Season aired: Winter 2020
Number of episodes: 13
Genres: Slice-of-life, Sports
Thoughts: Haikyu!! To the Top is the fourth season and the continuation of the wildly successful Haikyu!! series. After an electrifyingly well written third season, people have wondered how the writing, characters, and the production of the series as a whole was going to keep up. Needless to say, the fourth season continues Karasuno High’s successful streak as all characters receive plenty of growth through their love and passion for volleyball.
In case no one knows what the series is about, Haikyuu!! follows the story of Karasuno, a former powerhouse volleyball team that had lost its reputation. However, with the inclusion of Hinata, an incredibly short volleyball player who was inspired by a star player from Karasuno’s glory days, and Kageyama, a prodigal setter who lost support from his teammates in middle school, Karasuno’s volleyball days begin to turn around as everyone learns to grow as both better players and better people in life.
I actually dislike sports anime, and I don’t care too much about real-life sports either. I’ve tried watching sports anime because I like to try every genre, even if I know I don’t vibe well with it. But in the end, despite the number of sports series I’ve watched, I have always come to the same conclusion that I’m just not the right audience for sports anime.
And yet, I love Haikyu!!, and even after four seasons, I still do. There’s a reason why this series has made such an impact in the anime world and the community as a whole. While sports anime always had a huge focus on the competition, pitting teams against each other, and clearly outlining the protagonists and antagonists, Haikyu!! doesn’t do any of that. Instead, the writing fleshes out every character as a protagonist in their own right and gives them their own character growth.
In the last season, Karasuno won a valiant battle against the powerhouse Shiratorizawa and qualified for the Nationals, making it seem like there was no more room for its characters to grow. In particular, this applied to the first years: Hinata created a unique volleyball move that other teams can’t replicate, Kageyama developed more tact and started to care deeply for his teammates, Tsukishima became more self-motivated to continue volleyball, and Yamaguchi acquired self-confidence. Third years like Daichi, Asahi, and Sugawara also had their moments to shine as they carried their younger teammates to victory. What could the fourth season still offer aside from the actual nationals’ competition?
The answer, it turns out, is a lot.
Because of their victories against a powerhouse school, the audience might feel that Karasuno has already grown as much as it can. Yet, the series returns with an entire thirteen episodes dedicated to Hinata’s further growth. The story quickly reminds us that while Hinata has a unique speed that allows him to compete against taller and stronger opponents, he still lacks polished techniques and sound strategies. To have a better fighting chance against teams even stronger than Shiratorizawa and fully win at the Nationals, Hinata has to step up in his abilities to spike, receive, and strategize to match the rest of the team.
Like many anime protagonists, Hinata is overly eager and spontaneous. To develop him, the writing subjects him to something that fellow gung-ho anime protagonists don’t usually experience: genuine criticism that doesn’t just present itself as bullying.
While Hinata’s peers in other series never really lose their immaturity and continue to win big battles, this fourth season becomes a lesson for Hinata on how his own immaturity and mindless spontaneity can work painfully against him. He learns patience by sitting out of matches and observing fellow players. Fighting doesn’t just take place on the frontlines and contributions can be done from the sidelines as well. This development came as a welcoming surprise to me, especially as someone who had to learn her own lesson to sit back and breathe instead of charging in without logic.
However, all this focus on Hinata’s growth means that most of the Karasuno members get sidelined a bit in this season. Haikyu!!’s strength lies in the fact that all of its characters are likable and have great chemistry, so while this focus on Hinata might not sit well with some fans, I wasn’t bothered by it, even though Hinata is far from my favorite character. This series’ storytelling has always paced itself in a particular way, and this season’s dedication towards Hinata’s growth fits that pacing.
Another thing to note — and one that many fans have noticed — about this fourth season is the change in the art and animation styles. It’s not something I find fault in because the art and animation did not deteriorate in quality — it’s just different. Everything else, however, remains the same: the seiyuus continue to give amazing performances, the soundtrack is absolutely perfect, and the anticipation you feel during each game remains strong.
I’m probably just repeating something said by millions already, but Haikyu!! is a unique series that works even with audiences who don’t like the genre because of its characters and their development. Haikyu!! To the Top maintains those strengths, and I cannot wait for the second cour when it starts airing in July.
Voice acting: 8.5
FINAL SCORE: 85