‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’ movie review: Beloved volleyball anime’s magic doesn’t quite translate from television to big-screen

Those who have not religiously devoured the anime can just about appreciate the stakes of the rivalry between two high school teams, but would inevitably find themselves confounded at the plethora of rules and references that pepper the narrative

Published - May 31, 2024 05:16 pm IST

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

Four years on, and the Karasuno boys are back, having vanquished the Inarizaki twins and ready to steal the spotlight in a derby match fit for the ages. Their journey through the Harutaka tournament’s trenches has led them straight into the Dumpster Battle against Nekoma. Directed by Susumu Mitsunaka for Studio IG, it’s crow versus cat, alleyway brawls for bragging rights, and a showdown that has fans screaming “Ike!” atop their lungs.

About the curiously-named Dumpster Battle, it’s all in the team names. “Kara-su” from “Karasuno” translates to “crow” and “neko” from “Nekoma” means “cat” — in a reference to the respective team’s garbage-dwelling mascots. This awaited face-off is set against the backdrop of the All-Japan High School Championship, where Karasuno and Nekoma face off in the no-holds-barred match we’ve all been waiting for. The dynamic between the two famed rivals isn’t just a clash of athletic prowess, rather, a meeting of minds and spirits, each pushing the other to new heights (quite literally).

Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle (Japanese)
Director: Susumu Mitsunaka
Cast: Ayumu Murase, Yuki Kaji, Kaito Ishikawa, Yuichi Nakamura
Runtime: 80 minutes
Storyline: Karasuno High School and Nekoma High School face each other in an official match for the first time ever, in the third round of the Spring Nationals

From the first whistle, the film catapults us into the fast-paced frenzy of the Spring Nationals. Despite the four-year timeout since last season, Mitsunaka sets us back in play, reuniting us with our favourite characters.

The story opens at a breakneck pace, but seems to neglect newbies to Haikyuu or volleyball in general entirely, in its execution. While it wouldn’t take long for seasoned fans to make sense of every “Chance ball!” or “Nice kill!”, rookies would inevitably find themselves confounded at the plethora of rules and references that pepper the narrative.

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

Central to the story is the interplay between Karasuno’s infamous orange-haired middle-blocker, Shoyo Hinata (voiced by Ayumu Murase) and the brain of Nekoma, the prized-setter Kenma Kozume (voiced by Yuki Kaji). Their bond, tempered by previous seasons, forms the film’s emotional core. Hinata, with his boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm, contrasts beautifully with Kenma’s cool, strategic calm. Their relationship that is less about rivalry and more about mutual respect and inspiration, make their interactions both on and off court inspiring and brimming with healthy competition.

The film also employs a blend of flashbacks and real-time dialogue to weave the shared history of these characters we have come to know and love into the present narrative. However, this doesn’t seem particularly effective. Those who have not religiously devoured the anime can just about appreciate the depth of their connection and the stakes of their rivalry, and these moments of introspection and backstory are sparsely used, with the focus squarely on the present action.

But the Dumpster Battle still holds fast as a visual and technical wonder. Mitsunaka and his team deploy a sophisticated blend of traditional 2D animation and 3D techniques to create a visceral viewing experience. The matches are choreographed with a precision mirroring live broadcasts, utilising rapid cuts, fluid motion tracking, and strategic slow-motion to emphasise pivotal moments. The 3D animation enhances the spatial dynamics of the game, allowing for sweeping aerial views and immersive angles that follow the ball’s trajectory, heightening our sense of being in the thick of the action.

The film also excels in its attention to the physical and psychological demands of high-level sports. The animators meticulously depict the toll that the gruelling match takes on the players, from the sweat-soaked jerseys to the weariness etched on their faces. Topping that off with some piercing facial expressions and hyper-detailed body languages to convey complex emotions — from the tension anticipating a serve to the raw elation of scoring a critical spike— the Dumpster Battle courses with stylistic choices that made the original series so breathtaking.

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

A still from ‘Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle’

The most inventive piece of cinematography came through a prolonged first-person POV shot capturing every gasping breath and frantic movement of a winded Kenma, as he fights to keep the game alive. This exquisitely-filmed climax not only seals Karasuno’s victory, but also delivers a beautifully immersive moment where the fervour of volleyball pierces through Kenma’s usually unflappable demeanour.

But it’s not just the electrifying spikes and blocks on the court that make Haikyuu such a hit. The anime has always shone brightest in how it has explored its relationships: the camaraderie among players, the respect between rivals, and the friendly bonds that cross team lines that have shimmered with genuine warmth. The playful banter, the unexpected words of support, and shared moments of vulnerability all contribute to a rich, character-driven story that an 80-minute film can hardly hope to capture.

Hinata, Kageyama, and the rest of Karasuno’s crew aren’t just chasing victories. Their journey is a joyous exploration of personal growth and the self-discovery that springs from unyielding dedication and passion. Fans who have spent nearly a decade enchanted by Haikyuu’s magic might find the movie lacks the emotional depth that has endeared the series to so many. Sure, Karasuno might have snagged a decisive win at the Dumpster Battle, and the fans might have cheered, but the real question lingers: at what cost?

Haikyuu!! The Dumpster Battle is currently running in theatres

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