It’s time to dive into Haikyu, a series so well known that even Slam Dunk and Prince of Tennis had to give it a side glance before resuming the race to the top. It’s definitely a great title and I can see why it got so big. The volleyball really goes into depth and there’s time to develop a whole ton of characters. The tournaments really don’t hold back either. It’s too bad it had to eventually end since I feel like the time skip had the potential for a whole lot of other stories but maybe someday we’ll get a true sequel series here.
The series follows a kid named Shoyo who is really into Volleyball. Unfortunately nobody else in his school seemed to care that much so it was hard to form a team. Even when he did, he was promptly knocked out of the tournament right away. Now in High School he is eager to show the world what true power really is but he will have to be on the same team as his rival Kageyama. Kageyama is a prodigy and one of the best up and coming setters out there. Meanwhile Shoyo likes being a spiker but he’s rather short which is tough to get around in this sport.
At least if you aim to be a spiker. It’s not as bad if you want to be the guy digger or another position but that’s not Shoyo’s passion. He did get to see someone on TV in the pros who was also short and made a name for himself though so now he is eager to go all the way for the win. Along the way he will meet a lot of friends and enemies but as long as he is alive, Shoyo will continue to get better. The other teams have to watch out!
With 40+ volumes at the ready Haikyu is really able to give a lot of time to both character development and the actual matches. It’s not all that uncommon for a single game to cover 2 volumes and longer which is really impressive. I don’t think any other series has the games go on for this long on such a consistent basis and you love to see it. Each game has a whole lot of emotion to it and you can feel the drama. Part of why the series is so good is because whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, you know the characters well enough to where you can feel their sorrow.
Fortunately I do find Volleyball interesting so I also like the sports aspect on its own too. I can’t say I knew much about the professional rules beyond the basics so I even learned a few things here. It’s really a team sport too so you can’t just dominate the whole game on your own. Of course there are some players that come close and a good spiker/setter can get a lot of points but at the end of the day a balanced team will always be your best bet to claiming victory.
One of the benefits of being a sports title is also that the series is basically devoid of fanservice. That can be a little rare for the average series but Haikyu passes with flying colors. There isn’t really any big romance here either. A few crushes and such but the characters are just so busy with volleyball that they don’t have a whole lot of time for anything else. That’s the manga’s focus and it knows it so I applaud the author in not trying to cram too much in. It’s always the right balance here.
The artwork is also really good. It’s got a lot of detail to it and the action scenes come across very well. You can always tell what is going on and you don’t get overwhelmed. It makes the books a real page turner but at the same time I wouldn’t say it’s a super fast read. There’s a surprising amount of dialogue even during the matches as everyone has a lot of inner thoughts and plans. As far as the sport series go it’s probably the longest read on a chapter to chapter basis.
As I read the series I wouldn’t say there are any weaknesses. The cast is very solid all around, I liked a lot of them. At most I guess you could say that the series doesn’t have any standout characters the way that PoT, Kuroko’s Basketball, or Eyeshield 21 has. Even my favorite characters here aren’t ones I’d really write home about but they’re all consistently good. So instead of a few characters who transcend their limits, it’s more that everyone does good and helps the team out.
The only other thing I’d say is that the ending feels rushed which is something you may not expect from a series that’s over 40 volumes long. Surely by then you would have been able to set everything up. That’s what I figured at first but with how the time skip happens it just feels like there was a lot more of the story to tell. The ending is pretty emotional and does leave room for a true sequel but this series had a lot of gas left in the tank. It’s not the kind of thing that hurts the series since I naturally want any good title to end. This one just stood out to me.
As the series really focuses on the high school adventures, you could say that the heroes have 6 chances to become the champions. There are 2 big tournaments a year and they’re around for 3 years. Of course the seniors wouldn’t be around for future years so that’s something to keep in mind. Not everyone gets to dash off into the sunset here and often times sport titles can be about sacrifice as well.
So each tournament that goes on in the series starts to feel more and more important as they are all really running out of room. Their time is ticking after all and meanwhile every other team has reasons on why they want to win too. Everyone has their own aspirations and goals so in trying to accomplish their goals, the heroes know that they are sinking someone else’s. So it becomes a battle of wills and you don’t always know who is going to win.
Now lets start talking about the characters. First up is Shoyo and he isn’t an expert prodigy at first or one of those super talented players. Initially he’s rather weak in all of the areas and gets better as the series goes on. He has a solid rivalry with Kageyama the whole time and he’s a fun lead. Even by the end it’s fair to say that Shoyo isn’t the greatest player or anything like that but he has certainly made a name for himself and is no pushover. He can hold his own and really came a long way. Shoyo even builds a lot more confidence in himself.
