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For someone unfamiliar with “Haikyu!!,” the anime adaptation of a slice-of-life manga about a high school volleyball team, the premise may seem a bit niche. And yet the series, which continues in the form of the film “Haikyu!! The Dumpster Battle,” has always excelled at making its wholesome sports drama accessible to every kind of audience — especially those who may not know anything about volleyball.

The series focuses on Shoyo Hinata, a short teenager who dreams of becoming a volleyball champion like his idol, a small-statured ace called the Little Giant. He enrolls at the Little Giant’s former high school, Karasuno, and joins the volleyball team with his middle school nemesis, Tobio Kageyama. The two boys form a superhuman pair that helps revitalize the team and offers Karasuno the opportunity to return to its former glory.

Directed by Susumu Mitsunaka, “The Dumpster Battle,” which feels like more of an extended episode than a stand-alone film, picks up during Karasuno’s heated competition at the spring nationals. They are set to go against Nekoma, another team with which they’ve been caught for years in a friendly rivalry. The match takes up the entire movie, with flashbacks and series callbacks fully contextualizing the relationships and stakes at work in the game.

As in every match in the series, the Dumpster Battle uses imaginative visual metaphors to depict each team’s offensive and defensive strategies and overall playing philosophies. Karasuno is the crow, with Hinata’s awe-inspiring leaps above the court represented by a crow making an airborne attack. Nekoma is the cat, grounded with solid defense, stalking and manipulating its prey until it can find the right moment to clip the crow’s feathers. And both of these underdog squads want to earn respect and fight their way out of the dumpster.

Leading Nekoma is Kenma Kozume, an apathetic teen with no stamina and little athletic prowess who would rather play video games than volleyball. But Kenma, whom Hinata befriended at a training camp earlier in the series, is also Nekoma’s mastermind, meticulously planning their attacks while his teammates make up for the athleticism he lacks.

In terms of the gameplay itself, while riveting and meticulously depicted, the Dumpster Battle pales in comparison to some of the more explosive multi-episode matches captured in the series. But this battle does contain more heart — no easy feat in a show that consistently builds empathy for all of its characters, even the most abominable competitors, via arcs that relate how far passion and teamwork can take athletes striving toward victory. Under Kenma’s leadership, Nekoma threatens to crush Karasuno, and particularly Hinata, who is targeted by Nekoma’s offense; and yet Hinata and his team also eventually lead Kenma to a revelation about his relationship to the sport and his reasons for playing.

Though “The Dumpster Battle” is squarely aimed toward fans of the series, it has charms that may lead new viewers to the anime (streaming on Crunchyroll and Netflix) to follow the story from the beginning. Because even if crows and cats battling in a dumpster doesn’t appeal to you, there’s still the promise of watching good athletes play a good game — and that’s worth a seat in the bleachers.

Haikyu!! The Dumpster Battle
Rated PG-13 for heated midmatch exchanges. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters.



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