「強敵たち」 (Kyouteki-tachi)
“Formidable Opponents”

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 Sequence

ED2: 「Ah Yeah!!」 by スキマスイッチ (Sukima Switch)

Preview

51 Comments

  1. Yay!! Even though I didn’t expect Haikyuu to be covered regularly, I am happy to see it get SOME attention! It’s been my favorite most weeks after NGNL and often edging out Baby Steps, which is a big deal to me, since tennis is my sport. I know enough about volleyball to appreciate the accuracy (one cousin in the volleyball Junior Olympics, one cousin a coach), and I feel spoiled by TWO sports shows that are going for relatively accurate physical movement to depict matches and practice.

    However, it is the character interactions, the friendly rivalries (within and outside the team) and the consistent humor that always has me tuning in on Sundays. (Only the first episode left me bored, ironically.) I’m glad that RC has found some space so I can also throw out my kudos for this show!

    Gracelyn
  2. I really don’t remember you ever mentioning a wish for a volleyball anime before this. Good for you that we got Haikyuu!! carrying over from last season then.

    I’m no volleyball player except for a few casual games during Phys Ed, so most of the volleyball terms being parlayed around in your post just flew over my head. Nevertheless, if this post does mean you’re gonna start covering it on a weekly basis, your added insight into the game can definitely enhance my enjoyment of the series.

    On a side note, I was already shipping Yui and Daichi from the first moment they showed her in the anime. They just had this great chemistry between them even with their interactions currently not even amounting to an episodes worth of time. And personally I liked Kiyoko this episode. You can’t have a kuudere without any dere now can we.

  3. Even as someone who isn’t a fan of actual sports I’d have to say this is one of my favorite new shows in a long time. The characters are great, I really dig the soundtrack and the animation is just swoon worthy compared to a lot of shows lately. I am so thrilled at how much this show reminds me of Ookikku Furikaubtte. I anticipate every new episode.

    Kagehina13
  4. I didn’t really know anything about volleyball or really much any sport going into this, but this is one of my favourite airing shows, and a highlight of spring. The characters are just so fun and likable, the production quality and animation is very impressive and pretty consistent, and even the OST is great. I look forward to it every week. It reminds me a ton of Oofuri which is another big favourite of mine, if the “SOL” episodes were more interspersed within every episode (the matches here never take as long here as they did in oofuri).

    pomme
    1. Not really, because that’s kind of what makes Karasuno’s team (and this anime as a whole) interesting. I’ve seen 5’3″ players in high school train themselves to jump 32-36″ and make up for their lack of height, so his jumping ability isn’t that far-fetched. Granted they’re usually setters, but the series acknowledges the problems that they have with Hinata’s height by saying that he can only “soft block” his opponents at best. This also means that he’ll likely get “tooled” a lot (i.e. a hit goes off his hands and out).

      1. Enzo, are you asking why they don’t play back-row setter, i.e. “6-2” (six-two) with six hitters and two setters, are you asking why don’t they sub in Suga for Kageyama?

        If it’s the former, they could very well do that since practically all high schools played that formation until the last 10 years or so. The fact that they don’t use their offside hitter in the back row or use a three-man serve receive means that they’re ignoring two of the biggest advantages of playing 5-1 and just taking the disadvantage–losing a hitter while their setter is in the front row for half of the rotation.

        However, playing 6-2 is taking a step backwards in my opinion, so it’s still better that they make the shift to 5-1 now and get consistent sets from one setter while leaving the door open to back-row offside hits and three-man serve receiving as well.

      2. It was the former. Basically, since in the status quo they have one of their best players on the bench in Sugawara, and indeed using two setters is a common formation, I wondered why it hasn’t even been mentioned as a possibility.

  5. I have the same gitty feeling when I’m watching this and Diamond no Ace. Makes my Sundays perfect 🙂

    One thing I like about this anime is that we aren’t seeing what you’d usually see in shounen sports. Retarded powerups. Everyone one has a specific set of skills but none of them are unrealistic. They all have certain things that they each take care of and you never see one person taking up to much of the action. It’s always split up fairly evenly.

    Another thing that I like about it is how anyone who has played sports can somewhat relate to the characters. Asahi is probably my favorite character. This is because he is me in a nutshell. I’m tall, lack self-confidence at times but am very light hearted and clumsy. So i really felt for him during those few episodes of dedication he got. Being a leader of a team makes it easy to unintentionally take all the blame on yourself. Heck I was an offensive lineman in college and hated myself for making even one mistake. For some folks having the mentality that unless you are perfect you aren’t worth jack just comes with the territory. I would constantly beat myself up for stuff like that when we watched film after the games. Having your mistakes pointed out harshly sucks a lot =/

    Kageyama is also a guy your likely to see if you watch sports for a while. I’m talking about how he was when he first started of course. Always thinking they know best, ridiculing their teammates for petty mistakes etc. Some people might think it’s overdramatic but those kinds of people do ACTUALLY exist. And depending how good they are it might not even matter if they are dicks. They’ll still ending up playing as starters regardless. Some schools try to put up the illusion that everyone will be nice to one another all the time but that’s rarely the case. Besides I think some harsh reinforcement can be a good thing sometimes. It makes you even that more motivated not to mess up again (though Kageyama was definitely out of line most of the time and he was trying to do a coaches job). Which is why i envy people in sports anime like this where everyone is nice and jolly with each other………..if only such a world existed when i was playing =(

    leatherhead333
  6. Well I honestly thought I’d be good enough to blog for you on at least Haikyuu… I guess not. Glad you got inspired by “blogging applications (which are still under review by the way)…” – Simply put I am one of those who applied with Haikyuu as a sample… feeling slightly dejected but you applied your right to write on a subject/anime I deemed missed by your site. So I guess its a plus…

    I’m impressed you watched all of the previous episodes to blog on the next episode no less… More power to you, blogging on Haikyuu and all… let’s see what other “blogging applications” can get you out of your doldrums.

