At first glance, Haikyuu!! seems like a regular sports shonen manga, following a group of teenage boys striving for their dream and a protagonist overcoming the impossible through teamwork and effort. While it is about that, the message behind the manga goes beyond just sports. Haikyuu!! is about teamwork, friendship and what pushing beyond your limits look like — themes that can be applied to life as well.
Although the manga has ended, the messages that the teams, coaches and players have left behind will stay remembered. All who watched, read and loved Haikyuu!! will continue to carry them for the rest of their lives. Here are some of the themes that resonated in the anime/manga.
Volleyball is a sport where you can only touch the ball for a few seconds. As soon as it hits the ground, the game is over. That’s why it’s been drilled from the very beginning how important it is to touch the ball — to connect even if the receive is bad or you can’t get it to the setter to score a point. Just the fact that the ball is still in play gives the teams hope and morale is extremely important in a game.
In fact, Nekoma High School’s team banner says “Connect” and they’re often the more frustrating team to play against. They’re not particularly strong compared to Karasuno’s offensive style, but just like cats, they’re agile and won’t let the ball hit the floor no matter what. If the ball is still in play, that means there’s still a chance.
Connection is about relying on your teammates and trusting them such as the liberos who always manage to do the impossible digs or how Hinata used to close his eyes and jump, believing wholeheartedly that Kageyama will be able to send the ball his way. Throughout the players’ lives, they’ve also made connections, whether it’s through their teachers, coaches, friends, teammates or even opponents.
Even after the team split, those bonds still remain because these people were brought together through a common passion and goal. There comes a point when those bonds that were created because of volleyball transcend beyond the court.
Use Defeat As Strength
One of the last lines recorded by the late Tanaka Kazunari, the seiyuu for Coach Ukai, was in the third season at Shiratorizawa’s match point and it looked like Karasuno was going to lose: “Volleyball is a sport where you’re always looking up!” Literally speaking, you have to constantly keep looking up to track where the ball is flying to in order to know how to respond to it but metaphorically, Coach Ukai was telling his team that they can’t start beating themselves up when they lose a point or if they suddenly find themselves at the other team’s match point. When things look bleak, it’s all the more important to keep looking forward and ahead.
Despite Takeda-sensei having never played volleyball, he recognizes and empathizes with the team’s disappointment when they lose. He sees how hard they work in every practice session and in every match and he knows how much winning means to them. He tells them that defeat is a recognition of their current strength and is not proof of weakness. What will you learn from this defeat and how can you use this loss to get stronger?
There is no guarantee that you will ever win: Aoba Johsai and Shiratorizawa were known to be two of the strongest schools in the prefecture and yet they lost to Karasuno. There will aways be someone stronger than you: No team is invincible but all of these teams have used their loss as strength such as Karasuno creating a new offence strategy, Tsukishima improving his blocking and Hinata and Kageyama developing a new quick in Season 2. Although Karasuno loses in the Nationals arc, it doesn’t end with despair — it ends with a question: “Today you are the defeated, which will you be tomorrow?”
The Limit Does Not Exist
Karasuno was virtually an unknown team coming into the Interhigh prelims and nationals and nobody believed they would be able to win against champion schools and yet they did. Everyone doubted Hinata could score points because of his height and yet he proved them wrong. This is further exemplified by Coach Ukai telling Hinata while he’s in bed with the fever, that “it isn’t about overcoming your limits, it’s about raising them,” essentially telling Hinata to aim higher, go further and get stronger.
Oikawa and Hinata are two characters often faced with the challenge of pushing beyond their limits: Hinata and his physique and Oikawa and his fear of Kageyama’s genius setting. However, neither of them gave up when faced with those obstacles — they surpassed them, reaching for their dreams and goals regardless of what stood in their way. Only the strong remain on the court and only those raise the limits can become strong.
Coach Ukai Sr. remarks that humans have no “wings” so they search for a way to fly. Karasuno has always been symbolized with imagery of crows and flight and were called the fallen champions which is a blessing in disguise. Their slogan “Fly” means Karasuno has the freedom to find a myriad of ways to fight and go for the impossible.
At the summer training camp, they watch their opponents, take their techniques and hone them as their own. As crows, they’re omnivores: consuming anything and everything that will help them become stronger and is highlighted by Hinata saying during the nationals arc that “being good means being free.”
Volleyball is a sport where height is highly valued. After seeing the Little Giant play, Hinata’s height has never really been a huge deterrent for him to not play volleyball. It only means he has to find another way to fight like using his stamina and agility to run faster, to jump higher so he can see beyond the wall that are the blockers. “Fly” means striving for the impossible.
Volleyball Is Fun
Although much of Haikyuu!! is tournament-focused and is concentrated on Karasuno training, winning or losing, that has never been the core theme. In the last chapter, it’s not revealed who won the Olympics match or what happened in the match between Hinata and Kageyama, because it was never about winning — it was always about playing the sport. For Hinata and Kageyama, being able to play was all they ever wanted.
Even when things get hard, players like Hinata and Oikawa think back to what got them to play in the first place. For Hinata, it was the Little Giant, and for Oikawa, he had already started playing at a young age but it wasn’t until he saw Jose Blanco that he wanted to be a setter. They never forget their roots of why they play volleyball in the first place: it’s because they love it and it’s fun.