After over eight years of serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump, Haruichi Furudate’s Haikyu!! drew to a close last year. Now, with the release of Vol. 45, the series’ English tankobon releases have concluded as well. As a result, print readers will now be able to catch up on these final chapters and reach the same conclusion those of us who read them at release did:
This is a perfect comic. It’s no secret at this point that Haikyu!! has excellent volleyball action, but to make such a claim about this volume would be a massive understatement. Visually, every detail is crafted expertly to lead the reader’s eye across the page while immersing them within the action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Furudate’s page layouts. The use of motion lines to clearly convey shifts in momentum and the ball’s trajectory is flawless, even within the frequent and incredibly detailed two-page spreads. These will sometimes incorporate up to a dozen individual panels at a time without ever suffering from clarity issues or feeling too chaotic. Objects such as the ball or players’ limbs will also cross over the borders of their origin panels, literally leading one’s eye to the next focal point.
The wide variety in how spreads are structured also keeps the action fresh and exciting to follow. Furudate makes very heavy use of diagonal angles and tilted overhead perspectives to successfully convey the positioning of the players and their movements across the court. With twelve active players at any time there’s never a shortage of figures to focus in on, and that’s before you count any shifts to audience members watching from the stands. Furudate subverts this potential for chaos so expertly as to make it appear effortless, when in reality it’s anything but.
Equally important as the zips of fast serves across the court, however, are the moments in which the action shows down to slow motion. A two-page spread of Hinata adjusting his center of gravity for a successful receive is a great example. With every action feeling so critical for each team and each player’s struggle to win, sometimes it pays off to emphasize minute physical details and how the players’ physicality and fluidity of action dictate rallies’ momentum.
There’s also no overstating how crucial the characters’ facial expressions are to the manga’s charm. Furudate is an expert at conveying tone through faces, delivering poignant moments, sheer camp, and everything in-between. The various subtleties of emotion dictated by slight shifts in the angling of mouths or eyes is top-notch. This is where Furudate’s style can get the most over-the-top; there’s a panel where the contortions of Hinata’s face are so extreme that he almost looks like a Devilman, and it’s pure excellence.
Furudate’s visuals are so integral to the storytelling that it feels impossible to discuss the writing as something fully separate. With that said, the dialogue and narration are also of excellent quality. All the major characters playing in the final game get time to shine, with emphasis on their personal histories and philosophies with regards to the sport. This love for volleyball permeates the entire volume, even in moments of loss or struggle. Haikyu!! is a story about struggle, pushing through it, and what one is willing to do to achieve their most desired heights of joy and purpose.
Longtime fans will undoubtedly be pleased with the way this volume wraps the series up and pays homage all the events preceding it. While there are many significant characters playing in the final match there are even more fan-favorites watching from the stands, and Furudate doesn’t forget about them. This is an ending eight years in the making, and a staggering amount of characters get brief but moving final asides, showing how far they’ve come and what volleyball and the relationships forged thorough it mean to them. Furudate pays just the right amount of homage to earlier events in the series, with chapter 400 being a textbook perfect example of how to reuse established symbols as a means of strengthening and commenting on current events instead of just playing for a cheap nostalgia factor.
Haikyu!! Vol. 45 is a perfect comic. It is a love letter to volleyball, to the series, and to its characters. It is expertly aware of what all has transpired up to this point but is not constrained by this; rather, memories of the past catapult the characters toward their futures. Artistically, Furudate’s work is that of a creator not only at the height of their skill but at the height of their genre and entire medium. This is comics as an art form taken to its highest heights, executed with such ungodly skill and precision that to read it is to be reminded of why one loves comics in the first place.
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