Anime Review: Haikyuu!! (Seasons 2 & 3)

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It’s been 2 years since I reviewed the first season of Haikyū. And before you click on it, it’s… not exactly my best writing, as it glosses over the highlights of the series, but provides very little meaning. I’m going to change that.

For this review, I will be discussing seasons 2 and 3 of Haikyū together, as they comprise the whole narrative of Karasuno High’s second prefectural tournament. While the new plot developments and characters are interesting to evaluate, I am departing from the analytical mindset in search of overall meaning of the narrative instead, in relation to these elements.

That being said, SPOILERS will ensue, tears will be shed, and the crows will fly. So if you want “one more,” here’s my second take on Haikyū the animation!

Rivalry

Prepare yourself.

From the last time I spoke of this series, the boys of Karasuno High’s Volleyball Club failed to become prefectural champions during the Spring Interhigh tournament, walking away with their heads down in shame. After working up so much hype and energy to win, the guys were humbly brought down to their lowest, simply knowing that other teams train harder and have more resources than they would have ever hoped for. But rather than compare themselves to a team that on paper would be better than them, the Karasuno boys focus on how they can improve themselves instead.

Now with the Fall tournament on its way, this is the last chance for the boys we have come to know and love to redeem themselves, where seniors have chosen to train harder for this tournament than on college entrance exams, and our rambunctious underclassmen scramble to find out what it really means to be part of a team.

With all the hilarity in-between, of course.

Chant

Get it together, Kageyama!

Changing the Tone

Where Haikyū’s first season emphasizes anguish and overall feeling of incompleteness, the animation’s 2nd and 3rd seasons set out to change that tune to wholeness and owning up to a narrative of their own. Seniors like Daichi, Asahi, and Suga especially feel this way because they don’t want to end their final year of high school feeling like they weren’t at their best to the very end, and second-years like Tanaka, Nishinoya, and Ennoshita have come to accept as their burden when they become the club’s leaders, come the following year.

But no one has to learn what it means to be whole and to be team players more than our rambunctious first-year duo, Shōyō Hinata and Tobio Kageyama. When it comes to hogging the ball, these two are pretty much in a class of their own, and the love-hate dynamic between the two was part of why the team lost in the Spring tournament. These two are so self-centered, that they’re more likely to blame their individual selves over the final loss, rather than recognize why they failed in the first place!

I suppose “working together” would be the simple way to put what’s wrong with both of them, but I think there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that they can, but they don’t know how to do it consistently. Technique-wise, they’re already Karasuno’s ultimate secret weapon. The problem is that their attitude toward each other brings the rest of the team down.

Fail

Yeah, I said it!

This is nothing new to Haikyū. For a sport that is meant to be played by rotating players that fulfill multiple positions at a moment’s notice, hogging tosses is the last thing you want to do for the rest of your team! That especially goes for Karasuno’s overall aesthetic as the Crows: to attack as an organized threat against their opponents. Hinata and Kageyama are proverbially cut out of the same mold, so forcing them to “work together” ultimately becomes a challenge over which one of them is better at being on top, rather than what they can do to lead the team together.

This is why the two of them spend more time practicing their techniques separately instead of training together. If Kageyama can set and Hinata can spike without regard to who’s assisting them, they wouldn’t have to think of being part of Karasuno as a self-destructive pair, on and off the court.

haikyu-teamwork

All of Karasuno’s team members encounter similar trials, as they learn what it means to come together. We get hints from the first season that the soon-outgoing seniors had this exact problem when they were first- and second-years, and now it’s time for the underclassmen to do the same.

If the Karasuno crows truly want to fly, they must learn to fly as a unit. All of them.

Including Townsperson B

Hinata and Kageyama still have a lot to learn, but they’re not the only ones that matter on this team. One thing that I love about Haikyū is telling softer narratives in contrast to louder ones. Sure, we know that the Kings of the Court stand out like sore thumbs across the entire series, but we also get moments like a tribute to losers in the first season, where nameless characters express genuine feelings about the game they’ve played so hard.

Haikyū may have changed its attitude to depart from that feeling of anguish for its continuing seasons, but it hasn’t stopped telling these softer narratives as Karasuno comes together as formidable rivals to their prefectural champions. I felt these narratives most with two of Karasuno’s quieter members: Hitoka Yachi and Kei Tsukishima.

haikyu-hitoka.jpg

Hitoka was introduced at the beginning of the second season as Karasuno’s next manager, once Kiyoko graduates. As one who doesn’t stand out very much, Hitoka never believed that she could make a difference, assuming the role of a background character rather than center stage. She doesn’t think of herself as anything special, standing side by side with outgoing guys like Hinata or cool beauties like Kiyoko.

Hitoka is more likely to criticize herself before she ever tries to do something bold, but what she doesn’t realize is that she already has a talent that could help Karasuno, through her talent in media arts. Hinata first recognized Hitoka’s talent and encouraged her to make a flyer for the team, to be distributed across town. Hitoka was never very proud of her work, because she felt small compared to her mother who was a professional advertiser. But as she kept watching the new “little giant” soar during practice, she found something worth fighting for.

haikyu-poster.jpg

Hitoka stands in the background for most of the series, but she also has a stake in Karasuno’s success. During all of the tournament scenes, the crowd plays a huge role in raising morale for their teams, and Aoba Jōsai’s is by far the most intimidating to me. If Karasuno has any chance at becoming the powerhouse they once were, they’re going to need all the support they can get from their town.

Hitoka may be the proverbial Townsperson B, but she has an important role to bring the rest of the support team together.

