2014 brought to us something special in both the sports and anime world: a series following a team of misfits who will do whatever it takes to rise to the top of the game. It had heart, soul, inspirational moments that tore at your gut, and just about everything that make a great series memorable. That show was Haikyū!!, which never went for the usual "main team always wins" scenarios, but instead brought us depth and even the feeling of disappointment when losing a big game. It takes guts for a series to showcase the rougher, less polished side of a coin, especially for a program that seemed like it would want to entice its fans to give the sport of volleyball a try.
If Season One was seeing Hinata, Kageyama, and the rest of Karasuno High's volleyball team being pushed down for the count, Season Two is where the team stands up and learns from their errors. How they do it, though, is what makes Haikyū!! such a special series.
Season Two starts up with seeing Karasuno High knee deep into practicing. Still feeling the affects of their loss at Interhigh, the volleyball team pulls out all the stops and pushes themselves to the limits of both their physical and mental capabilities. Upon arriving at the training camp at Tokyo Hinata, Kageyama, and the rest of the team get the chance to try their hand at competing with other school teams without anything on the line. It is here where the players will find their strengths and weaknesses, and as more losses than wins are tossed their way Karasuno soon realize that their competition is more than what they bargained for.
What makes Season Two of Haikyū!! stand out more here than in the previous season is how the spotlight is shone on all the players, not just Hinata and Kageyama. Although our two main focuses have their moments -- especially when it comes to them evolving their Quick technique -- it's seeing how the rest of their team works their way from being chumps to champs. One of the best moments involves Tsukishima (Kōki Uchiyama), who unlike the rest of the team doesn't put as much effort to practice as the others. His reason is fairly understandable, as Tsukishima had experienced disappointment within his family. However it's when the team metaphorically slaps some sense into him when we see both his sense of purpose and his teamwork mentality wake up.
It's moments like this that showcase the strengths in both the writing and the voice acting performances, blending in a sense of raw emotion that a lot of anime seems to be lacking these days. You can practically feel what these characters are going through as you witness it happen onscreen. Production I.G did a phenomenal job with capturing the energy, the atmosphere, and the movement of a volleyball game practically to perfection in the first season, and yet they have seemed to have topped themselves once again with what they've been able to present here in the second season.
New to the second season is a bright -- albeit somewhat clueless -- new manager in the form of Hitoka Yachi. At first she's reluctant to take the task, as she doesn't have the slightest clue about how the world of volleyball works. It's when she sees how well she meshes with the teammates and how quickly she learns how the game works when she realizes that a sense of belonging overtakes the doubts that once clouded her mind. Voiced by Sumire Morohoshi (Tokyo Ghoul, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU), Yachi brings another level of humor and down-to-earth sensibility that is both entertaining and relatable.
Once again a big part of the presentation of Haikyū!! is how the actual matches are brought to life. Thanks to the direction of Susunma Mitsunaka and the series's sound director Hiromi Kikuta not only do the matches look intense, but also sound just as real as any actual volleyball game out there. Even though this is an anime, I found myself many times taken aback by how much realism was put into the match sequences. How a ball is spiked, the squeaking of a sneaker on a gymnasium floor, and even the power of a cheering squad in the background is captured here with so much heart and dedication. Most importantly it gets you to care about a sport that most people just see as mere beach party fodder.
Japanese rockers SPYAIR have been drafted once again to perform the first opening theme song, with "I'm A Believer" tearing through the speakers as the Karasuno High team runs, bats, and leaps to the greatest of heights. It's heart-pounding and uplifting, the perfect song to help bring a team towards a victory. Galileo Galilei's closer "Climber" doesn't stop the action from continuing as you see Hinata and the rest of his teammates running their lungs out, to the point where the small spiker just speeds past his fellow schoolmates. Again, another fine example of a song that captures the spirit of the show with the mightiest of guitar riffs and the loudest bang of the drum.
Haikyū!! is not your typical sports anime; hell, it isn't your typical sports show. It has it all: Hope, fear, victory, defeat, pride, despair, and a good dose of reality checks to pass around to all who think that sports shows are only about winning. For an anime about volleyball to make a mockery out of any football or soccer series with the ease that it does, it deserves a lot more credit than what gets dished out. Season One may have set the stage for everyone, but Season Two is where the real players hit the ground running. Trust me: you'll be labeled a fool if you don't jump into Haikyū!!
Final Grade (not an average):