I clearly missed the memo on a volleyball anime premiering last season, but after learning about Haikyuu while going through blogging applications (which are still under review by the way), I caught up on the first thirteen episodes in just a little over a day. Longtime readers of the site may recall me murmuring about how we need a volleyball anime every time I wrote a season preview entry about another sports anime, so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I found out that there finally is one–and a good one at that. Watching the first half of Haikyuu reminded me of every bit of enjoyment, excitement, and anticipation that I felt while watching and covering GIANT KILLING, which is a somewhat befitting given that both the FIVB World League and FIFA World Cup are still going on. However, I know a lot more about volleyball than soccer given that I used to play a fair bit, many of my friends still play, and some coach it at a high school level, so I naturally hopped on the opportunity to ramble about some volleyball jargon on the site.
Before I do so and either expand existing viewers’ understanding of the sport or completely alienate them, I thought I’d give the obligatory rundown to those who aren’t watching Haikyuu yet. The short version is more or less what was outlined in the Spring 2014 Preview. The series follows middle schooler Hinata Shouyou (Murase Ayumu) and his genuine love for volleyball after he saw some television footage of Karasuno High School’s ace player, a.k.a. the “Little Giant” (Chiisana Kyojin), playing at the nationals. As he grew older, his love for the sport turned into a bit of an obsession even though he had no one to play with. In his last year of middle school, he finally convinced enough of his friends to play with him even though they had no real experience or interest in playing, and entered their first tournament only to be utterly defeated by another team. Despite losing, Hinata surprised his opponent’s Nazi-like setter, Kageyama Tobio (Ishikawa Kaito) with his speed, jump, and overall athleticism, and swore to beat him in their next meeting once he entered high school. Fast-forward to the present, where Hinata enrolled at Karasuno High and joined the volleyball team only to find out that Kageyama is there too.
Over the course of the first half of the series, the two of them slowly change from bitter rivals into formidable teammates, as Hinata is the only one who blindly trusts Kageyama’s quick sets and actually connects with them (i.e. is able to hit them). Led by their captain, Sawamura Daichi (Hino Satoshi), the Karasuno “Ravens” also add first-year Tsukishima Kei (Uchiyama Kouki) and get back their Libero (i.e. back-row defensive specialist) Nishinoya Yuu (Okamoto Nobuhiko) and Ace hitter (i.e. go-to hitter during scramble plays) Azumane Asahi (Hosoya Yoshimasa) to form a new team that has the potential to take Karasuno back to the nationals for the first time since the Little Giant played for them. To that end, their club advisor Takeda Ittetsu (Kamiya Hiroshi) coaxes Karasuno alumni setter Ukai Keishin (Tanaka Kazunari) to be their coach. In this latest episode, the team is preparing for an inter-high tournament, whose winner earns an automatic berth in the nationals. They’re up against some stiff competition though, which includes the number one ranked Shiratorizawa, as well as Aoba Jousai, Date Kougyou, and Wakutani Minami, who comprise ranks two to four.
As with GIANT KILLING, what I find most interesting about Haikyuu are the characters–both the members of Karasuno and their opponents. The character interactions are portrayed in a way where there’s always some level of respect for their opponents, which we got a glimpse of that in episode 12 when Karasuno traveled all the way to Tokyo to play Nekoma. I like how not every team that they play against are made out to be antagonists, which in a way, is true to the spirit of competition. This is particularly true in the case of volleyball, which can be a very competitive but is surprisingly easy to respect and befriend the people that you play against. Other than that, I particularly enjoy how it’s littered with volleyball details that anyone familiar with the sport can easily appreciate. This goes from the set plays, to the positions, to the importance of defense, and so on. The only thing that throws me off a bit is the Japanese terminology that’s used for a lot of things, such as Wing Spiker (WS) instead of Power, Outside Hitter, and Offside Hitter. Also, as seen in third-year setter Sugawara Koushi’s (Irino Miyu) notes, they prefer to use the A, B, C, D notation for signifying one-quarter zones on the net rather than the 1-7 numbering that I’m more accustomed to. To me, “A Quick” is a “Shoot”. “B Quick” is either a “31” or a “51”, which is read as “thirty-one” and “fifty-one” and means a set in the 3 or 5 position that’s about 1 foot above the net. “C Quick” is right behind the setter and can be a “62” or a “Slide” if the Middle is faking a regular Quick (i.e. “51”) first. Back Attack is a “Pipe” if it’s down the middle and hit by the Power or a “Back Row Attack” if it’s on the right side and hit by the Offside Hitter. Now if that wasn’t enough volleyball jargon for you, I’ll get into some more specifics as it applies to Karasuno.
