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The best decoy ever

Is this the era of the sports anime? Without doing the research, it really feels like it, more so than at any other point in recent history, and what’s more, most of it’s really quite good! I’ve already written about Ping Pong the Animation, but in short, I love(d) it. Then again, I always knew I would, but Haikyuu!! was a different case. In the past year alone, I’ve watched Ping Pong the Animation, Hajime no Ippo: Rising, Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball (both seasons,) so you could say that I’m primed for a sports anime burn out. I keep waiting for a show to push me into that abyss and thought that Haikyuu!! would be the one, but spoiler: it wasn’t. Haikyuu!! is really flipping good.

You know it’s the era of sports anime when TV series about table tennis, cycling and volleyball are all being made at the same time. These are hardly the typical fodder for sports drama, right? And yet everything that’s so good about Haikyuu!! is intrinsically linked to it being about volleyball, such an intense and fast team-sport. The keyword there is team. A volleyball team has an ace, but as we find in Haikyuu!!, ‘ace’ is just a word, a trojan, because every player on the team can be the ace.

Case in point, Hinata. Haikyuu!! is a Shounen Jump series and Hinata is the spiky-haired, determined main character. This is his story, so he should be the team’s ace, but he isn’t, mainly because he’s too small. The tall Asahi is the ace and that’s really important because of what it means for the series’ perspective. Everything is less about a team that’s relying on the one hero and more about what a lesser player like Hinata can do to help. It’s okay for him to be an average, fallible person, because superhero or not, we all have a role to play if we’re willing to cast aside our pride.

Haikyuu!!: Asahi

Watching this series I feel like how the sidelined Sugawara must, looking on as these boys pull together for each other. There’s nothing better in sport than seeing a team fulfil its potential, knowing how deep they’ve dug within themselves to get to that point and reach the summit together. Deep down, that’s what we’re all striving for, right? Those moments of clarity, when everything, everyone, just selflessly slots into place, backing each other up. We should all be so lucky as to experience something as exciting. This is why sports are worth playing, and life is worth living, for these unreal, brief moments when you find out what you’re really capable of. They stay with us forever, and Haikyuu!! is filled with them, each one as beautifully animated as the next.

Comments

Kiara says:

Paul, this was amazingly worded (as expected). I loved when you mentioned empathizing with the “sidelined Sugawara” because that is Haikyuu!!’s forte, the efficient and downright heart wrenching way it makes its viewer connect to every single character, no matter how main or sideline they are, in a way I’ve never really experienced with sports anime before.
I can (almost) forgive you for writing about Haikyuu!! before me XD.

bateszi says:

I still hope to read your thoughts on it, Kiara :)

Having re-watched this scene dozens of times since Friday night, Sugawara’s role in it is really interesting. I play a lot of football/soccer and have been a substitute at times and it’s really difficult to support the team when all you want to do is be out there playing. Sugawara’s pure-hearted desire to see the team win, despite himself, shows that he’s a really selfless person and I hope he gets a chance to play at some point because he deserves it.

You’re very right to say what makes this show good is rooted directly in volleyball.

The sequence in ep 17, when they fake out Date Koga with the “pipe” they learned from Nekoma is probably the best sequence in sports ever animated:

It was a broken play, that re-set into the a counterattack that showcased the breadth and depth of he entire team’s talent… from the libero’s dig to the triple decoy. What also sells the scene are the direct conflict between the blocker and the decoy — a human struggle locked eye-to-eye, and then Asahi’s moment with his open view of the other side of the net was also very nice, and finally the montage of excellent reactions from the spectators was also very gratifying.

It’s not only for the sakuga merits too, it’s the payoff for so many narrative investments:

Kageyama investing in Hinata’s ability to appreciate being the decoy for the team;

Ukai’s diversifying the offense;

The team’s getting hammered by Nekoma and their ability to learn from it; and

Sugawara imploring Kageyama and Hinata to “clear a path for the ace.”

I am very much current with the manga, and it only gets better from where the anime is. Credit goes to the anime for truly adding value with its more patient and visually (and aurally) satisfying setups.

An anime that gets less attention is Baby Steps… perhaps deservedly so because the animation can get painfully and obviously cheap — at least the matches are rotoscoped so the action is fluid.

I’ve read the manga as well, and it is brilliant. It is a story of a tennis nerd made by a tennis nerd for tennis nerds.

Between Haikyuu!! and Baby Steps, the legacy of the sublime Slam Dunk! manga (and crude but still lovable) anime lives.

These are the works that truly make me hot-blooded. Adachi’s Touch, and Cross Game are charming stuff, but they don’t work for me as ambassadors of the best action next to fighting robots.

bateszi says:

Yeah, Adachi’s stuff is good but as you say, it’s different. It seems less in love with the sports, which isn’t a criticism, since I love Cross Game too, but it’s a different kind of love to the heart-thumping, hot-bloodedness of stuff like Haikyuu!! (it’s literally hot-blooded in my case, this particular scene gets my heart beating so fast that I begin to perspire, no joke!)

Thanks for the Baby Steps rec. too. I put that and Ace of Diamond to one side for now so that don’t overdose on this stuff. It’s a great time to be a sports anime fan!

And you know what, I’m not sure I could even disagree with you on this being the best sports anime scene *ever*, it’s that good, right up there for me with maybe Ippo’s Dempsey Roll against Sendou.

Lem says:

Rejoice! Sugawara has been given the chance to play as the substitute setter in a match against Aoba Johsai. And he’s great!

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