OP: 「Phoenix」 by Burnout Syndromes
(Author’s Note: I was trying to think of some way to royally piss off Samu with this post, but he pretty much knows how I feel about Haikyuu at this point so it was a lost cause)
Hard as it is to believe, it’s been better than two years since I’ve had a Haikyuu episode to write about. This is a series that’s never so much on my mind that I pine for it when it’s gone, but every re-introduction is always a reminder of just how good it is. And Shueisha has been nothing if not judicious in their handling of Haikyuu! – they’re if anything overcautious in not burning through the material too quickly, and the overall production at I.G. has been, for my money, the most consistently stellar in the history of sports anime.
Well, after that break 2020 is starting off as year of Haikyuu!! – not only do we have a fourth season (split cour) at last, but the two-part “Riku vs. Kuu” OVA which dropped this week (and will show up on LiA when I get a free evening to watch it). This fourth season is the first to see significant changes in staff – we have both a new director and animation director. That’s caused some fans to panic because, of course, it’s the sacred duty for fans of long-running shounen standards to panic at any sign of change. For me, I’m not too worried – Haikyuu!!! is a cash cow for everyone concerned, and no one in the production committee from Shueisha on down to Production I.G. is going to stand by and see that jeopardized.
Two years may have passed in real-time, but “To The Top” picks up more or less right where S3 ended. That, of course, was with Karasuno having just defeated Shiratorizawa to qualify for nationals. I always felt that a bit unlikely, even if it was inevitable, and that – along with the relative sidelining of Hinata-kun for much of it – makes the third season the weakest for me. But it certainly set the stage for a huge future narrative event in nationals (though not for a while) and it seems clear than the Little Giant is going to play a role more befitting his nickname this go-around.
To get it out of the way – production-wise, what can we say about Haikyuu!!!! under new management based on one episode? In a word (or two) not much – because I don’t think we really have to. Haikyuu!!!!! is a great production not just because of sakuga (though fluidity is obviously a huge bonus in a sports anime) but because of aesthetics. All of the supplementary factors are top-notch, including the soundtrack, and the depictions of lithe and powerful young bodies in motion is probably unparalleled in anime so far. This series is masterful at depicting the human form in motion – muscle definition, facial expression, exhaustion, exultation – and none of that seems to have changed. Maybe (as with BnHA) we see a bit more of a stylized look in season four, but apart from that I see little evidence of change. And that’s a good thing.
Story-wise, we have a couple of major events which take precedence before the focus turns to nationals (which I assume will happen in the second cour). As we saw in cliffhanger form in December ’16, Kageyama-kun has been invited to the national junior training camp in Tokyo. That’s a very big deal indeed, and naturally Shouyo (already salty at still being a chibi at 164 cm and losing his vertical reach bet with Kageyama, despite having the higher leap) is peeved at not being invited himself. To make thing worse, Shiratorizawa’s coach Washijou-sensei has decided to hold a special first-years camp for Miyagi only – and invited only Tsukishima from the Karasuno squad which defeated him at the qualifiers.
It’s clear we’re looking at an important developmental stage for Shouyo here. His character has always walked a thin line because it tacks close to so many sports shounen cliches, but he manages to be likeable in spite of that. This is a new sort of challenge for him, at least in part. He’s used to having the undersized athlete’s belligerent stubbornness drive him, but now he’s being actively passed over because (at least in his mind) of his height. One could surmise that Washijou-san passed him over because of sour grapes at losing but he did invite Tsukishima-kun. The issue is not Karasuno, it’s size – and the fact that Washijou is an old-school volleyball man who believes power and size triumph (and they almost always do, especially at the youth level).
This is a good test for Shouyo to be sure. Crashing the Shiratorizawa camp (an offhand comment by Tadashi-kun having scared him off of trying to crash nationals) is classic Shouyo behavior and should make me roll my eyes, but it’s hard not to admire the kid’s sheer force of will. Washizou makes it clear how he feels, offering to let Shouyo be a ball boy and telling him he “sees no value in him without that setter”. As Hinata confronts this harsh reality, we’ll also see Kageyama in an unfamiliar position – one where he feels insecure and perhaps even in over his head (at least at first). As much as I like the sempai (Suga remains my favorite character in the entire cast) it’s these two bozu who are the narrative pillars of Haikyuu!!!!!! – and this is a good crucible for the both of them.
ED: 「Kessen Spirit」(決戦スピリット) by CHiCO with HoneyWorks