As we saw in this episode, Ukai wants to start utilizing Asahi as a back row hitter. This would mean that he wants Asahi to hit “Pipes” if we’re going by the terminology that I’m more accustomed to. What I would’ve like to see is him also exploring the possibility of having Tanaka Ryuunosuke (Hayashi Yuu) hit from the back row as well. I’ve been watching their positions pretty closely and Tanaka is the designated Offside Hitter on the team. After a serve or a service receive, he moves to the right-side of the court, which known as position 1 in the back row or position 2 in the front row. (Positions are counted counter-clockwise starting with the service position.) While he’s in position 1, he’s actually underutilized if he’s not hitting from the back row. The reason being, Karasuno plays a “5-1” setup. Read as “five-one”, this is different from a “fifty-one” set and signifies that the team has 5 hitters and one setter. Kageyama will always take the second ball and set it even if he’s in the front row, so that means that Tanaka, who plays opposite of the setter, should be practicing how to hit from the back row. This is actually what Ukai has drawn on the upper-right of his whiteboard, but there was no mention of using Tanaka for this purpose. While one could argue that hitting back row offside is relatively advanced for a high school team, the fact that Karasuno plays “5-1” means that they should at least practice it. My friends coach it at a high school level, so it’s really not that far-fetched when Karasuno’s starters hit as well as they do.
The second part that’s been bugging me is why Ukai hasn’t taught them to use a three-man serve receive. This is used by all teams in international play for some time (i.e. the highest level of volleyball) and has already trickled down to the high school level. With a three-man serve receive, it reduces the number of seams between receivers, lessening the confusion on who should take the ball, and also allows the same three receivers to take the first ball regardless of their rotation. It will always be the two Powers and the Libero, which incidentally, plays to the strengths of Karasuno since Daichi, Asahi, and Nishinoya are their best passers. Hinata and Tsukishima would never have to take the first ball, which completely addresses the problem they had playing Aoba Jousai when Oikawa Tooru (Namikawa Daisuke), Kageyama’s senpai in middle school, kept picking on Tsukishima with his jump serve. It would also allow Hinata and Tsukishima to focus on running a quick after the serve’s been dug. It comes off as such an obvious move to improve their team, so I’m hoping that they make the shift later on just to show that this series truly understands all aspects of the sport.
As for some other developments, it looks like Yamaguchi Tadashi (Saitou Souma) is going to become a jump float serve specialist that gets substituted in as needed until he can find a permanent spot on the starting lineup, Daichi would’ve been shipped with Michimiya Yui (Seto Asami) already if this was a romantic comedy, and their team manager Shimizu Kiyoko (Nazuka Kaori) is capable of getting embarrassed. The first development I rather like since serve specialists are quite common, but the last one I’m a bit iffy about since I liked Kiyoko more when she was always cool, calm, and quiet. (To each their own though.) In terms of match-ups, we can pretty much expect Karasuno to play against Date Kougyou in the second round. If they somehow manage to win that game and Asahi rids himself of his past demons with their supposedly impenetrable block, we may get to see a rematch against Aoba Jousai too. But before that, Daichi gets to play his old friend Ikejiri, whom he’s almost guaranteed to beat after seeing how Tokonami High reacted to the prospect of playing a weak team.
Note: There was no new opening sequence yet, but the new opening theme was used as an ending theme with a makeshift sequence this week. We can probably expect new opening and ending sequences next episode.
ED2: 「Ah Yeah!!」 by スキマスイッチ (Sukima Switch)