What’s it about? When high schooler Haruka moves to Okinawa to live with her cousin Kanata, she’s quickly introduced to (and falls in love with) beach volleyball. But her cousin seems to have a complicated history with the sport. Can the two come together to form a team?
I adore beach volleyball, especially women’s beach volleyball. I fell head-over-heels with it while watching the badass duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, and it’s still the sport I get most hyped about when the Summer Olympics roll around. It is physically demanding, requiring power and grace in equal measures, and grounded in communication, trust, and teamwork.
So you can imagine my excitement when I heard there was going to be a lady-led beach volleyball anime. You can also imagine my disappointment when I saw the cover art and 90% of the girls were wearing stylish bikinis, their cleavage front-and-center, instead of the practical sports bra-style tops actually worn by athletes. And why did they all look like supermodels? Where were their ripped abs and well-defined shoulders?! What was this moe-girl bullshit?!
Needless to say, Harukana Receive had an uphill battle to win me over.
So, uh, yeah. Consider me won over.
That isn’t to say Harukana Receive is a flawless masterpiece, mind you. It has “problematic fave” emblazoned across it in bright, glowing letters. The impractical swimsuits and lack of body diversity are still here, of course, as are some archetypal cute-girl tropes. While I wouldn’t say the girls are infantilized, there’s a definite soft-touch moe look and feel to the series, complete with chibi faces and a bit of comedic slapstick. If you’re looking for Serious Sports Girlz this season, you’re gonna wanna stick with Hanebado.
There’s also the matter of fanservice. If I squint real hard, I can at least pretend the glowing wedgie butt that opens the episode is focused on the hand signals (and therefore on the teamwork and communication between the characters), but there’s not even a paper-thin excuse for the boob-and-butt shots when Haruka strips down to her swimsuit, complete with “boing” sound effects.
The fanservice is more in the vein of playful (“teehee, boobies”) than leering (“show us yer tits, pant pant“), which I can personally get past a lot easier, but you may not feel the same. Again, if any fanservice at all is a deal-breaker for you, Harukana Receive will be a non-starter.
Where Harukana Receive earned my trust, though, was in how it handled the girls when they were actually on the court. This series could have easily filled its volleyball matches with boob jiggles and ogling angles, and I expected it to do just that. Instead, the framing conveys agility and power, and all the animation goes to movement instead of titillation. There’s no way to avoid showing skin in a beach volleyball anime, but the shots and angles are focused on the action, not the skin itself.
This series isn’t void of objectification, as noted above, but it treats beach volleyball like a proper sport and its players like proper athletes. If the premiere is any indication, Harukana Receive intends to be a sports series with a few moe/fanservice elements, rather than vice versa. As someone with a tremendous amount of respect for the difficulty and intensity of beach volleyball, that went a long way towards getting me on board.
Annoying fanservice aside, I liked basically everything else about this premiere. Sports anime come in a variety of flavors, but my favorite have always been the upbeat ones about the value of teamwork and the love of the game, and Harukana Receive fits squarely into that category. While there are moments of tension and hints of upcoming conflict, this premiere maintains a brightness throughout, focusing on the excitement of new experiences rather than the anxieties of them.
Haruka is a perfect protagonist for the show’s tone, as she’s a cheerful athlete who gets as much enjoyment out of competing as she does out of actually winning. As the optimistic newcomer, she’s also a solid foil to Kanata, her gloomier costar who quit playing beach volleyball a while ago (likely because she got discouraged about her height, given how often it’s mentioned here). As this premiere spends a lot of time establishing, beach volleyball is a sport where an equal partnership is essential, and seeing our two leads navigate their relationship on and off the court will be an integral part of the series.
Pacing-wise, this premiere also does a smart job of establishing its main cast and premise without overloading the audience with backstory or trying to land any big emotional beats too soon. In addition to introducing our two costars and the sport as a whole, we also meet a pair of Respected Rivals in the intense Narumi and the easygoing Ayasa. It’s pretty clear that Narumi and Kanata used to play beach volleyball together until they had a falling-out, all but guaranteeing plenty of future conflict.
There’s a lot of groundwork laid here for multiple character arcs, developing relationships, and exciting volleyball matches. If the series can continue to build on that (and, at the very least, keep the fanservice to the barest minimum), this could be a flawed but nevertheless immensely fun little sports show. There are plenty of ways it could lose me, but for now, at least, this is one spectator who’s seated firmly in the bleachers.