturday, February 11, 2017

REVIEW: Haikyu!! Collection 1 (anime TV series)

Haikyu!! is a sports anime that focuses on high school volleyball. It's licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Hinata becomes obsessed with volleyball after seeing a short player, the “Little Giant,” score in a National Championship on TV. He practices as much as possible but has to do most of it on his own or with the girls’ volleyball team. He barely manages to get a team together before his very first match, so it’s no surprise to anyone but him when his team is thoroughly defeated. However, his athleticism and determination to win do at least make an impression on Kageyama, one of the opposing team’s players.

Hinata spends the rest of his time in junior high training, looking forward to the day he can join Karasuno High’s volleyball team, the same one the Little Giant used to play on. What he didn’t expect was that his greatest enemy, Kageyama, would also be joining the team. Even worse, neither of them will be allowed to join if they can’t learn to work together.

After finishing Big Windup! and Big Windup! 2, I found myself craving more sports anime, preferably something I hadn’t seen before. I had seen several people compare Mihashi and Abe to Hinata and Kageyama, so I decided to give Haikyu!! a shot.

Considering the expectations I started with, the first few episodes were extremely disappointing. In Big Windup!, Abe openly admired Mihashi’s skills. Sure, he started off a bit of a bully, but it wasn’t long before he found himself wanting to support Mihashi and boost his confidence. Hinata and Kageyama’s relationship was much more antagonistic. I cringed at Hinata’s bravado (the guy was fast and could definitely jump, but those things alone cannot win a match), and Kageyama’s intensity and disdain bugged me. I kept watching because even the incredibly painful to watch first episode contained signs that Kageyama could respect Hinata as a player.

It wasn’t until episode 6 that Hinata and Kageyama started to learn to work together. Even that had some issues, since it wasn’t so much that they were working together as it was Kageyama using Hinata to score. Hinata just made sure he got to a good spot as quickly as possible, and Kageyama literally did the rest of the work for him. Thankfully, the problems in their strategy were recognized and addressed before the end of the set, and I really appreciated that, by that point, Kageyama was able to put aside his pride enough help Hinata grow as a player and not grumble when he couldn’t figure things out right away.

I think of sports anime as being on a sliding scale between “very realistic” and “ridiculous, melodramatic, and/or filled with visual metaphors.” Big Windup! was more realistic, while Haikyu!! slid a bit more to towards the other end of the scale but wasn't anywhere near as over-the-top as Eyeshield 21. In the first episode, Kageyama was briefly shown dressed like the King others said he was, and later on Kageyama and Hinata were depicted as an ogre and his iron club, just like one coach said they were. I particularly liked the repeated shots of crows and cats fighting over garbage during the practice match between Karasuno (crows) and Nekoma (cats).

There were some good moments earlier on in the series, like Tanaka’s surprising kindness and protectiveness (I loved how he instantly wanted to go after a player who made fun of Hinata for being short) and the whole team’s efforts to help Azumane regain his confidence. That said, I disliked the earliest episodes enough that I doubt I’ll ever rewatch this series the way I have Big Windup! Haikyu!! did manage to completely win me over during the match between Karasuno and Nekoma, however.

I loved everything about those episodes: the history between the coaches, observant and withdrawn Kozume (am I wrong to think it was kind of cute that he called Hinata by his given name, Shoyo?), the whole Karasuno team encouraging Hinata’s efforts to improve, and the way every single player had someone who was their match on the opposing team (someone they were similar to and/or someone whose abilities they could admire and respect). Even though it didn’t really end well for Karasuno, it didn’t actually feel like things had gone badly, and it was still enjoyable to watch. I’m sure that was at least in part due to it having been a practice match, rather than a championship match, but I think all the stuff I noted also helped.

All in all, this had a bit of a rocky start, but I warmed up to it enough by the end to want to watch the next DVD set. And hey, I also learned a tiny bit about volleyball, a sport I know even less about than baseball.

Additional Comments:

I had read that the subtitles were really terrible and featured lots of inexact translations. I can't personally say whether this is true or not, but I can say that even I noticed that the subtitles for the first episode were bad. For some bizarre reason one character's name was often written completely in lowercase, which led to me googling "kouji" in an effort to figure out if it was some kind of honorific or term-of-address I'd never heard of before. Thank goodness this problem didn't crop up elsewhere in the series, but it makes me wonder how many other problems the subtitles had that I wouldn't have noticed.

Extras:

This is a Sentai Filmworks release, so of course there's no dub and the extras are bare bones at best. This set only has a clean opening, clean closing, and a few previews.

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