Lately, I’ve been into sports manga again. My love for them started with Slam Dunk, which I read back in 2001 (in Malay; my first time reading it in Japanese would be in 2007). Even now I tell people that it’s Slam Dunk‘s fault that I read so much manga in the first place; I kept looking for that same high of reading it for the first time. I’ve read many amazing works along the way, but it’s never the same, not just because Slam Dunk was the FIRST, but also because I hadn’t found a sports series that came close. Works in other genre, sure – even Hikaru no Go, which does follow the sports manga formula, I suppose. But I didn’t quite like Dear Boys, or I’ll, or the other basketball manga I tried.
I enjoyed The Prince of Tennis a lot, but that, too, was a different kind of enjoyment. This year, somehow, things are changing. I finally cracked and started following the Kuroko no Basket anime, and I quite liked it, even if it’s no Slam Dunk. Wei Teck, a colleague whose impeccable taste in drama series, anime and manga had led me to a lot of my favourites, got me hooked on three new series – Yowamushi Pedal (reading and watching), Baby Steps (I’m just watching for now, but may read later), and Haikyu!! (reading and watching).
The series follows Hinata Shouyou, who became passionate about volleyball after watching a high school championship match of TV. In the game, a short player nicknamed the “small giant” seemed to soar higher than his blockers; entranced by the image, Hinata was determined to follow in the Small Giant’s footsteps.
However, his middle school didn’t have a boys volleyball team, and although he managed to gather enough newcomers (and his friends from the soccer and basketball team) to join a tournament in his last year. They suffered a crushing defeat on their first game, fighting against a team led by Kageyama Tobio, a naturally talented setter nicknamed “the King of the Court”. Despite that, Hinata vowed to Kageyama that he’d defeat him one day.From then on I had assumed the manga would go on like a normal sports manga, showing Hinata learning new tricks and evolving to defeat Kageyama. What happened instead was Hinata and Kageyama finding themselves in the same high school, and having to learn to be a team. Not only that, their abilities seem to complement each other so well that they’re used as a pair – these two would grow together, as rivals and teammates.Today, I finished reading the 12th volume of Haikyuu!!. The 13th volume is coming out in October – although I’ve read or skimmed through most of the chapters in JUMP magazine at work, so I’m basically up-to-date with the series, even if I read it slightly off chronological order. I keep finding myself describing it to friends as “like Slam Dunk, or rather what Slam Dunk might have been like if Sakuragi and Rukawa learned to work together early on.” Maybe that’s not quite right, because the team dynamics would be different, but that was the feeling Haikyuu!! gave off at first.
I really loved volumes 8 to 10 especially, because it showed the points of views of teams that lost (the anime episode made me cry a little), as well as Karasuno’s girl’s team (which made me think I’d really love a spin-off manga on them!), and, just lots of really good character development. In fact, this whole series is full of good foreshadowing and character development. I don’t really want to include spoilers, but events in the latter volumes would push the members of Karasuno to think about their strengths and limitations, and learn to do things differently. Seeing how each of their individual growth changes the team, and seeing them evolve as a whole, that was great, too.
I liked the use of names in the series – Hinata (“towards the sun”) and Kageyama (the “kage” in his name means “shadow”), showing how they’re like light and dark (which also describes their personalities); and Hinata (sun) and Tsukishima (the “tsuki” in his name means “moon”) as rivals; and the imagery of Karasuno (the “karasu” in their name means “crow”) as fledgling crow chicks learning to fly. There are also animal motifs with the rival teams and their members. While this is a pretty common trope in manga, I don’t think I’ve appreciated it as much as I did in Haikyuu!!.
I’d go on and on about the things that I like, but the truth is this: if you enjoy sports manga, you would love Haikyuu!!. I’m a sucker for sports manga, and for now, this is one of the best I’ve read.