I did prefer his rival Kageyama though. Kageyama is a very serious guy who wants to be the best setter there is. He was talented right from the jump but initially he wants to be more of a one man army and as the series goes on he learns about the true values of friendship. It ultimately makes him a better player since taking other teammates’ preferences and skills into effect is a skill in itself. I thought he was consistent all the way through and was a lot of fun. You need this kind of character to keep the fun dynamics going as Shoyo needs someone to compete with.
Tsukishima is another fairly big character here. He isn’t obsessed with volleyball the way that the others are and so he starts to doubt himself several times. He wonders why he is putting so much effort into this and starts slacking off a few times. Gradually he learns to love the game as much as the others and that’s when he really comes into his own as a big player. He also knows how to trash talk which is always important. You need that in your teammate to keep the other team off balance.
Daichi is the all around kind of character. He’s a solid captain who keeps the troops in line. He doesn’t have a specific specialty for the most part but it’s still good to have someone who can do a bit of everything. In that way he’s definitely still one of the most important players on the field. I don’t feel like he ultimately got to do as much as some of the others but as one of the older players he was quite desperate to win. He stood by for all the years when the school didn’t have a great team. He just kept at it until victory was at hand.
Then there’s Sugawara who is a nice guy and used to be the setter before Kageyama. As you can guess that pretty much means he was doomed from the jump. I appreciated that he never got petty or super jealous about this though. Sure, he wishes he could be out there but he put victory above all else and didn’t make a scene. Even then he had some moments where he would come off the bench and land some key points. He’s a real good moral booster at all times.
Azumane is the big spiker on the team so in a way he’s also a rival to Shoyo. Shoyo utilizes his quick speed and Kageyama’s instant throws to land points while Azumane just smashes the ball in there. As the power hitter that means a lot of teams will have a moment where their player stuffs Azumane to show how good they are. The worf effect hits Azumane the hardest and he can be a little timid for my liking. I never felt like he could compete with some of the other setters. He’s a good guy to have around but I think he should have been portrayed as just a bit stronger if you ask me.
Nishinoya is the libero, the defensive player of the team. He does really good in this and starts out as one of the best in his position. He actually stays near the top for the whole series so that shows how much time he put into this. His position won’t get a lot of the splash plays that others get but he gets a good amount of focus and can always be counted on. I liked his energy and spirit throughout, he’s definitely one of the more enjoyable characters here.
Tanaka is the punk type of character from the team although while he is loud and has the signature haircut, he’s a nice enough guy. He has a crush on the team’s manager and is always acting rather desperate around her. He’s a spiker but isn’t nearly as skilled as the others. It feels like he is often stuffed at the line and just can’t move forward. He has a lot of drive though and never gives up no matter how tough things get. It’s definitely something you can appreciate about the character.
Kiyoko does well as the manager, she keeps the team focused and makes sure they have what they need for the games. Whether it’s getting the equipment or even something like making sure they have their lunches for away games, Kiyoko takes care of it. It would have been nice if she could have joined in the games as well at some point but ultimately that’s not one of the duties.
An underclassman Hitoka works under Koyoko to be her eventual successor. She’s a lot more nervous though and isn’t quite as capable at first. She continues to improve as the series goes on but just doesn’t have Koyoko’s poise. Then there’s Takeda who acts as the coach for a while. I forget whether he or Keishin has the official position but Keishin really helps with devising up the plays and strategies. Takeda is more about reminding the team to play fair and have a good time. As long as they try their best then there’s nothing to worry about. He’s a good guy and doesn’t make any real mistakes. Keishin is also solid and while he only very reluctantly joined the group at first, he ends up getting very invested in it.
That about wraps it up for the main character’s team. Now you can see why the character roster is so big since every team has that amount of players. They all get real designs and things to do as well but for the most part every team has 2-3 really memorable guys who ends up playing a big role. I’ll mainly stick to the big members of each team. So first off is Oikawa who was easily one of my favorite rivals. He’s always taking shots at Kageyama and is immensely confident in his own abilities.
The guy deserves to be confident too because he actually does back it up. He’s one of the most impressive setters in the whole series and he has to pull off his big plays without someone like Hinata to break through the enemy lines. Part of what makes the main team (Karasuno) so good is the combo that Shoyo and Kageyama have where they can put the ball anywhere. The fact that Oikawa can keep up without that is impressive.
