It has been a long time coming for new content on here. No, I’m not retired from writing nor have I given up the proverbial bit of running AniB Productions, but it has been a long hiatus, not unlike the manga version of my personal favorite anime in Hunter x Hunter. With May’s arrival though, new beginnings are a theme of spring, and summer hearkens right around the corner- so what better show to return with than one that featured beach volleyball? That’s right- it’s Harukana Receive, back from a few years ago- and originally watched by yours truly in November of last year (2021). Don’t let the seasons fool you though- a good show is a good show no matter the year, time or place. The same could be said for a review actually- so without further ado, let’s get into it.
Show: Harukana Receive
Studio/years aired: C2C, July-September 2018
AniB’s thoughts: Indeed, it has been a while I last sat down to write a proper review and seen it to its finish. Perhaps surprisingly then the restart is a rather inauspicious entry from the summer 2018 season- Harukana Receive, a sports anime that revolves around the stories of a group of girls who play competitive beach volleyball in Okinawa. While the anime community at large seems to move season to season transiently, it continues to serve an important role in reviews to not forget even the recent past for some good fare, and this show qualifies.
The first thought long-time readers might be thinking is “isn’t this show rather fanservicy for you?” You might be right…but context matters. This is at its heart a show that is topically about beach volleyball, and from anyone who watches the Summer Olympics every four years, or perhaps even played knows, bikinis are the standard uniform of the sport. Fortunately, the show’s appeal goes beyond plenty of butt shots- and perhaps to its credit, some savvy self-aware humor exists as well to this end.
Sports anime has also been a relative rarity in these reviews in the past- and in fact this is the first outright review of the genre on here. It’s an interesting topic since I’m actually a real-life sports fanatic, in particular with allegiances to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres- so watching anime of sports hasn’t usually crossed my mind, despite knowing there are some other famous series that exist in the space, like Haikyuu (another volleyball anime!) and Kuroko no Basket (basketball). However, Harukana Receive was not only able to capture my attention, but keep it with a combination of excellent animation, a strong cast and a solid bit of storytelling. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it certainly would be a welcome watch for anyone wanting a taste of summer, some feelings of youth and a splash of competition with genuine character
Beyond the show’s exterior lies a character-driven story that while not groundbreaking, has an interesting set of dynamics at play for each of the main cast. Perhaps most interesting is Kanata’s own personal struggles in dealing with loss- both that of her parents and of her original volleyball pairing with Narumi Toi. This is in contrast to Haruka, whose naive optimism of a new move to Okinawa and her initial ignorance of not only the sport of beach volleyball but any of these deeper-rooted issue her cousin has dealt with sit in sharp contrast. In turn, it is exactly their differences that help the other along through the show’s run- Kanata’s steady hand as the experienced partner who trains with and helps develop Haruka into a full-fledged beach volleyball player, and the latter’s determination to be the partner Kanata deserves, one who commits to her on the court and off it as a friend.
It would be a shame to not mention the Thomas twins (Claire and Emily) in this analysis, but as the main foils to the titular characters, they prove to be worthy rivals and teammates at the same time, with a playful sibling dynamic and a goal of their own. They selflessly help train the duo who ultimately winds up defeating them in the anime’s keynote match- a sobering reminder that even among those close to each other, the gridiron, pitch, field or court can be a place to settle all scores, make dreams come true or crush them. And isn’t that the essence of sports in general? You have fun hopefully, but as a football coach named Herm Edwards once said in a presser: “You play to win the game!”
Animation: Harukana Receive is a very eye-catching show, in more ways than one. A bright palette brings out the nature of the show and the character models themselves are attractively designed- you can buy them as volleyball players. One can feel the bright, sun-splashed heat of the beach and the Okinawan summer in this show, and the intensity of the actual matches that are played with each hit of the ball and dive to the sand, and the animation does a wonderful job of conveying it. There’s a little bit of 3-D rendering in this show like many in the past decade, but it works fine. High marks all around.
Characters:The story revolves around the story of two previously distant cousins turned best friends: Kanata Higa and Haruka Ozora, the titular “Harukana” in the show’s name.
Haruka comes from Tokyo to Okinawa at the start of the series. She is an energetic girl, with natural height and a simpler nature, which extends to her way of thinking. Excited initially by the pristine beaches of Okinawa, a fated volleyball match upon her arrival hooks her into the sport and soon her partner on the pitch- Kanata. Clumsy at first but burning with a desire for improvement and natural promise, she grows into a real beach volleyball player over the course of the series.
