When it comes to Shounen protagonists, they’re all pretty cookie-cutter. Just take Goku’s personality, come up with a different but distinct design and power set, and you’re pretty much done. Luffy, Naruto, Tanjiro, all of these characters are similar in many ways.
Haikyu!!’s Hinata Shoyo is yet another of these characters. He’s a friendly kid with a passion for volleyball and an intellect on par with a starfish. His skills haven’t surpassed everyone around him by an insane degree and his height has forever made him the underdog, but his ability to grow is something to be marveled at. Take literally every Shounen hero trope, and wham! You’ve got Hinata.
So, why do I make such a bold statement? Why does Hinata Shoyo work so much better than other Shounen protagonists? Well, a lot of it comes down to personal opinion (I know, you’re reading my blog and getting my opinions, how odd). But if I had to pick a reason, it would have to be the story itself.
Haikyu!! is a show about volleyball. It’s not about super-powered aliens or wizards beating the hell out of each other while screaming about the power of friendship. It’s about a bunch of teenagers playing volleyball. The fate of the world isn’t at stake; only the pride of victory and the joy of playing.
Which is exactly why Hinata is such a perfect protagonist.
Shounen heroes are all about building connections with people. Goku, for example, has made tons of friends out of his enemies by beating the hell out of them and by being the friendliest dude alive. Deku’s pure soul and hard work ethic inspire all those around him, making it easy for him to make friends. These heroes are powerful, yes, but they’re also innocent. And it’s that exact innocence that draws people to them.
Volleyball as a sport is built on connections. You need to have at least six people to play, plus another six on the other side of the net. You need to have ties to other teams for practice matches or training camps. Tournaments are all about bringing people together to play and find out who’s the best. The more connections you have, the more possibilities are open to you. You can learn new techniques, play against new people with new styles, so on and so forth.
This brings us back to Hinata. He is pure, innocent, and friendly to a T. Whenever someone does something incredible, he screams in excitement and admiration. Given his childish nature, it’s impossible to confuse it for anything other than honesty. This honest, friendly nature makes him easily approachable and likable.
We see this time and again throughout Haikyu!! over the seasons. Every time Hinata attends a training camp or participates in a match, he makes quick friends with the people on the other side of the net. He quickly connected to everyone on Nekoma, his school’s rival, as well as several experienced players during season two’s training camp. These players would help Hinata, teaching him new techniques, and improving his old ones. His connections help make him stronger.
It even works given the high school setting of the story! Let’s face it, we all know high school drama is bullshit. But when you’re a teenager, it seems like the biggest thing in the world! Your problems, no matter how small, seem earth-shattering!
This is where Hinata’s formulaic personality shines yet again. Being as simple and passionate as he is, Hinata has a unique ability to cut straight through the bullshit. He doesn’t even seem to realize he’s doing it, nor does he seem to care. His mentality is childish and simple, but it’s enough to help people through their problems.
We see this very strongly when Yachi is introduced in season two. Initially, she agreed to a trial membership as a volleyball manager basically on accident. But as the story progressed, she found herself more interested and determined to join and help the team. However, a scathing line from her mother planted a seed of doubt in her mind, one made worse by her inability to properly confront her about it.
Enter Hinata. He cut straight through the bullshit, so much so that Yachi felt basically stabbed. He then dragged her across town to confront her, encouraging her to face her fears and finally move forward. And, with his help, she does exactly that. With that, she finally properly joins the team as their next manager.
We even see this in regard to Kageyama’s infamous title in season four. When he starts slipping back into his old ways, it’s Hinata who says “Who cares? We’ll just shout back if he goes too far!” He doesn’t care about the negative connotations of the title. He made it work in their favor rather than against it.
This is Hinata’s strength. He draws people together in a series all about people coming together. He has a unique ability to cut straight through the crap, helping the people around him and bringing them together. He is a formulaic shounen hero, yes. But given the tone of the story, he works better than any of his contemporaries!
Although I do love every single one of them to death. Except you, Asta.