Okinawa is often called the Hawaii of Japan. The sundrenched island approximately 1,300 miles south of Tokyo is the fitting setting for this colorful anime about beach volleyball.
Haruka Oozora is an outgoing and cheerful high school second-year who's just moved to Okinawa. She is different than most girls at school, she’s tall. She’s even a little bit sensitive about her height given that she is a full head taller than most other girls. Her cousin of the same age, Kanata Higa, is a bit shorter than her classmates and curses her own height. She feels it keeps her from playing her beloved beach volleyball competitively. The cousins quickly find themselves working together as a team with a nickname of “Harukana” in the sand of a beach volleyball court. You’d expect an anime about girl’s beach volleyball to be just filled with ecchi moments, yet Harukana Receive exceeds expectations and is actually a hardcore sports anime. The story is thrilling and engaging and focuses on the phycology and technique of the sport. We have great animation where attention to the kinetic form of the body as it bumps, sets, and spikes is exceptional. A thread that runs through this anime is that of sportsmanship. The characters in this anime exemplify it. They give their all on the court but never bring that aggressive attitude off the court or into their personal relationships, always remembering that they are merely playing a game. We now count the top ten Harukana Receive characters that exemplify sportsmanship.
8. Ayasa Tachibana
Ayasa Tachibana is the quiet and understanding partner of Narumi Tooi. She seems to understand a lot of the hang-ups that her new partner has since transferring from Okinawa to Kyoto. She, like the rest of the girls in the story, seems to be especially close to her partner. For the sake of this article we will assume that they are simply very close friends. She seems to accept that her Narumi is still concerned with how things ended with her old partner, Kanata, the person who got her into volleyball.
Ayasa is one of the most undeveloped characters in the show but still demonstrates aspects of good sportsmanship. Narumi and Ayasa are visiting Okinawa and discover that Kanata is now playing beach volleyball with Haruka. She takes a moment to pull Haruka aside and warn her that Kanata has had some partner problems in the past and she should tread cautiously. She also is willing to give Haruka, a potential rival, tips and pointers. She even goes as far as to give Haruka her cellphone number and says she’s available anytime. Ayasa’s willingness to go out of her way to help a competitor is a great example of sportsmanship.
7. Ai Tanahara
Ai Tanahara is a tall girl whose best friend is a short girl. She wants to include her competitive best friend, Mai Sunagawa, in a sport she enjoys. She convinces Mai that the school’s indoor volleyball team is the perfect place for them. That experiment doesn’t work out, leaving Mai depressed. Ai then searches for another sport for her short yet athletic friend. The two decide to spend time in the sand as a beach volleyball pair.
Ai demonstrates her caring attitude and her good attitude first by being there for her insecure partner who isn’t exactly emotionally strong. She also feels she needs to make it up to Mai after the failure of their indoor volleyball careers. Ai puts her best face on even in the face of defeat. She encourages Mai, always citing that they are a team, that they didn’t win or lose because she made a mistake. Ai simply understands that they both win or lose together and that is sportsmanship.
6. Mai Sunagawa
Mai Sunagawa is a super-completive girl who is actually quite athletic, the only problem is that she is short, making sports like basketball out of the question. She was convinced by her best friend Ai that she could play volleyball. She wasn’t convinced it would be a good fit since most volleyball players are tall. Ai then explained to her the role of a Libero, a defensive position that roams the court digging out shots and setting them up for the offensive players. She takes quickly to the Libero role, yet when the team gets bounced from a tournament when other members of the team say it’s because the other team’s players were all tall. She takes it personally. She and Ai leave the team and decide to try another sport, one that they can play together: beach volleyball.
The hyper-competitive Mai shows admirable traits throughout the story. She decides almost from the moment she meets Kanata, that they will be rivals. Mai sees something of herself, something she doesn’t like, in Kanata and makes that part of her driving force to excel in beach volleyball. The two have a knock-down, drag-out match against Haruka and Kanata with pride and tournament advancement on the line. She doesn’t trash talk or go on about how she deserves to win like some anime characters do, she just focuses on what she can do better. The same attitude prevails in defeat, too. She agrees that the match was fun and the next time they’ll do better.
5. Marissa Thomas
Marissa Thomas is the mother of Emily and Claire Thomas, friends and competitors of Haruka and Kanata. She is an American, who speaks fluent Japanese by the way, and a professional beach volleyball player based out of Okinawa. She is a supportive mother who makes time for her daughters when she isn’t on the road. She is also hot, a fact that isn’t overlooked by the other girls in the show. She is tall, fit and has golden blonde hair just like her daughters. Marissa also seems to have a soft spot for Kanata, having known Kanata since her first tournament, and was probably around at the time of Kanata’s mother’s death. We see her give a warm, sincere hug to Kanata when they reconnect.