Kanata on the other hand is a native Okinawan. In contrast to Haruka, she’s much shorter in stature, and possesses both a keen analytical mind and natural kindness. Once a formidable beach volleyball player in her youth, a series of tragic events in her life caused her to go away from the game, until Haruka helps revive that fire in her. While Haruka is dealing with the more technical aspects of becoming a full fledged player, Kanata navigates the mental and spiritual side of not only a comeback to the sport, but herself and the person she wishes to be in the present and future.
This section would be amiss without the dynamite duo from America- the Thomas sisters. Emily and Claire are a pair of formidable beach volleyball players, and the twins unsurprisingly share potent teamwork in a game. However, their personalities could not be more different: Emily is gregarious, outgoing and has a habit of teasing her friends, especially her sister, whereas Claire is more thoughtful and reserved in thought- though relishes the opportunities to get back at her sister when she can. The duo serve as both fast friends for Haruka and Kanata, and later as training partners and club teammates, which fosters the beginnings of a heated, but friendly rivalry.
A few episodes into the show Akari Oshino appears. A one-time child actor, she joins the volleyball club initially with the intent of becoming an idol but does start to engage in and truly learn the game in more time. She winds up acting as a glue character for the group, giving her new friends special scrunchy bracelets to signify both their friendship and unshakeable bonds, even in competition.
There are a few other characters, like Narumi Toi and Ayasa Tachibana, a pair of top ranked volleyball players nationally, Kanata’s grandmother and the Thomas twins’ mother, plus a few other girls who the main cast wind up playing in the story but this is the main cast. Small, but effective, they drive the show. Narumi in particular is rather important to the story, but for those who haven’t seen this show, it’s better to discover her story yourself.
A basic story with some nice character twists and motivations that make it worthwhile. The sports part of the the story where Kanata and Haruka become an actual legit beach volleyball pairing is fun to watch unfold, and their eventual triumphs as they gain more experience and trust with each other is satisfying to see. This show was straightforward in many respects but managed to pair a very likable cast with a good story and that was worth the price of admission to stay, particularly if one only appeared in the first place to see cute girls in swimsuits.
As mentioned, the main cast stayed small, but it felt like everyone had a role to play and a their own little arcs playing out at the same time. This show does utilize some flashbacks in some key moments, which in this case do narratively advance the plot in a direction that works, providing the viewers with greater context of these characters through showing us- rather than long-winded exposition.
Finally, a critical part of a sports anime: The games themselves! These matches are actually really engaging. As previously mentioned in the grading, they are well animated and scored, with the intensity of each moment shining through narratively. The end result proves to be very entertaining.
If there was one overarching thematic note through this entire show, it was trust. From Haruka’s decision to play with Kanata, to Kanata’s own issues with her former partner Narumi, and even Claire and Emily’s trust in each other as sisters and partners, this was constantly front and center. While it is absolutely a critical component to success in sports it also is important to success and well-being in life too- and the characters reflected this important value in their own arcs and interactions. Other themes did exist like the experience of new ways of doing things, the willingness to learn in different ways from many of the characters and a general desire to exist in the present moment rather than being trapped in one’s past. It was definitely a bit more fleshed out than expected but also not ground-breaking necessarily, but thematically it felt on par with any good “slice of life” anime.
Don’t Insult the Viewer (Intangibles): Fanservice has always been a touchy topic in these reviews, but it’s justified here by both the subject material (it’s beach volleyball!) and a show that actually packs both strong characters and a solid story. The musical score also does a really nice job of accentuating the action and helps draw the viewer into the action of a sport they may not know much about. It would not be shocking at all to me if many a viewer came to the show originally because it featured cute girls in bikinis but stayed because it genuinely was a good show beyond its looks. An overall pleasant viewing experience.
Overall: 19.75/25 (79%): Maybe it’s a slight overrating, but Harukana Receive proved to be a pleasant surprise that was much more than skin-deep in its storytelling. This show will probably never appear on a “best of” list, but it is a fine genre pick and in general, is an enjoyable watch with realistic stakes, sports physics grounded in reality and some sweet character moments. Most people probably don’t live near a beach, but maybe you’ll get a taste of summer and a hankering to play some volleyball after watching this show.
Like what you see? Have you watched Harukana Recieve? Enjoy sports? Leave a comment!