We continue our examination of anime adaptations of currently running manga in boys’ comic Weekly Shonen Jump by looking at a genre that is normally (and perhaps stereotypically) seen as a solid place to create a comic aimed at boys: sport.
We have not looked much into sports anime in this column. The only anime so far in The Beginner’s Guide to cover a real-life sport is the swimming-based anime Free! (No. 17). However, Shonen Jump has an impressive track record of sport-based series, many of which have been turned into anime. Titles include The Prince of Tennis, Kuroko’s Basketball, boxing-based Ring ni Kakero, baseball-themed Play Ball, soccer anime Captain Tsubasa, and American football series Eyeshield 21.
There are currently two sports manga in Shonen Jump. One is sumo-themed Hinomaru Zumo, which began last year but has not been made into an anime yet. The other, the subject of today’s column, covers a sport that might surprise you. It is not the most popular sport, nor the manliest. For many, the sport only appeals when it is played by sexy ladies on the beach. However, this series has become surprisingly popular. Today, we slide into the world of volleyball.
Haikyu!! began in Shonen Jump in 2012, created by Haruichi Furudate, and has to date had 16 volumes published. The anime version of it began in 2014, and ran for a series of 25 episodes, with another series now in production for transmission later this year.
The series begins with schoolboy Shoyo Hinata, a rather short kid who falls in love with volleyball after seeing a similarly vertically-challenged player on TV. Over the years he tries to develop his own team at middle school, but he is the only person in the team who has any skill. Hinata’s skill however is great – he is able to jump great heights to rival even the tallest of players and is quick on his feet too. His team enters a school competition but loses in the first round to a rival team which features the arrogant Tobio Kageyama, nicknamed the “King of the Court”. Hinata thus vows that one day he will beat Kageyama.
Hinata then graduates to high school, and joins the same school his favourite player went to, Karasuno High School. The school volleyball team, nicknamed the “crows” due to the name of the school (“karasu” is “crow” in Japanese), did have a good team, but it has fallen from grace in past years. Hinata is extremely keen to join, but is horrified to learn that one of the other people also to have joined is Kageyama, who failed to make a better team because of his egotistical behaviour. The two at first refuse to play with each other, but the rest of the school team refuse to let them join the team unless they do.
Eventually the two start to get along, with Hinata taking up the position of middle blocker, and Kageyama the key role of setter. The story then follows their efforts to improve and make it through regional competitions. Hinata tries to find more ways of overcoming his own physical shortcomings and lack of experience, while Kageyama tries to be more co-operative with everyone.
It also follows the other members of the team, which include the captain and wing spiker Daichi Sawamura who gets very fearsome when angered; Koshi Sugawara, who was the chief setter before Kageyama came along; there also fellow wing spikers, the brash Ryunosuke Tanaka and the timid Asahi Azumane; then there is Asahi’s best friend Yu Nishinoya, the team’s defensive libero player who is even shorter than Hinata; and bespectacled middle blocker Kei Tsukishima, who spends most of his time criticising everyone else.
It is hard to imagine a series like Haikyu!! becoming as big as many of Shonen Jump’s major successes like the “Big Three” of One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95), but it has many strengths to it. The main one is the characters. At the start you feel for both Hinata and Kageyama, but as it moves on you support the whole team. Each member has their own strengths and weaknesses to overcome. For example, Sugawara finds himself replaced and not getting as many chances to play following Kageyama’s inclusion in the team. Early on in the story Azumane refuses to play volleyball again after a bad match prior to the story, which results in Nishinoya refusing to play until he returns. You feel for all them and you end up supporting Karasuno.
The second reason to praise Haikyu!! is that it has taken a sport that most people probably don’t know much about, and made it interesting. You learn a lot from it. Most people reading this article would be baffled by the term “libero” to describe a player, but the all the terms are explained, and you can make your own judgments too. For example, the libero’s strip is different to the rest of the team, so you could claim he is a bit like a soccer goalkeeper.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the series has established a big fan-base, especially a female fan-base, much like that of the fore-mentioned Free! By which I mean most of the fans that like these sporting anime are not in it for the sport. They are more in it for watching these rather attractive guys, and they have their own ideas about which way many of these boys are inclined. They want to know what they really get up to in the showers, and to hell with the fact they are still at school. It has to be said that Haikyu!! is not as full-on as Free! in that respect, but there is still that aura about it.
Outside of this however, this series is still a lot of fun to watch. Exciting, entertaining characters and able to take a little-known subject and make it fun.
The first series of Haikyu!! can be streamed online at Crunchyroll, and is currently being released in two parts on Region 1 DVD by Sentai Filmworks. The second series is due for release in October 2015. Since this article was published, a third series has been commissioned and is due to be aired in Autumn 2016.