Mizuno's marketing pitch: Race day feel in an everyday training shoe.
Surfaces tested on: Road, 20° C/68° F
Upper: Spacer mesh, synthetic leather.
Midsole: Compression molded U4Ic EVA, Pebax parallel heel Wave plate. 9mm heel to toe drop.
Outsole: Hard carbon rubber (X10) in heel, softer rubber in forefoot.
Weight: 250 gms/ 8.8 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK10/EUR 44.5/ CM 29
Widths available: Single - medium (reviewed).
US MSRP: $ 100
If there’s one thing any Japanese brand will never be in short supply of, that’s design inspiration. For the small sea-locked country is so rich in cultural traditions and diverse art forms, that if you were to stand in a busy Tokyo square, and chucked your Wasabi flavoured soybean in a random direction, it would likely land on an object borne out of that rich legacy.
There is so, so much to draw from. Japanese painting styles. Architecture. Sword making. Glazed pottery. Festivals. Mythology and folklore. Flower arrangement. Origami. Kites. And unsurprisingly, a lot of that is ingrained in the daily way of life too.
Things as simple as a store checkout clerk packing your merchandise; all you can do is stand back and simply admire the way the slender fingers fluidly go about the business of gift wrapping your purchase, with perfect paper creases and symmetry of folds.
If that isn’t a Japanese art form in action, what is. Another example could be your kitchen knife, forged at the hands of a twelfth generation Samurai sword maker.
What the heck, even the different seasons end up being art forms. We joke not; there is nothing more Japanese than Cherry blossoms in spring.
So even with an upper pattern as simple as what the Mizuno Wave Hitogami 2 sports, things take a definite turn for the artistic with a graphic inspired by the ‘Tengu’, a mythical creature which is a part of Japanese folklore. The whorl like patterns on the side panels and toe bumper appear to symbolize the Tengu’s angry visage, with the deep red and black color scheme adding to the sinister theme.
Why use the word sinister? Tengus usually have malevolent intentions than being well meaning, and are generally perceived as dangerous characters best not trifled with.
By the way, Hitogami means ‘man-god’ or ‘human-god’, and the previous version of the Hitogami had graphics inspired by Japanese Kabuki theatre. We could launch into a deeper discussion about all that, but then, we don’t want to be stuck here all day, do we?
What is the Wave Hitogami? It is a speed shoe, the kind which will help you put quick miles between you and the Tengu if you ever encountered one. It is not an all-out racing flat in the vein of the Wave Ekiden or Universe, but something with a little more meat on it. More dual purpose than just a race-day shoe, allowing runners to put daily miles on it too.
Historically speaking, the 2014 Hitogami was a replacement for the Wave Ronin, and this edition is the second year update of the series. We haven’t tried the H-1, but from the looks of it, both shoes seem to share identical soles. So we’re assuming that nothing has moved as far as the ride is concerned, only the upper fit.
The Hitogami 2 is really a sprightly little thing. That fast-ness comes from the firm and lower profile midsole, with the snug upper helping in forefoot lockdown. The ride is very firm — many will call it hard — and there isn’t much thickness to go around, especially in the forefoot where a mere 9 millimeters of foam is all what separates your foot from the blue planet.
A thin forefoot is absolutely helpful in quick and effortless transitions and building a fast and efficient cadence. Moreover, the lack of material also delivers a better ground feel. The trade-off in this case is reduced cushioning, and on longer runs, you wish you had something more padded both in the front and rear. Like the Sayonara 2, which is noticeably more cushioned than the Hitogami.
Talk of the heel, and that is also tuned for a very firm ride. At 18 mm, it might have twice the thickness of the forefoot, yet the stacking arrangement of two firm midsole layers sandwiching a rigid Wave plate produces a firm under-heel sensation.
The lower midsole foam extends without break from heel to toe, and the upper layer is spread under the heel and forefoot. Many might assume the top and bottom midsole layers to have different densities, but we did not sense that.
There isn’t splaying of the Wave unit at all, at least not to the extent that you can feel it underfoot. The heel and midfoot-only Wave insert might sport its trademark crests and troughs, but if anything, the Wave plate has a greater role to play in smoothening transition than delivering responsive cushioning.
So neither the heel or forefoot has any amount of responsive springback, putting a dent in Mizuno’s U4ic marketing claim.
The heel crash pad is kind-of-segmented, and there is an exposed cavity under the heel, and usually in other shoes these help increase the cushioning sensation.
But not today. If you were expecting the exposed section or crash pad to splay out, it doesn’t happen. The heel base is too narrow and firm for that, with the solid Wave plate and hard midsole foam resisting compression under weight.
Instead, what you get is a spectacularly uniform quality of ride. The end-to-end hardness of midsole brings consistency to the transition game, and so does the Wave plate, which extends way past the arch on the medial side. The impartial approach to midsole compression eliminates any distraction, with the heel and forefoot coming across as balanced in their feel.
Mizuno’s published heel to toe drop for the Hitogami is 9 mm, and yet the shoe doesn’t feel like one. This is even when you take into consideration the fact that here the static and loaded drops should be very similar, as the foam is resistant to being compressed. A natural produce of this set-up is stability, despite the absence of features such as raised sidewalls.
A lower to the ground profile combined with overall firmness does the stability trick, keeping the foot neutrally positioned and supported. Like how it was in the Wave Rider 18, the insole rests in a shallow forefoot midsole curve, making the foot feel a part of the midsole when laced up nice and proper.
And yes, the insole. This is the only plush component on the Hitogami, created by laminating a soft top-fabric and a sheet of open celled foam together. The result is a cushy overlay giving respite from the unforgiving firmness of the U4ic midsole underneath.
