Haikyu!! Manga: End of an Era

Why is it that I always catch up to shows and their manga right as they’re about to end? Am I legit the last person to hop onto bandwagons? I’m honestly scared to read any more of One Piece, lest that one finally ends too!

Ah, who am I kidding? One Piece ain’t ever ending. Oda could fucking die and the dude would just crawl right back out and draw more.

Not even twelve hours after I wrote that joke.

Getting back on topic: Haikyu!! has quickly become one of my all-time favorite Shounen series. I binged the anime in less than a month, just in time for season four (why must I wait until October for it to return with one of the sickest matches in the whole series?), but even that left me wanting. So, I did the only other thing I could: I went to the manga.

And I finished that in a month, too. Again: just in time for it to end. God damn it universe, why do you insist on hurting me this way?!

A quick summary for those who haven’t seen/read it and have missed my review of the anime. Haikyu!! stars Hinata Shoyo, an energetic young boy with an almost unhealthy obsession with volleyball (or is it healthy, cause he gets lots of exercise and eats well?). After his middle school team gets stomped in their only official game, Hinata declares to their star setter, King of the Court Tobio Kageyama, that he will one day defeat him. A promise he would’ve made good on, had they not ended up on the same team at the same high school. Now, the two must put their unique talents together to boost Karasuno High back to the dizzying heights it had once reached so long ago. And play a shit ton of volleyball.

That’s probably my favorite thing about Haikyu!! Ultimately, it isn’t about who wins and who loses. The stakes are never higher than ‘team really wants to win and go to nationals’. It’s not a story of characters struggling to overcome some great evil and save the day. It’s about a bunch of high school kids playing volleyball, trying to get better so they can keep playing. Their only real reason: because it’s fun.

That’s what Haikyu!! set out to be. A story that could show you how fun volleyball is. And you know what? It succeeded! Each time I read a chapter, I felt a strange desire to go out and play! To practice serving or receiving or to see if there’s a volleyball community anywhere near me! I just wanted to play!

And this is coming from the guy that actively tried to get out of gym class in high school. Although, back in middle school, my serves did keep my team on the winning court in volleyball… No, I’m not making that up. As much as it sounds like I am.

Now, while Haikyu!! ultimately set out with a simple goal, it only succeeded half as well as it did because of the characters. The cast of this series is huge, as most Shounen are; however, unlike its contemporaries, everyone in Haikyu!! has at least a little depth to them. Be it through little dialogue moments or the character cards at the end of certain chapters (I love those to death, by the way; the ‘current worry’ thing is wonderful) or just what they do, everyone feels like a real person rather than a cardboard enemy for our heroes to defeat.

It also gives the whole story a bitter-sweet taste to it, as well as a sense of tension. Sure, you want our heroes to succeed! But you know just enough about the other guys that, yeah, they might win! And when they don’t, you feel this odd sense of sorrow. You don’t want to see these other guys lose. But you also don’t want to see Karasuno take the L. But volleyball is still a game; someone’s gotta lose.

Unfortunately, after the time skip, there’s a bit of a problem. Literally everyone gets an updated design, some of which are dramatically different from their previous one. This leads to plenty of “Uh, who was that again?” moments when reading the manga. It throws all these dudes at you, often multiple at a time. There were several moments where I had to stop reading and go through every character in my mind to put the faces together. Hell, I even struggled to recognize the other main characters! It throws so many at you so quickly! It takes me out of the story so damn quickly!

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the art! Now, before you get up and arms, let me clarify: the artwork in this manga is really good! Each character is super well designed and drawn. Each action is easy to read. Every panel flows into the next super well, making it very easy to read.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always visually interesting. There are plenty of moments where a character explains what the players on the court just did so the laymen (that’s me) can understand the rules and strategies a little better. This, while necessary, does get pretty draining at times, as you’ll have to sit through paragraphs upon paragraphs of these explanations. This is definitely somewhere the anime excels over the manga, as they often employ more animated interesting visuals to go along with these exposition dumps, as compared to the tiny drawings hidden beneath the text that we get in the manga.

Also, for some reason, they started layering the text beneath the drawings in the later chapters! This makes some of the text really difficult to read! For example, there’s a scene later on where two girls are gawking at Hinata’s decoy skills; overhearing this, the former Karasuno third-years thank them for their praise, silently stating that they’re very proud of their greatest decoy. This is a nice exchange and pretty funny to boot. But why are the three dudes imposed over their line? How am I supposed to read something when three tall-ass college students are blocking the view?!

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. There are some moments where the background is erased in a smear to make it easier to tell which character to watch and where the ball is. Sometimes, it isn’t so bad. But other times, the background all but disappears.

This is annoying for a few reasons. One: it’s very obvious that the backgrounds were erased in post digitally; I’ve fucked around enough in Photoshop to be able to sniff these things out. Two: these backgrounds are really nice! And three: why not just dim the background and brighten the foreground, making it easier to see without sacrificing visual fidelity? Why waste all the effort spent on drawing those amazing settings?

Alright, let’s get back to the story. While I do love the final arc, it does have a bit of a pacing problem in the middle-third. The first third is fantastic, completely catching me off-guard with a fun little twist in Hinata’s story. The final third is just as great, wrapping up the story in a neat, satisfying, and emotional package.

The second-third, however, starts off super rushed. The story goes into ‘fuck it, go’ mode, rushing to get Hinata and Kageyama onto the court to play each other. There’s no setup, no buildup beyond what we got through the rest of the series. It’s just “BOOM, time for the rematch!” While that is exciting, it would’ve been nice to see how they ended up there in the first place.

No complaints about the match, though. That shit is hype as fuck! And that ending is just… *chef’s kiss* perfect!

While I do have my fair share of complaints about the manga, I don’t have a single regret about reading it. It’s a great read, easily one of my favorite Shounen reads yet! However, I hesitate in recommending reading it, especially if you’re caught up on the anime. If you really love Haikyu!!, then give it a read. But if you just want to wait for the show, I can’t blame you.

Just know this: you’re in for a wild ride!

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