Then you have Kyotani, known as the mad dog who is a big player on their team. His offense is really good and if he would follow the plans and play sensibly then he would be an even bigger threat. Either way he’s not someone that you are able to take on lightly. I liked him well enough and he made for a very solid villain to pit against the heroes.
Kenma is probably the smartest character in the whole series. He is a big video game player and treats everything like an RPG. He’s always looking into how to make the team more efficient and how to get past the opposing team players. Considering how many players there are on both teams, it’s really impressive that he can plan things out so thoroughly. I was really impressed all the way through at least. Not just anyone could pull off what he did. He was also a good friend to Shoyo. While there isn’t often a lot of time for things to happen between games, the series gave them some moments to just have a good time.
Then there’s Kuroo who is really the opposite. He’s great friends with Kenma but he’s all about throwing the insults and getting inside the heads of the opposing teams. It’s quite the valid strategy and I thought he did a good job with it. They really didn’t know what hit them the whole time. I liked his confidence and I would often root for this team when they weren’t fighting the main one. They’re just a likable crew, particularly as their team is an underdog like Karasuno.
Bokuto is one of the more memorable characters because the series went all out with his design. He’s got spiky hair and a very loud personality. His play can be a little too affected by his emotions so he’s not the most consistent player out there but he can play very well when he is in the right mood. His name also just makes me think of Boruto the whole time. His teammate Keiji does a good job of keeping him focused at all times though. I think it would have been a lot tougher if his team was without Keiji because then they would all fall flat as soon as Bokuto got knocked off his rhythm.
The twins Osamu and Atsumu definitely have a good role as well. It is easy to mix them up which is intentional but even their personalities are rather similar. It was cool to see them pull off a team combo as well. Hey, if anyone could copy the bond between friends that Shoyo and Kageyama had, twins would make the most sense right? They’re on the same wavelength and all much more than standard players could be. They were quite skilled as well and made for good antagonists.
Sakusa is one of the best spikers around and he got to train with Kageyama at one of the summits. Beyond being a great spiker I can’t remember too much about him but it’s always nice to meet the top players. Ushijima really left an impression for that reason as he is known as the very best. In every sport there will always be someone at the very top and it just so happens that Ushijima got that spot this time. He has quite the rivalry with Shoyo as well. The guy seems to take the main character very seriously which in a way is a pretty big complement.
I liked Ushijima, he always had a whole lot of presence to him. When he appeared it was easy to see that he was the best. That’s probably true even by the ending as well so if this was a 1 on 1 sport then things would be tricky. There are a lot of other players and also some new characters who appeared after the time skip but that’s it for a lot of the big ones. It’s a pretty well rounded cast with a whole lot of people to meet. Also, not all of them would go on to stay with volleyball forever which makes sense. So in the time skip we see that a lot of them have moved on to other things and it’s not something you see usually. I thought that was interesting, they can still play but it makes sense that they would have other passions as well.
As you go through the series you really get to know all of the characters and the teams which is why it isn’t as simple as just saying that you’ll root for the main characters all the time. Of course you still might which is totally fair as they are the leads but as you read through the origin stories and character motivations that really could change. For the most part a lot of the teams are likable but of course you’ll find a few that aren’t quite as easy to root for. None of them turn into actual villains or anything as these are still school tournaments and all but not everyone has a tragic backstory. Some are just here to play volleyball and that totally makes sense. If anything there would be something funny about a team like that winning it all.
The series has its share of humor as well which is handled well. The games themselves tend to be deathly serious to the point where characters have to remind the lead to breath (He actually faints at one point because he forgot to even drink water) and so you can see how everyone’s stressed out. As a result they all hang out and relax between games. It’s the only time where they really have any down time so they have to make the most of it. It never get boring or drawn out and works well in getting more character development. It is still very character driven in as much as it’s also super detailed with the sports. That’s why it’s got such a good balance.
Overall, Haikyu is definitely a great manga and I’d recommend it to anyone. There’s really no reason to miss out on it. Whether you like sports or not, you should be able to enjoy this one just on account of the solid writing and plot development. There is always something happening here and the manga does a great job of getting the emotions across. Once you start the manga it’s a real page turner so you don’t want to put it down. I would say that it’s one of the best sports manga titles. I’d put it right after Prince of Tennis and Kuroko’s Basketball as the third best one. That could change once I finish Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk, but either way it’s in very distinguished company. All of those are heavy hitters worthy of the top rank.