Slam Dunk Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: C+
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Toei Animation Co., Ltd
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Slam Dunk

Slam Dunk Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     April 11, 2005
Release Date: March 15, 2005


Slam Dunk Vol. #01
© Toei Animation Co., Ltd


What They Say
Sakuragi, Hanamichi, the high school student who was refused girls about 100 times in his junior high school. He met a destiny girl at the beginning of the high school named Haruko. He has fallen in love with her. She said "Do you like Basketball?" Immidiately Hanamichi said, "Yes, I love it." Course, he did not know what basketball was, but he started this unknown sport for her. That's was the start of the Legend!

The Review!
One of the biggest sports series in both manga and anime form, Slam Dunk has finally arrived for English language fans at long last.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. I had seen the promo episode in English before and didn't care for how many expletives were added to it since the original script wasn't quite so coarse. The mix for this track is pretty standard and definitely of its time since it's a stereo mix but it doesn't feel all that wide or filling in the space its given. A lot of the dialogue is center channel based though they do manage to make it feel like there is something to the forward soundstage here when everyone is on the courts and the sneakers are squeaking. .

Video:
Originally airing back in 1993, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a long series and twelve years old as of this writing, it's definitely a product of its time and a show that kept its animation budget for when it was really necessary, which is often when the characters are on court and in action. With it being a traditionally animated piece and taking place largely in gymnasiums with the dark green coloring and other natural colors, the grain in the transfer stands out a bit more and you can see other film element issues such as scratches and other print damage. Based on their other releases, I'd gamble that this is probably as good as the show can look now with the materials available but it's certainly not going to win over today's generation of fans.

Packaging:
One area where Toei's not making it easy on themselves in selling the show is the cover art. While we do get some decent looking images of some of the main players of Shohoku here in their uniforms, the overall look and style of it isn't something that I think is really going to get someone to snap it up off the shelf. It just looks like, at least with Sakuragi, a cut and paste job of designs and minimalist backgrounds with character designs that aren't going to appeal at all. Looking at the Japanese re-release in single form, they're basically doing the single character per cover idea and the artwork of Sakuragi is what's used there as well, but it's against a straight white background. I like that we're getting the same logo, but the Japanese release just looks so much cleaner and eye-catching than this murky piece. The back cover has a fairly similar background as the front cover and it provides a section of episode listings and numbers with a shot from each episode. The summary covers the basics and the production credits fill out the bottom along with the technical information. The insert has the same artwork as the front cover and opens up to a two page spread that has an outline of the main players and a listing of each episode and a summary for it. The back of the insert is just advertisements for their other launch titles.

Menu:
The menu layout shows the minimal effort being put into these releases as it uses the same background that Air Master and Interlude has with the numbers in blue going off into the distance while the left side has the artwork from the front cover and the right side has the individual episode selections as well as the language setup. No music is used with this so there isn't a loop but instead the one static screen. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
None.

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 actual 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.

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.

With this being one of Toei's launch titles, it's got a number of technical flaws that don't fit easily into the other categories. One area is the subtitles, which almost seem sane after watching Interlude. They don't approach the same level of incompetence as that release but it's still an incompetent piece of work here. With subtitles that stretch across the entire screen, include ADR related pieces such as "grunts with effort" and the such, numerous mis-spellings and far too many three-line sections on at once, the subtitle job is just terrible here. It only felt tolerable to me since we had just experienced the worst subtitling job I had ever seen the night before with Interlude.

The release suffers in a couple of other ways; when each episode ends it goes back to the menu instead of carrying on. Each episode is also one chapter which means you can't skip openings or endings or jump to the middle of the episode at the eye-catch. This is still done on some of the more low-end TV releases from major Hollywood studios but it's not something that anime studios have skimped on in the past and shows what's been a theme of Toei's first releases: least effort possible. While this is a plus in that we get essentially a region 2 quality release in terms of audio and video, it comes across as basic incompetence and apparently no market research as to what is expected here. Things as simple as properly working menus, a proper level of subtitling and the inclusion of chapter marks are some serious strikes against this release.

One area that really makes me call into question the people working on the release is something that required some knowledge from others. When Haruko is showing off herself with Sakuragi a bit, she calls out the names of Jordan and Carter while running down the court. Now it may just be me, but I don't think I heard those names in the Japanese track but it was there in the subtitles (and the dub). From what I recall, I don't think these names were altogether accurate for the original time of this (93 if you go by anime, 89 if by manga) and certainly not for a schoolgirl in Japan. Since basketball was just getting national attention at this time there were a number of rising stars there that I think she'd have called out more easily and I'm disappointed that Toei went with a localization of this instead of a translation..

In Summary:
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. The series definitely has my interest and I can't wait to see more but at the same time I'm afraid to see more because of the very problematic technical problems that are on this disc that need to be fixed, otherwise this will just feel like shovelware.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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