    1. We’re still going through the 15,532 applications and making some hard decisions. It’s not like anyone has been rejected yet; hell, it’s not even out of the realm of possibility that a current writer would pass a show to the new writer, since we’re recruiting as such a wonky time of the season. Stay patient.

      Stilts
      1. Wow that many – that number is note worthy… I am sure anyone who reads or visits RC would find that an interesting statistic. Including the fact that there are 15k plus hanging on the edge of their seats… would love to know where they stand. This is where I express and applaud the efforts put into this site which at least 15k plus daily review…

    2. I’ve also applied with “Haikyuu!”, but I feel very happy seeing it blogged by Divine, whether it’s just a one-shot or a full coverage till the last episode. It’s not like a newly picked author would write about old, spring series anyways – there’s plenty of fresh stuff that’s waiting for writers to choose them. And from what we can see, Divine wrote about it as a volleyball fan, so that’s a perfect person for the show.

      brajt
      1. Though I don’t think RC needed a savior this time. Div just got the blogging bug again, after a nice long break.

        Once a masochist, always a masochist, that’s what we always say! We said that once. I said that once. (Just now)

        Stilts
  7. It as if JOhn Cena came out himself after a two years absents to the tune of Thuganomics…but anyway! I was not sure about this anime, seem to have a sissified character on purpose but if Divine gave it a seal of approval might have to check it out.

    Duzz
  8. Wow I thought it was awesome that Haikyuu was being covered, but finding out that Divine is the one covering it makes it even more awesome 😀 Welcome back! Haikyuu’s animation and soundtrack do the manga a lot of justice, and so far it’s been one of my favorites this season.

    chromenova
    1. Theres a manga on girl beach volleyball…. now that would be awesome if they made it as an anime…. the manga’s title escapes me though but the intensity on it is more akin to Kuroko than Haikyuu…

      1. Like I’ve told you on IRC, there’s also “Attacker You!” – another shoujo, but younger than “Attacker no. 1”, as it’s got only 30 years. 😉 I’ve seen it as a kid, with Italian dubbing (as only Italian TV was broadcasting any anime in Eastern Europe back in those times), but I still remember that I’ve liked it.

        brajt
  9. Glad to see Haikyuu getting picked up, it’s been an absolute joy to watch so far. I think what works best for me is how hilarious and goofy the entire main cast are. Especially Tanaka, that guy can’t not be funny. I don’t actually know anything about volleyball so I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on the way the actual sport is portrayed throughout the series.

    And of course welcome back to blogging, Divine. I wouldn’t have been around for your original stint but I’ve heard the legends, and I’ll be looking forward to your future posts.

    whemleh
  10. Hey Divine! I’ve got a question for you . . . I used to play (nothing at an elite level) and it bugs me when the hitters are shown hitting with their fingers together versus spread apart on their hitting hand. I was taught that hitting with an open hand increases accuracy and power. Am I missing something or is a closed-finger style of hitting being taught now?

    Flaiboy
    1. Hmm, good observation! It might just be an oversight by the animators but generally speaking, I think most coaches will tell you to hit the ball with your fingers slightly spread apart so that your hand covers a larger area of the ball and gives you more control (like you mentioned already). The only time that I can time of when it might be more beneficial to hit with your fingers together is when the set is really tight to the net and you want to “cut” the ball at a really sharp angle to try and get around the block or “tool” it off their hands so that it goes out afterward.

      1. Not quite. To put top-spin on the ball, the hitter snaps his wrist down immediately after making contact. This technique is somewhat similar to the wrist snap used by tennis and badminton players during an overhead smash.

  11. Oh God…I was reading this post with immense joy and tears welling up… Welcome back Divine and thanks for picking up one of my most anticipated shows every week since the start of Spring.

    I am not crazy about volleyball — I only played a couple of years in junior high (I was a setter) and very randomly ever since — but like it enough to watch the FIVB World League or whatever match that it’s covered on TV or sometimes YouTube. To me, it’s not just volleyball that I love about Haikyuu but its full package. It’s pretty straightforward, but on-and-off it plants seeds and weaves them back to the story — like how Yamaguchi was stunned by a jump float serve the first time he saw it a few episodes back and now wanted to learn how to do it. That’s so good to see because I think that Karasuno can learn a killer serve and get better at its formation, like you said. Haikyuu also has a good entertainment value and a solid production, but for the most part it’s the characters and the bond of the characters that draw me in the most. Like Enzo said it in his post, I love the authentic and genuine feel of the show.

    Thanks Divine for blogging it and hope that you can find time to keep blogging Haikyuu.

    ronbb
  12. Haikyuu 15 was awesome – cmon Divine… I want yer thoughts on the crow statements in relation to the japanese live action Crows,… must admit though the story is welling up since last season’s previous opponents noticed the additional team members.

  13. Haha Ping pong would be funny as hell for an anime, i still like the acton part of Haikyuu!! Though. I think it is almost on equal playing level as the prince of tennis

    Kazuko

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