Shoyo Hinata only played one game of volleyball in middle-school, but with his greatest rival now on his team in high-school he’s out to prove that being short won’t stop him from flying.
Shoyo Hinata may be short, but he’s wanted nothing more than to play volleyball ever since he saw the legendary player nicknamed “The Little Giant” compete in the national volleyball finals. After finally scrounging enough players to form a team at his middle-school, Hinata finally gets to compete in an official game. However, this turns out to be the first and last game of his middle-school career after his team is brutally beaten by the opposing team led by Tobio Kageyama, the “King of the Court”. Spurred on by his desire to beat Kageyama, Hinata joins Karasuno’s volleyball team only to find that his ultimate rival is now his teammate.
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Haikyu!! is perhaps the headliner of the first new wave of sports manga series to be released in English in 6 years, and it’s easy to see why this energetic combination of action and optimistic spirit is the latest contender to break the “sports manga don’t sell in America” perception. Haikyu!!’s energy is absolutely infectious thanks to the strong sense of humour and indomitable perseverance it lays on the strong central premise of a plucky wannabe volleyball player teaming up with a sullen genius at the sport. Much like in fellow Weekly Shonen Jump series My Hero Academia, the famous Jump ethos of “Friendship, Effort, Victory” are conveyed strongly in Haikyu!! through the struggles of both Hinata and Kageyama as they attempt to make their volleyball dreams come true at part of the Karasuno team, and I found it impossible not to be impressed by the beginnings of this series.
Haikyu!!’s first chapter impresses immediately by introducing some strong themes which become the emotional pillars in this volume. Hinata’s desire to “see the view from the top” over the net blockers has a strong emotional value because of the way it connects with his shortness as well as the nature of volleyball itself, and we see this linked in extremely well with his desire of a real team to play with. This is introduced very visibly in Hinata’s fateful volleyball match with Kageyama, and I really liked the way that this was illustrated by the symbolism of the cascading hands of the blocking players. This bit of symbolism is frequently evoked later on in the volume, and I liked the way that this gave Haikyu!! a strong sense of cohesion throughout by linking Hinata’s personal goals very overtly with the game of volleyball itself. The emphasis on Hinata’s backstory in the first chapter did a great job grounding his motivations in the present, and it definitely made me very invested in his journey going forward.
Although the events of this volume, from Hinata joining the team, to his bickering with Kageyama, and finally to their match against the other first years, aren’t notable in the abstract, what makes this volume so strong is the intensity with which the motivations of each of the characters illustrated in driving the plot forward. This is certainly true with Hinata’s personality as I described above, but it extends clearly to the other members of the cast. Kageyama in particular gets some good fleshing out in a few short flashback scenes which help to emphasize the state of his personality, and I thought these small additions were extremely effective in laying out his motivations in a tangible manner. The idea of volleyball being a game about “connecting” was invoked many times here, and I liked that different angles of this idea of connecting among teammates lay at the core of both Hinata and Kageyama’s driving desires. We also see their growth very clearly in poignant moments such as Kageyama setting the ball for Hinata for the first time, and I really enjoyed how were were able to see them each slowly develop even in the early going. It’s not hard to feel swept up in this volume as the beginning of a grand tale of the two becoming “the greatest teammates” because of this tantalizing thematic resonance accompanying the story, and Haikyu!!’s first volume definitely becomes something special because of how strongly it is able to evoke those feelings.
While much of Haikyu!! is spent on the serious motivations of its characters, this volume is always careful to balance this with a distinct sense of fun. We see the joy of playing volleyball and competing shown very clearly for both Hinata and Kageyama, and this is complemented by numerous scenes of comedic relief thanks to their individual wackiness. It also helps that this volume is quite self-aware, and one of the my favourite little moments was upperclassman Ryunosuke Tanaka accurately predicting that Hinata and Kageyama would challenge the upperclassmen to a match to prove their worth. The rest of the members of the team are also eminently likable as well, and I really enjoyed watching the beginnings of this team coming together in both the more serious moments as well as in the funnier ones.
While the story itself the main attraction of Haikyu!!, the action that accompanies the volleyball is also extremely entertaining thanks to Furudate-sensei’s superb art. I really loved how clearly the action panels were laid out in showing the action on the court, and I was really able to get a sense exactly how each play was unfolding. The level of detail incorporated into several of the “showcase” panels which punctuate the most dramatic moments in this volume was astounding, and I frequently found myself impressed with the way the impact and changes in speed were conveyed by upping the intensity in the line work. The characters are also really nicely designed as well, and I found each character to be quite memorable in distinctive in a way that suited their personality well. This series definitely seems to be quite a looker, and I’m excited to see how the art responds when the action gets upped even further.
Haikyu!! Vol. 1 captures the hope, spirit, and intensity which make sports manga such a joy to read, and I found myself enthralled with its combination of thematic cohesion and dynamic action. Hinata and Kageyama’s respective journeys are well-started in this volume, and I found it impossible not to be pulled into their dreams and struggles thanks to how well emphasized they were throughout the story so far. The action is also suitably intense thanks to Furudate’s strong artistic effort which made this volume extremely easy on the eyes. It’s too early to say if Haikyu!! will be the sports manga to finally break through in the English market, but this volume definitely suggests that it shouldn’t be missed by any manga fans looking for the beginning of an epic story.
Haikyu!! Vol. 1 was translated by Adrienne Beck and published by Viz Media on July 5th, 2016. Created by Haruichi Furudate, the series began in 2012 and runs in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. The series has an ongoing anime adaption produced by Production I.G., with season 3 airing in October. Volume 2 will be published in English on August 2nd, 2016.
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