Karasuno’s Hidden Moon

Hitoka’s narrative is soft in that it comes and goes rather quickly, but her impact is felt along the way in the background from then on. By contrast, Tsukishima’s narrative was developing slowly in the background since the beginning, but reaches a critical point toward the end of the final match.

Unlike Hinata and Kageyama, Tsukishima doesn’t take volleyball that seriously. To him, this is just a pastime that he just happens to be good at. Tsukishima only invested in things that he could succeed in and never bothered with anything else, but he never felt like he had a stake in what he did. And to that effect, he would have no problem being upstaged by his peers.

haikyu-tsukishima-talk.jpg

Tsukishima comes across as aloof and uncaring, but after getting an earful from his best friend Yamaguchi and the seniors at Karasuno’s Tokyo rival school Nekomata, his potential had just been realized. Tsukishima may not stand out like Hinata as a middle blocker now, but he wasn’t going to let an outspoken teammate push him down. If the crows were to fly as one, Tsukishima has to fight too.

The funny thing about Haikyū is that Kageyama is thought to be Hinata’s greatest rival, over who’s going to rule the court. But that rivalry, at least from a volleyball playing perspective, doesn’t make sense, because Kageyama is a setter and Hinata is a middle blocker. They fulfill two separate roles that work with each other. The true rivalry here is between Hinata and Tsukishima because they are going after the same position. In fact, given their surnames, Hinata and Tsukishima figuratively contrast each other as “Sun” and “Moon” respectively, whether by personality or simply by how they take control.

Tsukishima spends a good chunk of the series as a decent player in all their matches and never stands out, but he grows exponentially once he finds that one thing that would make him a formidable opponent against all their rivals.

haikyu-tsukishima-play.png

The final match between Karasuno and Shiratorizawa ultimately belonged to Tsukishima, upon bringing their score up from a huge setback. He’s always been a “natural” at volleyball, but it was this moment when he was pitted against Shiratorizawa’s ace Ushijima where he truly began to love the sport.

Being the study bug that he is, Tsukishima had observed Ushijima’s plays long enough that he figured out a way to block his powerful spikes: a feat that would be harder for Hinata to pull off given his height and one-track mind. At this moment, Tsukishima devised plans with the rest of the team to defend their side of the court, not as a supporting member, but as the team strategist.

Tsukishima treats volleyball as just a club, and to that extent, I think he intends on staying true to that motive. But at present, this is his life right now, in high school, challenging one of the top schools in the nation. Right now, that’s all he has to focus on. And with his loudest victorious shout thus far, Tsukishima found his stake on Karasuno’s team, elevating him to what I would consider main character status.

On a Personal Note

Haikyū remains one of my favorite sports anime out there, in part because I like to play volleyball, and I think that its narrative is well-rounded across all of its characters. That being said, its third season played a personal role on my feelings, that I haven’t been able to freely express up until now.

When Haikyū’s third season aired in Fall 2016, I was feeling incredibly hopeless. Like many minorities in the United States, I feared going out of my house, with breaking news of the election results, and the blatant racism that ensued in the aftermath. I lost my job about this time too, and left my church to seek other means of spiritual growth. I grew increasingly bitter about the world, distrusting more and more people, including former friends and family members. It was about this time that I my interest in anime was also waning, due to burnout and changing my lifestyle, so that I could actively pursue becoming a teacher.

While many anime fans attribute Yuri on Ice as the series that lifted their spirits at the end of 2016, I only give partial credit to such a claim. As an anime fan and critic (and sometimes critic of fans), I used to watch enough shows to keep me invested in several series that attuned to my feelings at the time. For me, there wasn’t one particular anime that lifted my spirits, but several: Orange in the summer, March Comes in like a Lion at its halfway point, and one very specific scene from Haikyū.

Coach Ukai

At this point, Karasuno was in deuce, as they struggled back and forth to reach match point against Shiratorizawa. With each play, they grew increasingly more exhausted, feeling hopeless themselves, to reach victory. The boys were just about ready to give up after coming so far, when none other than Coach Ukai stood and shouted these words:

“Don’t you dare look down! Volleyball is a sport where you’re always looking up!”

These were the last words spoken by voice actor Kazunari Tanaka for the role in this series. Tanaka tragically passed away at the young age of 49, during production, before Hisao Egawa understandably replaced him for the part. I’m not one to get particularly emotional about members of the industry in general. However, I think the gesture that these were his last words, as loud as he could be, had an added effect on my take on the show as a whole.

It helped me to raise my head at a time when I needed it most.

You may not like how I report on anime. You may get tired of me going on and on, about mundane stuff that should be obvious to you and never get my analytical rating or opinion on any anime that I watch. You may even think I’m a terrible person just in general. But casting aside any judgment on Haikyū as a series, this is the moment I want to remember, and look back upon when I feel troubled again, and I don’t know where else to turn to.

Moments like these happen in a lot of anime, and they come in places where you don’t always expect them. For me, anime criticism isn’t about taking apart a series by its individual elements and tearing them apart, just to find something to hate about it. I think that anime is a living medium that speaks to many an audience that brings with it all kinds of feelings, and we remember the moments that rung with us the most that spoke to our own feelings in the most genuine ways.

One of Haikyū‘s overarching messages is finding the spirit to fly, just as the Karasuno boys have. It has given me the courage to fly as well.

haikyu-end

Thank you for reading.

Haikyū remains a series that I highly recommend, if not for the volleyball, then for how much heart goes into making it. So if you haven’t already, watch it for yourself. Perhaps you will find meaning in it that is different from mine, but I hope that you will find your courage to fly too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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