It is not controversial to call Haikyu!! a smash hit. I’ve always known about Haikyu!! Peripherally from just being online and into anime, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally gave the series a try. My partner loves the series and after glancing at their screen as they make their way through the manga and repeatedly replying “Yeah, I’ll try it sometime,” to their regular insistence that I read it, I opened up the Shonen Jump app and started Chapter 1.
Furudate excels at characterization and from the start, I immediately got a feel for each character’s voice and personality. One of my favorite characters is Karasuno High’s ace player, Azumane Asahi. Whenever I’d glance at my partner’s screen before starting the series, I would make jokes about the 40-year-old playing with high schoolers, so imagine my amusement when I found all the jokes in the text itself around Asahi looking like he was held back five times when he’s only 17. I love that though he looks the oldest, he’s by far the shyest and most outwardly self-conscious member of the team.
His early arc of overcoming his fear of being shut out by Date Tech’s “iron wall” of blockers is very compelling and does a lot of work in making him one of my favorite characters. This arc reaches a kind of climax in Chapter 44 when he finally breaks through in Karasuno’s game against Date Tech during the interhigh preliminary tournament. It’s in the following four pages of that chapter where the series really clicked for me and exemplifies how well Furudate blends exciting volleyball playing with moving character development.
These first two pages present an exciting twist in the match against Date Tech. In the first page, middle blocker Hinata calls out to Kageyama, the team’s setting prodigy, in a fashion typical of the series up to this point. As a reader, you expect they’re setting up a “freak quick,” a deadly fast move they’ve executed several times to land a point before the other team has time to realize what happened. However, turning the page and seeing Asashi leaping through the air made me gasp. Hinata bows his head, allowing Asahi a chance to spike the ball over Hinata’s body; a technique known as “pipe.” Note the banner Furudate frames in the background. The series returns to the idea of flight often, usually in reference to Hinata’s jumping ability and the players “flying” high enough to spike the ball over the blockers’ defense. Framing the banner as Asahi rises up from out of nowhere reminds the reader that Hinata isn’t the only one who can fly.
In the third page, Furudate uses screen tones to visualize a metaphor Hinata alludes to in flashback in the bottom row of panels. He describes the wall of blockers opening up like a curtain, which Fururdate represents with a cone of light appearing to grow and shine on Asahi like a spotlight bursting through an opening curtain on a stage to illuminate the star of the show.
We turn the page and Furudate inverts the imagery. That spotlight shining through an opening curtain has narrowed into a focused beam of power. From the bottom of the previous page, the reader’s eye trails up Asahi’s body, finds his arm partly invisible from the force of his spike and follows the ball’s path back down the page to its destination on the other side of the court.
It makes you want to roar like Coach Ukai in the panels on the left. Not only was this an exciting play that subverted expectations in setting up a quick and revealing a pipe, but seeing such a devastating play come from Asahi who had quit the team and lost his passion for volleyball after being dominated by Date Tech is so satisfying. This blend of action and character development delivered through masterful manga making cemented my love for the series and made me all the more excited to continue my journey through all 400+ chapters of the series.