If you were going to tell me before I ever got into manga that one of my all-time favourite series would be a sports manga about Volleyball, I would have a hard time believing you. But here we are in 2019, and Haikyu!! is not only that but also one of the very best series being published by industry titan Weekly Shōnen Jump today. So just what is so great about these Volleyball kids anyways, and is their story worth reading for yourself? Read on to find out if Haikyu is worth reading?
The view from the top
Sports manga has been a staple of the Shōnen genre for nearly as long as the genre itself, and with good reason. The concepts of setting ambitious goals for oneself, working together as a team and pushing yourself to your limit and beyond all sync neatly with the sports setting. Likewise, familiar Shōnen story elements such as the Underdog Protagonist, rivalry among peers, and battling in tournament-style competitions are all commonplace in sports fiction.
It’s easy to understand why Sports manga became popular, although even with smash hits like Hajime no Ippo, Slam Dunk and The Prince of Tennis, sports manga as a whole has never really took off in the West, not in the same way battle/action manga has. Although, just sometimes, a series breaks through the cracks and gets the global recognition it deserves. Enter Haikyu!!
Debuting in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 2012 and running steadily in the magazine for the past 7 years, the manga has been continuously popular. Since it’s anime adaptation began in 2014 by fan-favourite animation studio Production IG, that popularity has rocketed to a global scale. One only needs to look back to the recent announcement of the anime’s long-awaited 4th season and the burst of excitement it generated on social media to confirm this. But does it deserve the hype? As far as I’m concerned, it most certainly does, and to help explain why I’m going to break the series down to three core components: Its depiction of the sport of Volleyball itself, its characters and its art.
A game about battling gravity
Any decent Shōnen Battle manga needs a transparent power system, such as the Quirk abilities of My Hero Academia or the Trion energy of World Trigger. The advantage of Sports manga is that this power system is already clearly defined in the structure and rules of the sport itself, but the challenge lies in explaining it to the reader. You might find yourself saying “I’ve never played or watched Volleyball, so why would I read a manga about it?”. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a Superhero or Special Agent in my spare time, and I’m able to enjoy a series that feature them just fine. Why? In both the above cases, their power systems are carefully explained to the reader, leading to greater comprehension and enjoyment when they are utilized. And it’s the very same for Haikyu!!
We are introduced to the complex world of Volleyball through the eyes of our rookie protagonist, Shoyo Hinata. We see a brief glimpse of his athletic potential in the single game of his Middle school Volleyball career. Still, it’s not until he enrols in Karasuno High School and becomes a member of its once-famous volleyball team that we get some real explanation to the roles, moves and definitions behind the sport.
Furudate takes special care not to front-load the technical data on us, gradually introducing the concepts to the reader as they become relevant to Hinata and his position on the team as a Middle Blocker. And Hinata, being the energetic little beam of sunshine that he is, is eager to learn all the techniques he can to become a better player. So as we become more invested in his character, and the characters that surround him, we also become more knowledgeable in the sport itself. No matter what level of Volleyball knowledge you enter this series in, soon enough you’ll find yourself spotting the difference between a Dink and a Dump. If only so you can get just as excited as the team does whatever they can manage to pull one off in a match. And therein lies the second secret to Haikyu!!’s success: the characters themselves.
You can’t win a volleyball match by yourself
Of course, all this knowledge about Volleyball would be pointless if we didn’t care about the guys playing it in the first place, or even those cheering them on off the court. Thankfully, Furudate had managed to succeed in what was once thought scientifically impossible, and create a cast of characters that are almost all immediately likeable. And I’m not just talking about the Karasuno Volleyball team here. Nearly every character we’ve come across in the 300+ chapters so far have been endearing in some capacity, and the ones that aren’t usually finding a way to redeem themselves. It’s the depth of these characters that is the key to their greatness.
Just like Hinata, each member of Karasuno is on their own journey of growth, with unique triumphs and defeats along the way. Furudate introduces new characters to the reader at a slow and steady pace, allowing us to gradually warm to their personalities and eventually grow attached to them. And as corny as it may seem, as you watch them in their struggles and their victories, you feel like you’re evolving alongside them.
Volleyball is a team sport where everyone on the court has as important a role as the next when it comes to scoring the next point, and every point counts. So as you find yourself invested in the progress of every team member on the court, suddenly the game becomes a lot more exciting. You’re not just rooting for Karasuno to win the next point at the end of the rally. You’re rooting for Ace Azumane to smash it over the triple block. For Pinch Server Yamaguchi to pull off that jump float serve he’s practised so long on. And Libero Nishinoya to make that impossible save and keep the ball alive. Furudate puts in the work with these characters both on and off the court. Making both the game time and the time spent away from the net just as thrilling to read.