We see one of the best examples of sportsmanship in Marissa. She stands behind her daughters who are visibly upset when they are defeated by Kanata and her old partner Mai in a junior tournament and makes sure they congratulate the winners. She volunteers to coach Haruka and Kanata along with Emily and Claire. She gives her time because she loves the game and wants each girl to become the best they can be. Her commitment to instilling a strong work ethic and sportsmanship in her girls and the girls she coaches is what we hope our coaches to be.
4. Emily Thomas
Emily Thomas is a the cool, collected, and responsible member of the Thomas twins. She acts a lot like the older sister in the relationship though she’s technically younger. Along with her sister, she has been playing beach volleyball since early childhood. It’s a bit of a given when you consider their mother is a professional player. She is tall with golden blonde hair and wears glasses.
She isn’t just the cheerleader for her more outspoken sister, she is an avid competitor and wants to win. Emily is willing to put in extra time in order to help her teammates improve even if they, as in Haruka’s case, are beginners and nowhere near advanced as she is. She helps Kanata realize that even though she’s not a power player she can still play an effective game. Emily occasionally speaks her mind, gives tough love, and then finds herself apologizing. She is willing to stand on the sidelines and root for members of her club to do well even though it may mean that they face off further down the line. We find support like that to be one of the pillars of sportsmanship.
3. Claire Thomas
Claire Thomas is the more energetic and outgoing of the Thomas twins. She identical to her sister in all but personality. Her gregarious attitude is a great trait when it comes to easing tension. She is also often seen smacking others on the butt, a habit her sister isn’t fond of. She is also very similar to Haruka in her never-say-die attitude.
Claire and her sister are successful beach volleyball players. Yet, she is the one that was convinced that they needed to have an official club at school. She was constantly looking for and recruiting talent to join in. Her need to win is also an important trait; we see her crying after losing a match when she was younger, only to suck it up and say she would work harder so they won the next time they met. She has a drive to win, but not one that gets in the way of enjoying the sport or making enemies off the court. Claire sincerely wants everyone to play to their best whether against her or someone else.
Kanata was once an elite power player in junior beach volleyball. She ceased being unstoppable when all the other girls began to grow and she just stayed the same. The whole issue came to a head when she realized in the middle of a match that nothing she could do would compensate for her lack of stature, giving up lead to a break with her partner, Narumi. She then steps away from the sport she loves. We are given hints that she still practices, though, because of the well-kept court on the beach in front of her house.
She gets back into the sport when her cousin Haruka comes to live with them. She finds Haruka on the beach playing a pickup game. She reluctantly decides to join and give her tall cousin some pointers. The first full sentence you hear from her is her explaining the effects of the wind on the ball. Haruaka even points that out stating, “You finally looked me in the face and were talking to me.” Kanata instructs and eventually partners with her cousin and attempts not to make the same mistakes she did before. She knows that she doesn’t have a natural advantage in playing the game, but still sticks to it. She is patient with a beginner who knows little about the sport. She shows her sportsmanship by not letting a defeat and some messy drama get in the way of the sport itself.
1. Haruka Oozora
Haruka Oozora is a tall girl. She is a tall girl in a nation where the average height for a woman is 5’2”. Haruka is a little self-conscious about it, often feeling scrutinized by onlookers who think she might be a model. She is also a go-getter and a natural athlete. Haruka has an irrepressible optimism that seems to be infectious. She is honest and forthright and will easily admit to what she doesn’t know, which at times is a lot.
She is the embodiment of sportsmanship. Haruka gets destroyed in a pickup match, yet she recognizes she was lacking and needs practice. She realizes that by practicing that she will also be a better opponent and that means even her challengers will have more fun. She knows she has a long way to go to catch up to Emily, Claire, and Kanata. Haruka shows she is willing to put in the work, too. She even confronts Kanata about what happened between her and Narumi, feeling it must be a burden for Kanata to keep bottled up. In spite of her bubbly personality, Haruka wants to win. She will dig deep and do everything she can to win and when she does she thanks the opponent. She encourages them and knows if she wants to keep winning she has to keep getting better. She and Kanata get bounced out of a tournament in the second round and Claire asks, “How can you be so happy when you’ve only won in the first round?”
“Because this [the shiny plaque] is proof of our first victory,” Haruka explained.
Haruka wants to compete. She wants to win. But Haruka knows winning isn’t everything and that is true sportsmanship.
We look to sports anime to inspire us. We are drawn to the story of the underdog, of the novice, or the veteran athlete that has to dig deep and dedicate themselves to their craft if they are going to succeed. We also look to these anime because so often they are simply about sportsmanship. We live in a completive world. We watch the multitude of professional athletes taunt and spike the ball in the face of their competitor and we wish in our hearts for something more and better from them. We wish for sportsmanship. We wish all our professional athletes showed competitiveness, seriousness, and never took the game too personally or too far. We wish the example of sportsmanship we see in our anime was the world of sport we actually live in.