At 5’4″ tall, Shoyo Hinata may well be the shortest aspiring volleyball star in Japan’s history, but what does height matter when he can fly on the court? Hinata makes up for any shortcomings with sheer pluck, an unparalleled drive to win, and raw athletic talent. Unfortunately, he’s been the only member of the boys’ volleyball club at his middle school since he started it in his first year, and he’s never had anyone to play or even practice with. Three years later, he finally manages to cobble together a team from hopeful first-years and sympathetic friends. But Hinata’s dreams of winning and staying on the court are crushed in his very first game by the opposing team and its arrogant star player, “King of the Court” Tobio Kageyama. Heartbroken but undeterred, Hinata vows to do whatever it takes to defeat him the next time they meet.
The next year, Hinata is elated to join his first real volleyball team after being admitted to his first-choice school, Karasuno High. While Karasuno has fallen from grace in the volleyball world, it is the school where Hinata’s idol and inspiration,“The Little Giant,” achieved stardom, and he can’t imagine going anywhere else. But when he goes to his first high school volleyball practice, he is shocked and horrified to find that Kageyama is also a first-year at Karasuno, and they will be playing for the same team. Now, instead of crushing his rival on the court, Hinata will have to work together with the reluctant Kageyama to restore Karasuno High’s reputation and finally become a star in the game he loves.
Let me be clear: while I don’t hate volleyball, I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan, and I have only the most basic familiarity with the sport from a brief stint playing in my freshman year of high school. So it is from a fairly unbiased perspective that I’m telling you Haikyu!! belongs in most—if not all—library collections serving teens. The series has enjoyed widespread popularity in Japan since its Shonen Jump serialization began in 2012, and after reading the first volume, it was easy to see why. Haikyu!! was a joy to read, and it was completely unputdownable. The story is engaging, the characters are charming, and the pacing is spectacular. When this volume was over, I immediately sought out the next one, and then the next, and then I watched the first volume of the anime (yes, it’s really good, too). While Haikyu!! has few surprises and any lover of sports fiction will recognize familiar beats in the story, Furudate delivers that familiarity in a package that is just so fun that readers will await those beats with eager anticipation. Furudate flawlessly balances comedy and sports action so that one never dominates the other, and readers will always be grinning or sitting on the edge of their seats.
Furudate’s artwork is that rare combination of visually interesting and easy to follow, essential to the success of any action-oriented manga. Each character is visually distinct from the others, and their designs are unique without being too busy, which makes it easy to follow the action even during the most fast-paced sequences. The characters are endearingly flawed, and even initially unlikable characters are revealed to have hidden depths that make readers want to root for them. Aloof, demanding Kageyama is the polar opposite of dopey, enthusiastic Hinata, making him the perfect complement to our indomitable protagonist. And, of course, Hinata is a spiker and Kageyama is a setter, so their skills on the court are complementary, too. The push and pull between their opposing personalities and their need to work together to achieve victory on the court—the one thing that both rivals can agree on—adds both tension and hilarity to the story.
Haikyuu!! is rated T for Teen, and librarians should feel confident recommending this volume to reluctant and seasoned teen readers alike; the story is so widely-appealing that adult manga fans will also enjoy the ride. Likewise, any fan of sports reads or realistic comedy is sure to devour this volume and beg for more.
Haikyu!!, vol. 1
by Haruichi Furudate
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)