US Distributor: Crunchyroll
Production Studio: Production I.G.
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: Anime Planet

Haikyu Concept no Tatakai Key VisualHaikyu!! is a shonen sports anime spanning three seasons, which follows the trials and tribulations of the Karasuno High School volleyball team. More specifically, it traces the team’s evolution from a lovable group of misfits and dreamers. Viewers are taken along for the ride, as they discover the power of teamwork and become a truly unstoppable force on the volleyball court.

Haikyu!! The Battle of Concepts is the final entry into a quartet of compilation movies by Production I.G., which distills the third season of the anime into a 90-minute spectacle. The short run-time allows only the most intense moments from the season to rise to the surface, with particular focus being given to the exciting matches between Shiratorizawa Academy and Karasuno High School.

Before we begin, I’d like to note that Haikyu!! has always placed more emphasis on the players and their styles on the court than the matches themselves. With this in mind, I’ll be placing my focus on character relationships, as they collide with one another in the chaotic maelström that is high school basketball.

What is revealed when rival schools clash? Which style reigns supreme? What drama lurks beneath the surface with Karasuno’s players? We’ll get to that in due time. For now, though, it’s best to just sit back, grab your popcorn, and warm up your cheers, as the Battle of Concepts takes the court.

Karasuno and Shiratorizawa’s teams couldn’t be more different. Karasuno has few strong players, but ultimately relies on coördinated team attacks to win games. Meanwhile, Shiratorizawa focuses completely on refining already strong players into volleyball machines. With top high school players from all over Japan, this teaching style would make sense. Shiratorizawa is a powerhouse school for volleyball, and sees Karasuno as a mere pebble on its road to nationals

Something odd happens just before their finals match with Karasuno, though. Ushijima Wakatoshi, Shiratorizawa’s ace player, decides to let two players from Karasuno, Hinata Shōyō and Kageyama Tobio, follow him to practice. Ushijima knew of their ability and skill, but bullies the players about other schools, referring to them as an “infertile ground for learning.” Suddenly, a volleyball flies from the gym. Hinata rushes forward and snaps it from the air.

Something is wrong; what’s with that odd look in his eyes? Just then, Hinata declares “I’m Hinata Shōyō, and I sprouted from the concrete!” It’s with this statement, that the simmering war between the two schools has officially been declared.

Flash forward, to two teams meeting on the field of battle. Once again, our dynamic duo must face down Ushijima.

This time, though, he’s not alone. Many strong players have Ushijima’s back.. Hinata and Kageyama’s only chance for victory is to continuously play to their strengths, and make use of team attacks as they beat Shiratorizawa into submission. Anything less than that would mean certain doom.

This is where Haikyu!! makes its magic happen. As the game progresses, the film changes focus, and becomes more about what’s going on in the players heads, rather than the battle itself. Characters’ pasts and training unfurl in front of the viewers, as the face of adversity rears its ugly head.

Let’s start with the monster, left-handed ace Ushijima, since most of the pressure on Karasuno comes from this one player. While he’s confident in his prowess and his team, something about Hinata and Kageyama leaves Ushijima unsettled. He never states it outright, but one has to wonder… does he feel jealous of them? Certainly, there must be an intense pressure weighing down on him, as he’s the single most powerful player in Shiratorizawa.

Then, there are the characters who’ve had two seasons to blossom into their love of volleyball. I’m talking about Tsukishima Kei who, through two seasons of the anime, has had low self confidence and went with the flow as he sunk into a pit of malaise and failed to put his full effort into the game. When the chips were down, though, a flashback to his past training camp with Bokuto resurfaced.

This is moment finally breaks through bringing out his full potential and further enhances his rational coolheadedness. He’s hungry. He wants to win, and is driven to able to block Ushijima, whose spikes nearly topple him. This all comes to a head when he drops a proverbial bomb on Ushijima, saying “Hi. I’m the normal guy. Time difference attacks may have fooled our wild beast over there, but it doesn’t work for me. Nice to meet you.”

The moment is brilliantly executed, and serves as a true testament to how much care and planning the team puts into the cast.

That’s to say nothing of Nishinoya Yū, who’s driven to his own breaking point against Ushijima. He’s forced to push beyond his own limitations, and to expect the very same out of his team.

And, really, that’s what makes Haikyu!! work. While Hinata and Kageyama’s fight against Ushijima is takes the center-stage, it’s far from the only story that matters.

The experience is tied together by a keen focus on visuals, from beautifully executed long shots to memorable player reactions, to the literal valleys that open up on the court to show how hopeless players feel. The stunning scenes that show off Ushijima’s power convey the overwhelming might that Karasuno’s team faces. To them, he’s a massive giant, who controls and shoulders the burden of an entire team. Their need to train, to overcome this one player is made apparent to all but the most out-of-touch of viewers.

Haikyu!! Battle of Concepts is a strong film, built on the foundation of an already great show. It wouldn’t have nearly the same impact as a standalone piece, as it’s the culmination of two seasons of an already riveting anime that make this such a joy to watch. If you want to watch the best arc all over again, then eagerly start counting the days until season four, I can think of no better way to do so than with Battle of Concepts.