It’s the passion on display here that makes it all worthwhile. Furudate clearly cares about Volleyball quite a bit, injecting a little bit of that passion in each and every character in this series. And this extends beyond just the team of Karasuno themselves, as the series boasts an excellent roster of rival teams for the Karasuno “Crows” to challenge on the court.
As Karasuno is the kind of team that’s constantly adapting and improving itself, they have no set-in-stone playstyle, so it’s with the rival teams that Furudate is able to explore different approaches to the game. Such as Nekoma, the defence experts, Fukurodani, with their focus on National-level ace Bokuto. And my personal favourite, Date Tech, who pride themselves on a blocking technique so strong they’re nicknamed “The Iron Wall” (resulting in some of the coolest visual metaphors I’ve ever seen in manga.). And you better believe Furudate has created some compelling characters for these rival teams too. When reading Haikyu you’ll find yourself in a constant state of uncertainty with just who you want to win, because every well-written character deserves their own victory. If that’s not a testament to strong character writing in a sports series, I don’t know what is.
Full speed ahead
The final piece of the puzzle is the art of Haikyu. While the art of any manga is an essential factor to its success, for this series it’s especially important. Why’s that? The answer, once again, comes back to Volleyball. Ever watch a Volleyball match live/on TV/seen a few clips on Youtube? The game is FAST. Even the longer rallies move at a blistering speed, as both teams grow more and more desperate to win the point. So if you wanted to convey the sport as accurately as possible, you would need an art style that flowed just as fast, while still allowing the action to be easily decipherable. Luckily for us, Furudate delivers once again.
Right from the beginning of the series, the art has always excelled in showcasing the speed and power of the game. As well as the force of impact on those receiving the hits. Furudate gives us plenty of reaction panels from both on and off the court, giving the reader a good idea of how each bump and blow really feels. Of course, in the span of seven years, any artist’s style is bound to undergo some inevitable developments, and we’ve seen some significant improvements in Haikyu!!’s style. Check out this spike from Karasuno Ace Azumane, taken from one of the earlier volumes in the series. There is a focus on detail and realism here, and you definitely get a sense for the speed and power behind the hit, but the action is somewhat stiff. Now, comparing that panel to a page from later in the series…
… And immediately we see a dynamic shift in focus for the art. With the serve from Karasuno Wing Spiker Tanaka here, we see much sharper, almost jagged lines conveying the hit. The realistic detail has decreased slightly, but now the action is a lot more fluid in comparison. While previously the art style depicted fast actions well, this improved art, with its pointed lines and sharp angles, is fast in itself. The art has become quick. And seeing how this is the art style that is utilized for some of the biggest and most intense matches of the series, it results in a whole lot of thrilling, fast-paced Volleyball action!
It’s about whether you have it, or you don’t
So, we’ve got a series that expertly portrays the sport it’s based itself on, has compelling characters to make that sport enjoyable to all parties involved, and has a rapid art style for exciting action to boot. And there’s so much more on top of that. I haven’t even mentioned the surprising amount of humour in this series. This goes a long way to making the characters more compelling, or the neat little sketches Furudate provides between chapters, which either help provide added context to a scene or (more frequently) reveals a good punchline out of the material we’ve just seen from the chapter.
There’s a lot more I could talk about, but ultimately it’s all something that you can discover yourself because you’ll notice something as you make your way through Haikyu!!. There’s a moment in this series when it will all click for you. Whether it’s in chapter 3 or chapter 303, there will come a time when all of Furudate’s masterfully crafted components solidify for you, and you become not just a reader, but a fan. That moment will come, and when it does you will realize, just as Ace Bokuto once said to Middle Blocker Tsukishima…
All that’s left is the big question…
Is Haikyu worth reading?
Absolutely, positively, definitely! If I could shout it from the mountains, I would! If you’re a fan of the anime, you owe it to yourself to check out its origin point (an excellent way to get on the hype train for season 4), and if you’re completely new to the series, hopefully, my words have made a compelling case for this fantastic series. The first 3 chapters are available to try out FOR FREE in the Shonen Jump section of the Viz Media website, and if you’re a Shonen Jump member you can access all 35 volumes worth of currently released chapters, as well at the latest chapters week to week. The series is now in the middle of its final arc, so there’s no better time to catch up before the big finale! Join in on the Volleyball fun, and fly high with the rest of us!