The main Haikyuu theme starts with squeaking — shoes sliding against the gym floor, a noise so specific to its source that it was never a problem hearing it and being thrown back to gym class. I know, after a few seconds of just this, that it will be joined by the sound of dribbled volleyballs. Then, if you strain to listen, a little bit of chatter. I know where the song starts to pick up, where the strings come in, where everything else is silenced to let those strings take centre stage.
I discovered last week that I know all of this intrinsically. It’s in my bones.
Yes, this is another post where I rant for a solid couple thousand words about some animated thing that I should not feel so much for, considering I am a university student barely hanging on amidst this horribly busy month.
If you ask me what I remember from high school, sports anime is probably the only answer I can offer with full confidence. Even that, I don’t remember with any precision, but the underlying emotions of the idea remains, like an early childhood memory that I pieced together from someone else’s account of what happened, leaving it unclear how much I actually have retained and how much I am instead filling in based on what I think, now, that I must have felt.
I spent at least two years of my life deep inside the world of sports anime. It started with Kuroko no Basuke, a last attempt to find bonding space with a father I also only vaguely remember now, then Free, a first attempt to find bonding space with other weebs sports anime enthusiasts my age. Somewhere after these two, there was a brief fling with Yowamushi no Pedal, though the series didn’t stick so much as the opening themes, easily falling away as Diamond no Ace came into the picture.
My depression also peaked around this time. Where before I could function around it and act grateful that hey, at least I was not as bad as I could be, I buckled under the weight of my deteriorating mental health — for just about a week, really, but for someone like me, usually so functional no matter how I’m feeling, that was a lot. I skipped school for four days straight. I skip a hell lot more classes now, but this still makes me shudder.
My memory is also worse now; I’ve forgotten names and voices of people I used to see everyday. So it’s those last two years chock full of sports anime that interest — even baffle — me, because though my last two years of high school are the faintest, lost to too many depression naps, the feelings that are elicited in returning to sports anime are so clear. Heavy with the weight of nostalgia, sure, but that’s me with everything. That I’m nostalgic for memories I don’t even have anymore is the thing that weirds me out here.
I promise I’m not waxing poetic so much as just trying to articulate my frustration. Or, really, just lowkey berating myself for feeling more about this hyperfixation I had as a teenager than I do for most other things in my life at the moment.
It’s difficult not to be when I remember being catatonic in bed and somehow, ridiculously, dissonantly, watching Free. It’s a funny picture to me now. It’s really not that deep, either. Sports anime didn’t particularly help me, save me, nor even cheer me up most days. They didn’t affect my depression, not in a way later hyperfixations would help alter my mood for better or for worse. I don’t feel like I owe them anything, or like I have anything to thank them for — at least not in comparison to all the other things I could actually credit with helping me during the worse periods of life. It’s just a little hilarious, in retrospect, that my few vivid memories of those awful years of my life are primarily linked to — of all things — anime. It isn’t the increased intake of both caffeine and sleeping pills that return to my mind first, nor the skipping for days or weeks at a time. Just that one incongruent scene of a memory, Free’s disconcertingly metal opening song playing in my dark, quiet bedroom. It makes me laugh nowadays, genuinely.
It was just so harmless, at the time. I can’t say that for many things that happened in the five years I spent in the Canadian school system before post-secondary.
Sprinkled in varying doses across the entire period — the only one for which I read the manga before the anime aired, the only one where I can say I’m attached to the characters for other reasons beyond forced interest, the only one that came early enough before my memory starts getting hazy as to not be part of all the batches of my life from back then that I’ve forgotten — was Haikyuu.
At a whim, I decided to watch its third season over a reading week weekend.
Rationally speaking, this is more likely because my binge-watching coincided with a new NDRI dose — but good god, those two days were horrific. I felt emptied in the worst, most terrifying way I possibly could, and listening to the Haikyuu theme had been enough to elicit what would have been a panic attack if I hadn’t caught myself and went, jesus, Trisha, are you seriously feeling like this over a sports anime?
It wasn’t overwhelming the way my mental health reacted so badly to Voltron, nor even overwhelming in the way that thinking too much about older memories make me deeply sad with nostalgia. It was more like an uncaving, like a spoon scraping leftovers off the skin of a mango cheek.
When I stopped reading Haikyuu, the match that the third season covers was still ongoing. It’s been that long. I’ve aged that much in the years since. I’ve dropped friends and made new friends and rejected and accepted new things about myself. It’s a time marker for all these things, a time capsule of memories, good and bad. It’s a weird ache, not so much for the series as for the years I associate with it. My last two years of high school were just so much, and for better or for worse the things I consumed during that period will always be keepers of the same emotional weight, the same sentiments, that I was feeling then.
It definitely wasn’t Haikyuu!! — or, by extension, Diamond no Ace, which returned with a new season shortly after this whole fiasco — making me sad. It’s the fact that I don’t remember high school much, nowadays, and all I have are little unattached pieces of emotion I could still somehow feel when I watch a specific scene, listen to a specific song in a soundtrack, encounter a specific character, and, for a moment, I am plunged back to my high school self, so distant and inaccessible to me otherwise.
Then again, you can say this about everything I touched in high school. One of my oldest friends and I used to revel in “I Lived” when thinking about the Karasuno third years; that association remains, well-conditioned to be a reflex. When “Heaven” by Troye Sivan plays, I am suddenly back inside the Rebel nightclub, close to tears the night of the 2016 Election. Twilight, too, had a renaissance recently, and of course I also felt impaled by the special credits in Breaking Dawn Part 2, set to “A Thousand Years” and thrusting an ice pick into my heart with each of the piano notes which that song begins with.
So, really, it’s not Haikyuu or Twilight or Troye Sivan or One Republic. It’s me.
In any case, though, Haikyuu is still brilliant. My 16 to 17 year old self did not appreciate this series as much as they should have. More than that, it’s so feel-good, and peppering in rewatch marathons between bursts of work during this busy month is turning out to actually be self-care.
There’s some comforting inspiration there, too, that I can appreciate now that I’m older, more clear-minded than I was back then. On my better days, I can let myself be motivated by them. Those bright-haired sports anime kids work so hard, and it’s difficult not to find that motivating even when I don’t have motivation to spare.
For example: my brother, the other day, had to be taken away by ambulance. I remember, hysterically, ridiculously, running to catch a bus, “What would Hinata Shouyou do?”
Puke from anxiety, probably — and then steel himself right after.
And in all honesty, this is the answer to any situation you apply this question to. A test, a game, a difficult conversation, a fight with the first friend you’re able to call a partner — Hinata would approach each and every one of this the same way. That is: allow that anxiety reach a crest until you can’t take it anymore, only to realize you do have it in yourself because you know how hard you work and how much you can love what you do.
So, sometimes, when you’re drowning in responsibilities and stressors, you have to take a moment, inhale, listen to soundtrack pieces you associate with a past life, exhale. Then, when you can breathe and think clearly again, ask yourself: What would Hinata Shouyou from the concrete do?
Not give up, that’s what.