When Sakuragi falls hard for a girl when he moves up to high school, he’ll do anything to win her over, even playing basketball.
What They Say
Hanamichi Sakuragi, an entering Shohoku high school freshman holds a record for being rejected by 50 girls during middle school. His nearly 2 meters height and bright red hair causes most students to write him off as a delinquent. One day, a girl named Haruko Akagi approaches Hanamichi without any fear. When she asks Hanamichi: "do you like basketball?" Hanamichi falls head over heels for the girl of his dreams. Without missing a beat, Hanamichi tells her he loves basketball, and the two head to the gymnasium where Hanamichi learns about the slam dunk. He also learns of Rukawa, one of the country's top basketball prospects, also a freshman at Shohoku.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For as long as I can remember I've heard of Slam Dunk and how popular it was both in Japan and elsewhere but it was missing the boat here in North America. My first real exposure was once seeing a bit of an episode at a convention but it left a minimal impression since it was long before I really got into the sports side of the medium. What really got me was reading the manga when Raijin was able to put it out. That really hooked me on the series and I've been anxious to see the anime ever since, especially since Raijin folded up shop.
So I was definitely thrilled when Toei started to release the series on DVD back in 2005 through Geneon. Unfortunately, they made so many missteps during the release and with all their titles in general that the deal fell through and Slam Dunk folded shop much like the Raijin manga version at the time. It’s taken a few years, but Toei started to work more on digital distribution of their shows and I held out for awhile against looking at this one again simply because of its length and my distaste for watching anime on my laptop or desktop. But since I’ve started checking things out through the PS3 browser more, I decided to see if I could get back into this series.
The series is really simple in premise. We're introduced to freshman punk Hanamichi Sakuragi, a tough guy with a big reputation from junior high school who is really unlucky at love. His previous attempts have left him in the pits and each rejection is like a mortal blow to him. He overreacts incredibly when dumped and nobody is safe from his wrath when this happens. He's about to give up on trying to find love again when he stumbles into Haruko, an attractive schoolgirl who is actually friendly with him and not outright scared. She's impressed by his physique and comments quickly that he must be on the basketball team, to which he quickly lies and says he is. Sakuragi will do whatever it takes to be whatever a potential girlfriend wants him to be so her comments about this pushes him into something he previously hated.
When he goes to the court in the gymnasium to show off for her, he's amusing in that he doesn't know jack about basketball (not an uncommon thing at this time in Japan as the sport had not really taken off) and when she explains a slam dunk to him, her favorite move, he simply runs down the court without dribbling the ball and goes to slam it in " but hits his head instead. While he's obviously clueless about the game, Haruko sees the immense potential in him due to his massive jump and air time there and encourages him to join the team, which he's all set to do since it'll get him closer to Haruko.
Haruko isn't exactly interested in Sakuragi though as she's more looking towards beefing up the team since her older brother is the captain of the team. She's also got a huge crush on another freshman who is joining the team after being very popular and winning a lot of games in the junior high circuit named Rukawa. Amusingly, Rukawa also has something of a badass look to him and a short temper but also the skill to back it up. Both him and Sakuragi at different points run into trouble with some of the ruffians of the upper classes and each of them has their own methods of taking them down and there's certainly some mutual respect to be found but Sakuragi only wants to kill Rukawa since he realizes he could lose Haruko to him.
Sakuragi also ends up going up against Haruko's brother Akagi, whom he affectionately nicknames Gori since he looks like a gorilla. Akagi wants nothing to do with this freshman but he ends up in a challenge in the court with him with most of the school watching and Sakuragi actually manages to have something of a surprise lucky moment, and a really bad and embarrassing moment for Akagi, that will allow for Sakuragi to join the team. Though he's able to do this, he's so clueless on the rules and basics that he's relegated to complete newbie status and spends his time training with the team manager doing things like learning to dribble, cleaning the court and the balls and so forth. The rivalry really starts up once Sakuragi, Rukawa and Akagi are all on the same court and have to interact but all of them are immensely talented in different ways that they can see the potential but have to learn to work together.
Sakuragi is an instantly likeable character for me but he's also more rough than a lot of characters in this role and he keeps to it for longer than most others do as well. We don't get much with Rukawa here other than one fight scene that really spells him out easily enough but we do get some good stuff with Akagi and his sister Haruko and the secondary characters of Sakuragi's friends shine nicely in how they really feel about one of their own and what they'll do for him. This is a long series with one hundred and one episodes so there is more than enough time to explore the characters beyond this. What we get here is the introduction and basic setup for what's to come.
A big stumbling block for people I can see is going to be the animation and design of the show. It is most definitely a product of its time and of the original creators' style which isn't what's considered the norm these days. The guys look like guys and play rough. The characters look really lanky at times with their uniforms since we get to see a lot of arm and leg on them and it's not something I think the animators really had a grasp on at first. With the budget having to go as long as it does, there are definitely some shortcuts to be found here but they manage to work it into the style of the show for the most part. I grew up watching a lot of shows in a similar style and have seen even more things from this period and earlier in recent years that I've managed to shake off my complete adoration of the digital style and really regained my appreciation of the traditional method.
Slam Dunk is a show that I can easily get into and enjoy since it operates on the same premise as a lot of other sports shows which I like. In addition to the formula routine it's got some fun characters, interesting non-standard designs and a fun rivalry that's starting up between a couple of the leads. The shows age and animation actually works in its favor for me since a more recent show would probably be too slick but it's something that's going to work against it with a lot of casual fans. Getting back into this show after a few years away from it and the manga has been a lot of fun. There’s a certain charm to shows of this age and earlier with the traditional animation and the mixture of comedy and sports as well as the seriousness. In the end, Sakuragi is just such a fun character to watch go through these kinds of events to see how he’ll grow up and become a man. I desperately wish that Toei would get these onto DVD somehow, or even for them to work with FUNimation to pile a ton of episodes onto a couple of Blu-ray discs in standard definition just to minimize the amount of discs. This is such a good show that really highlights all the positives of the sports anime genre. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.