An apt analogy would be that of a thin but comfortable mattress in an otherwise sparsely furnished room. The strobel lasting is a plain, no frills textile over the midsole, so it counts for nought when it comes to cushioning.
The waist is very narrow in the area where the midsole curves inwards under the arch. Going by our experience with similar silhouettes such as the adios Boost, we thought that this could present a problem.
We needn’t have worried however, as the midsole edges did not cause any discomfort under the arch area. The reason is that the foam edge might be firm, but far from hard and sharp. Add to that a topping of a cushioned insole over the midsole, which softens any potential pressure points.
At 250 grams/ 8.8 oz, the Hitogami 2 is not super-light, and the generous application of outsole rubber is one of the likely reasons. X-10 hardness shows up for protection duties under lateral heel, and the rest of the outsole is soft rubber.
A small section on the midfoot is kept uncovered, but for all practical purposes, the outsole can be described as full contact. The midfoot area is a bit recessed in relation to the outsole, but you don’t feel the break in transition at all.
Grip is delivered well by the soft rubber, with dozen of tiny lugs working together. Durability is very high based on our early weartest impressions, and use of rubber all around isn’t the only reason.
The design of the outsole is such that the various slabs of rubber sit fully flush with the midsole foam. This is made possible by the thinner sheets of rubber inlaid within molded midsole cavities. This also has a positive effect on flexibility, which the Hitogami shows a lot of. Midfoot is rigid, but the front is very easy to bend.
The design result is that none of the rubber lugs stick out in relation to the midsole, so when the shoe impacts the ground, the white foam and rubber bear the abrasive forces equally. A slightly unusual design put into practice, but it seems to work.
If you haven’t already put the pieces together, the Hitogami 2 bears the signature Mizuno ride. In English, that’s a firm yet fuss-free character of the midsole, helped by the progressive nature of the full contact outsole. Those looking for any level of responsiveness or cushioning softness won’t find it here, and even if you did, that would be none other than the insole working its softness.
This makes the Hitogami a unique sort in the category of lightweight pacers, also populated by other (more cushioned) models such as the New Balance 1500 v1, adidas Adios 2 Boost and the Zoom Streak 5. But that doesn’t mean all that its purpose is diluted; as far as delivering a fast run is concerned, the Mizuno performs with aplomb. If you were to switch from a softer, traditionally thick midsoled trainer to the Hitogami 2, you should see a marginal improvement in your 5-10k running time.
Regardless of the Tengu graphic story, the Hitogami 2 upper is a simple affair. The silhouette is identical to rest of Mizuno’s current line-up, which packages together a synthetic toe bumper, molded side logos, artificial leather eyelet panel and a tongue fashioned the non-sleeved way.
As typical of low profile speed runners, the forefoot is snug but not where most shoes end up being. On the Hitogami 2, the tightness comes around late midfoot – early forefoot instead of being 100% focused on the forefoot.
The actual forefoot and toe box is roomy in context of a racing shoe; the insole sits cradled inside the midsole so that creates some extra forefoot height.
With its non-invasive design, the toe bumper isn’t very aggressive, and when combined with the cupped insole placement, it allows the big toe to move freely. Our simple sizing answer for the Hitogami 2 would be to go true.
It has a little more room around the tip than what one would expect, but you also have to keep in mind that going a half size down might result in a smaller fit volume. And what causes this extra room in the front? If you look at shoe heel laterally, you’ll observe that the heel counter molding has a visibly outwards flare.
No external overlays layer the forefoot, leaving it all mesh. And yet the Hitogami suffers from now a well known design oversight, which is the inclusion of internal seams in all most Mizuno shoes we’ve reviewed so far. One rough, stitched-on reinforcement tape cuts vertically across the midfoot inside.
There is another set of no-sew tapes just a few millimetres ahead, this time serving the purpose of helping the shoe retain its upper shape.
The seams don’t chafe when running in socks, but nevertheless you feel them in their places. Why can’t Mizuno take a leaf out of New Balance 1500’s book and produce an upper interior which feels smooth and consistent in fit pressure, despite being form fitting? Better still, at least match the Sayonara 2, which has only the smooth no-sew tape and not the seam.
The Hitogami 2 seams do rear their ugly heads when used without socks, as was the case in the Inspire 11 and Rider 18. It would appear that all Mizuno shoes which features the stiff molded logos have the seam, with the exception of the Sayonara 2, which relies on a welded logo.
Mild tongue slide is a Hitogami personality trait, as the thinly padded, two mesh tongue is without sleeving. The wide tongue flap of the Hitogami 2 (actually all Mizunos have that) helps arrests the sideways movement from being excessive.
Mizuno isn’t exactly known for its plush collar, and the Hitogami sees an even more scaled down version of that design approach. There is hardly any foam padding in between, and you can feel the hard heel counter beneath the soft, Mizuno logo embossed lining. However, heel slippage isn’t a problem. From what we can see, the nicely molded contours of the internal heel stiffener seems to provide the grip the foot needs.
That’s the long and short of the Hitogami 2, which can be accurately captioned as the diet version of the Sayonara 2. This running shoe category isn’t as densely populated with models as much as other traditional varieties are, so the Hitogami 2 is a welcome addition of choice. It is satisfactorily lightweight, doesn’t break the bank, and makes no pretense to being anything other what it actually is – a no frills shoe which goes fast as promised.
This is one Tengu you can be friends with.
(Disclaimer: For this review, Solereview bought the shoe at full US retail price.)