After three volumes of preparation, it's finally time to play ball.
Writer/Artist: Takehiko Inoue
Translation: Joe Yamazaki
Adaptation: Kelly Sue DeConick
What They Say
Shohoku's (somewhat) friendly game against Ryonan finally gets underway. Old rivalries reignite with captain Akagi going toe-to-toe with Ryonan's center, Uozumi. Hanamichi has flat-out declared that he will personally shut down Ryonan's ace, Sendoh, but will Kaede Rukawa take care of things before Hanamichi even gets a chance to hit the floor? Either way, this is bound to be a game to remember.
Three volumes of Slam Dunk have gone by. Three volumes of introducing us (and the hero) to the game of basketball and the people who play it at Shohoku High. Three volumes of meeting teammates, making friends and learning the ropes. Three volumes of fantastic manga.
And it just got even better.
When we last left Slam Dunk it was gearing up for the preseason (but still fierce) matchup between Sakuragi's own Shohoku team and the top level squad at Ryonan - a team that has the stuff to go all the way to the national championships. They've also got something of a chip on their shoulder against Shohoku. The game isn't a grudge match, but you get the feeling it could turn into one at any time. And that's BEFORE you factor Sakuragi's behaviour into the equation, not after.
Like any good rival team, Ryonan has a lineup and overall style of play similar to Shohoku's. Their offense relies on two players: a muscular mountain of a center as a counter to Akagi; and a versatile power forward to work the ball around on the outside, and more than capable of matching up against the gifted rookie Rukawa. The two players even mirror the personalities of their counterparts: the center and captains gruff and intense, the forwards ice-cool and alert. Then again, the opposing team is missing something. They don't have the secret weapon of Basketballman Sakuragi. They don't have anyone who can fume on the bench, storm onto the court to pick fights, attempt to add unearned points to the scoreboard, or get technical fouls for poking the enemy team's coach in the butt.
On second thought, this might not be such a fierce matchup after all.
But in the end it does turn out to be an exciting game, with Sakuragi's loose cannon behaviour as a comedic counterpoint to some hard-fought on-court action. Inoue knows everything about how to draw basketball and can make every chapter count for something. While you're reading you're completely wrapped up in play after play. It's only when you put the book down for a while and think back on it that you realize just how good the guy is. You rehearse the highlights of the game in your mind and it suddenly hits you: you're dealing with an artist who draws scenes from court level where you can see the passing lanes. For those of you who aren't familiar with the sport, it takes a certain amount of game experience to see these in person while you're playing. Inoue just waves a wand and makes it easy for you. He has an almost unbelievable sense of the way an actual game unfolds and how to translate that into dramatic terms. He understands the almost intangible ebb and flow of momentum and turns that into his pacing. How many artists could get in so many of the ancillary elements of a live game? The effects of a cheering crowd and admonishments from the coach; the demoralization of a shot blocked or a fast break given up; the sudden attack of nerves when you hit the floor for the first time: it's astonishing just how much basketballness (for lack of a better word) Inoue can work in. The guy even has a gift for depicting the smallest things, like a glance at the scoreboard or the way players wipe sweat out of their eyes with the necks of their jerseys.
There's a lot that goes into the game between Shohoku and Ryonan, but it never seems like too much of a good thing. Nothing feels like it was thrown in just for the sake of thoroughness or realism. Inoue is enough of an artist to get in exactly the right amount of good things and, what's even more important, to tie them all together cohesively. Every moment has been carefully measured and added to the whole. The whole being ultimately a really, really good game of basketball. We don't get to see the end of it, but I already know who the winner is.
It's me. I got to read the fourth volume of Slam Dunk.
The "overtime" segment in this volume features a spotlight on Portland's up-and-coming star Greg Oden as well as a breakdown of the fine art of blocking shots.