Director: Susuma Mitsunaka
Studio: Production I.G.
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
To be clear, I am not a fan of sports. I understand the appeal, having played them as a kid and watching the occasional local game in high school, but I can’t put myself into them fully. I think it is because professional sports rely on large casts of people and abstract stakes that I can’t invest myself in. Despite this, I have found myself as an avid fan of Haikyuu, the Shonen Jump volleyball title that caught me by surprise. It seems that mangaka Haruichi Furudate was aware that many weebs have a hard time getting into sports, and decided to remedy that by adding the winning shonen formula and a large cast of characters you have to struggle not to care about.
I’ve been told that Haikyuu has turned me into the stereotypical dad shouting at the TV at each thrilling moment and turn of the game, so keep in mind that I am writing this while struggling not to turn into my father. Still, there’s a lot to dig into with Haikyuu, so I’ll aim to balance this as a review of the series as a whole, along with the new season has to offer.
When addressing Haikyuu!! To The Top, the most immediate difference is that they have changed the art style from the previous three seasons. Production I.G. has opted for softer line art on their characters, with fewer details and a generally brighter color palette. The decision was controversial, as Haikyuu’s art style was distinctive and endearing, especially with the way it naturally lent itself to the sketchy bursts of movement that characterized the manga. However, it is an understandable move; fewer details saves time and money on animation, and it makes the dynamic leaps and spikes easier on the animators.
I am always going to be glad when studios and creative heads decide to make production easier on the animators. The work in creating the simplest anime is already tremendous, and one such as Haikyuu is likely not sustainable for the adaptation of a 400 chapter manga. Besides, recent hits like Mob Psycho 100 and Devilman Crybaby demonstrate that sacrificing total fidelity to the arbitrary ‘anime aesthetic’ isn’t necessary to create great art, and can even enhance it with wild and erratic action.
But I am not done with the rest of Haikyuu, and I have to say…it’s really good. I’m certain you can already tell that I appreciate the animation, and the blindingly quick pacing of the games leaves viewers breathless. However, the place where Haikyuu shines the brightest is in its characters, whether it’s the starting lineup at Kurasuno High School or the dozen other schools that play as the rivals. Every team, from the Iron Wall of Date Tech to the fearsome Shiratorizawa has strong personalities, unique strategies and formations, and chemistry between teammates. That’s vital, for the simple fact that most people don’t care about volleyball.
Shonen anime usually runs with the highest stakes imaginable, where Japan, the world, or the entire universe rests of the back of the protagonists, but Haikyuu is just volleyball, high school at that. The stakes in Haikyuu are only high for the players and the people around them, unless the author can successfully sway their audience to care about the players, and thus care about the outcome of the game as dearly as Hinata or anyone else on the court. Giving every character even simple motivations raises the tension to boiling, and it informs their play styles, and how they interact with the other players. Small character moments like Kageyama learning to communicate more effectively or Tsukkishima realizing he caught feelings for volleyball hit hard because the series goes the extra mile to make you empathize with each person who steps into the game.
And, at this point, I want to address how difficult it is to review individual seasons of Haikyuu. I assure you that To The Top Season 2 has met every standard of quality that the seasons before it have, but there are rarely big shakeups in between seasons. This isn’t like Attack on Titan where each season can mark a difference in focus, or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and its individual parts. The reason for that is that Haikyuu is meant to be consumed continually, and as such, really doesn’t benefit from the weekly release structure of manga and anime. I don’t advocate for binging media, but watching the first three seasons of Haikyuu back to back in preparation for To The Top was one of the best experiences I’ve had in anime.
So, To The Top Season 2 does not have many differences between past seasons, but it does have its own merits. The new rivals who take center stage, Inarizaki High School, have the same level of individuality and unique talent as previous schools. I particularly like the dynamic that the Miya brothers possess, where they do not excel because they get along especially well, but there is a synchronization between knowing someone as well as you know yourself. This introduces a strategy where they are able to communicate with few to no words, and yet a flaw where they butt heads as siblings so often will.
The most recent episode featuring Nekoma High, focusing on the volleyball journey of their setter Kenma, was a highlight and break from the breathless pace of the ongoing match between Kurasuno and Inarizaki. The idea that Hinata has a equal but opposite player on Kurasuno’s greatest rival is an intriguing concept that I’d love to see them explore more.
I understand this review hasn’t covered as much of To The Top Season 2 as I’d have liked, but the best review I can give is that it is more of Haikyuu, and that is glowing. My opinion of this season, as of the others, is that it’s good, more often it is great, and it has my firm recommendation.