Shoyo Hinata is a diminutive kid who falls in love with volleyball one day while watching the high school national championship game after he saw a short player nicknamed the Little Giant playing for Karasuno High School. Hinata forms a volleyball club at his middle school, but due to lack of members, he has to practice with members of the school's basketball team and its girls' volleyball team. He manages to gather enough players to enter the school's team into a tournament, where they are soundly beaten by one of the tournament favorites, a school lead by a tyrannical ace setter named Tobio Kageyama. Despite losing, Hinata showed great promise and true to his dream, Hinata makes it onto Karasuno's volleyball team. There is just one problem, so did Kageyama. Now the former foes have to work together to help lead Karasuno back to its former legacy as a championship contender. Does Haikyuu!! successfully spike the ball, or does it embarrassingly hit it into the net?
The Sting of Defeat
One thing Haikyuu!! does amazingly well is how it handles defeat. There is even an episode appropriately named "Winners and Losers" that features a tribute to all of the defeated teams up to that point in the tournament that lasts for multiple minutes. The show even touches upon how one gets back up and continues on after defeat. Showing the effects of losing is a common thing in sports anime, but rarely has it been done with such depth or with as wide a coverage as it is in Haikyuu!!. Most sports anime tend to only focus on the those that directly lose to the protagonists.
Wounded Crows Take Flight Once Again
By the time Hinata and Kageyama join Karasuno, the team has fallen rather far from its glory days. As such, few people expect anything from them. This makes the team fight to regain the pride it once had. The team captain, Daichi Sawamura, strives to prove that the Crows of Karasuno can soar higher than anyone thought imaginable. Again while it is often a common trope in sports anime for the school the main character joins to be a faded powerhouse, most of the time their school is still in relative contention. They may not be the winners they used to be, but people still expect them to be at least decent. I find it interesting for Karasuno to be essentially a non-factor completely when Hinata and Kageyama join.
Surprisingly Solid Comedy
I was legitimately taken back by just how much I found myself laughing because of Haikyuu!!, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Haikyuu!! has some truly great comedy in it, and it almost always happened when I least expected it. But when it did happen, it often left me near breathless. One of the things that greatly helps the effectiveness of the comedy, though is the...
Gloriously Exaggerated Expressions
What you see above is the second and third year members of the team reacting to words of encouragement from the team manager. That's the kind of over-the-top expressions that generously pepper Haikyuu!! and essentially form the backbone to the comedy in the series. Needless to say, Haikyuu!! has some of the best expressions in anime I have ever seen.
There's No "I" In "Team"
Volleyball is a team sport. While an ace player can improve a team, they can't win by themselves. It takes a concentrated effort by all six players on the court to come out on top. Kageyama learned this the hard way in middle school when his teammates essentially mutinied against him due to the extreme pressure he was putting on them to play up to his level. This is a harsh lesson that Kageyama repeatedly comes against every time he tries to take over the game instead of relying on the other members of Karasuno. Thankfully, though, Kageyama does come to acknowledge this, as he slowly, but surely learns to play to everyone's strengths.
The Best Senpai Ever
The dude with the shaved head up above currently giving everyone a death glare is Ryuunosuke Tanaka, and he's the best senpai to appear in anime. Brash, abrassive, and quick to threaten anyone who badmouths Karasuno or his underclassmen, Tanaka is the kind of cool upperclassmen that I think everyone needed in high school. And he's no slouch on the court, either. He's one of Karasuno's primary spikers and is the hype machine the team members need when their confidence is shaken.
Whoever was the person that did the storyboarding for Haikyuu!! deserves an award, because the presentation is amazing and calculated to an insane degree. The lighting and use of shadows is top notch, and the imagery utilized is breathtaking. They hide key pieces of character growth in a way that it seems seamless with the normal animation, making them something you notice after the fact. The framing of the show's biggest moments are not just amongst some of the best in anime, it is amongst some of the best in any visual medium, period.
Fun Eye Catches
Like most anime, Haikyuu!! has eye catches in the middle of the episode for the mid-episode commercial break. Unlike most series that just have some kind of static image, Haikyuu!! instead gives us a small animation of a member of the cast practicing their serves by aiming at a water bottle in the corner of the court. Each animation is unique to their particular character, and many of them are quite humorous. They aren't much, but they can lighten the mood during some particularly tense or emotional episodes.
Masters of Emotional Manipulation
When I say Haikyuu!! is an emotional rollercoaster, I'm not kidding. In any given episode I went from laughing, to being left breathless during tense moments, to shouting with great excitement. Part of the reason for this is Haikyuu!! knows how to use the slowing of time to immaculate effect. When time slows down in Haikyuu!!, something important is about to happen, and it can result in any of the three reactions I listed above. Unlike any other sports anime I've watched recently, Haikyuu!! captures all of the emotions one can feel while watching a sporting event.
Haikyuu!! is only the second anime I've ever reviewed that I couldn't find any flaws in, the first being Tonari no Seki-kun. That doesn't mean I think Haikyuu!! is perfect in every way and can do no wrong. I'm sure it actually does have flaws, it is just if they do exist, they aren't a big enough deal for me to take note of them. As it stands, Haikyuu!! is easily my current favorite sports anime series. Anyone who likes sports anime would be insane to pass on this series, and anyone wanting to get into sports anime but are unsure where to begin should definitely start with Haikyuu!!.