I never watched anime growing up. Even when living in a partially Japanese household where I was taught Japanese as a child and where the language was always spoken, I was not allowed to watch it, even for comprehension. But luckily, most of my childhood friends were huge anime fans and they always encouraged me to watch it when I reached the age that my parents started encouraging me to explore different media. I was an active kid, played four sports, two of them being some form of volleyball, and I watched about every other sport that I didn’t play. I was not interested in anything but sports and so I never listened to any of my friends’ suggestions. But finally, my friend Andrianna told me about this one show I would like called Haikyuu!!
“It’s about volleyball, you’d love it,” she insisted in our freshman year of high school, so I started the first season. Honestly, I thought it was ridiculous. The main character was not realistic (what 5’4’’ 16-year-old has a vert higher than a 6’2’’ giant), they dragged games on for multiple episodes and everything was so dramatic. But I couldn’t stop watching it. I finished all 25 episodes in a matter of days. I fell in love with the Crows of the Karasuno High School Volleyball Club. I laughed at the dramatics and cried at the tragedies. I was hooked and I reported back to Andrianna that I had loved it.
And then I forgot about it.
For six years.
That was until three weeks ago when I saw a TikTok about the final season coming out at the beginning of October. So, I decided to go crazy; I would watch the entire series from the beginning (now four seasons long) and finish the entire manga (402 chapters) before the new season came out, and then watch the finale as it came out. And I started the first season (again) and I thought it was ridiculous (again) and I got hooked (again) and I fell in love with the story (again).
Though for the first time, I met the boys of Nekoma and Fukurodani and Shiratorizawa, I read my first manga and I was introduced to a whole world of volleyball I never knew. See, in those six years, I stopped playing volleyball competitively and started watching it as much as possible. I became an avid fan of teams around the world at both the national and club levels. Volleyball has been my favorite sport since before I ever even knew how to play — watching my mom play at the YMCA or at pick-up tournaments at the beach. It is poetry in motion and makes all other sports seem brutish in comparison.
But I always saw it through the American lens. In the US, we play a game of height, speed and strength. That’s not the case in Japan. They don’t often have the physical attributes to stand toe to toe with teams who have height and build, so they perfected the technical game. Hinata Shoyo taught me about decoys, Tendou Satori taught me about read blocking and Miya Atsumu taught me about observational setting. And I expected that. I expected to learn about a game I forgot how to play. What I did not expect were the old phrases I remember my mom and grandmother teaching me, the foods I used to eat when I was younger, the customs my mom had picked up from her time in Nagoya and all the memories from my childhood that followed.
Haikyuu introduced me to a whole culture I never thought I belonged in, where animated characters teach you how to fight and get back up, to never surrender to those thoughts of despair, to take care of your body and mind. To rely on those around you, because much like how volleyball is a game that requires six people, one cannot go through life by themselves. I now have started several other animes and have made friends with others who like the same shows as me. During this pandemic, I have been going through it, not hopeful for the ending that seems to be nowhere in sight, but strangely enough, a little boy with hair like the sun invited me to stretch my wings and return to the skies.