It was a long time in coming, but one of the classic sports series gets a new lease on life. And it's every bit as good as its reputation.
Writer/Artist: Takehiko Inoue
Translator: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Adapted By: Kelly Sue DeConnick
What They Say:
Winning isn't everything in the game of basketball, but who wants to come in second? It takes dedication and discipline to be the best, and the Shohoku High hoops team wants to be just that. They have one last year to make their captain's dream of reaching the finals come true - will they do it?
Hanamichi Sakuragi's got no game with girls - none at all! It doesn't help that he's known for throwing down at a moment's notice and always coming out on top. A hopeless bruiser, he's been rejected by 50 girls in a row! All that changes when he meets the girl of his dreams, Haruko, and she's actually not afraid of him! When she introduces him to the game of basketball, his life is changed forever...
What We Say:
Slam Dunk has a little more to it than the typical Shonen Jump release. There's a brief introduction by the artist and a "Coming Next Volume" page after the story; but the real surprise is a three page full colour section profiling NBA star LeBron James and instructing readers how to train in order to achieve a slam dunk. A sticker for the Shonen Jump 40th anniversary poster is also included. Not to mention the first chapter has colour pages all the way through, even if most of the panels only have one or two colours in them. Print quality is pretty good for an eight dollar book.
You don't have to read far in Slam Dunk before you realize you're in the hands of a real talent. Adjectives are cheap, so I'll just get to the bottom line: the guy draws like crazy. Whether it's drawing the moment for maximum effect, pacing a long scene, introducing a character, or just doing silly comedic "takes", Inoue judges and executes all his effects with laser-like precision. He also has the ability to keep the story continuously in motion, even in scenes where nothing of any importance is happening, through sheer artistic virtuousity. This is the work of a man professional to the fingertips.
The adaptation is a real treat. Personalities jump off the page and the comedy comes across really well. (Bonus points for the use of "humina, humina.") As we've come to expect from Viz, the sound effects are replaced with English equivalents and look super, in addition to being used to good effect. I didn't notice any typos, poorly justified text, or other errors. Nicely done.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sports manga will always have a special place in my heart. You might think that this is because I used to play sports myself. A sports manga would allow me to relive the days well-spent on the field and in the gymnasium. But I'm convinced my reasons are different. There's something about healthy competition that is, in itself, satisfying. To work hard at something you love, put your abilities to the test with others of the same mind, and make friends along the way, is quite simply one of the better human experiences. I'm sure it would interest me even if I hadn't known it first hand, just the way music interests me even though I have next to no musical experience or ability. At the same time, having been an athlete does have an advantage. I'm one step closer to the experience being portrayed. I'm no longer a spectator given a window to look through: I'm able to compare notes as a collegue.
All that being said, Slam Dunk is tremendously accessible. You can come to it knowing nothing about basketball whatsoever. Even the titular play is something the author explains. It's also accessible in the sense of being immediately entertaining. I'd have a hard time imagining myself reading it in multiple sittings. The author gives his secret away in a brief message before the story begins. "When you enjoy something so much," he says, speaking of his his own high-school basketball career, "sometimes it's embarrassing. You try to play it cool ... but I've never felt the need to play down my love of basketball." That's what makes Slam Dunk stand out. That love of basketball radiates with such warmth, and is communicated through such outstanding talent, that you can't help but be hooked.
Hanamichi Sakuragi is introduced to us as a young man with three standout abilities: he's tall, he's good with his fists, and he's always rejected by girls. In fact, the last 50 girls he's asked have turned him down like a bedspread. But when girl number 51 has a passion for basketball, it proves to be contagious. Soon Sakuragi has turned his attention from throwing punches to throwing down dunks. But he's got a lot of ground to make up before he can call himself a true basketball player.
One of the things that makes Slam Dunk so good is Inoue's refusal to cut corners. He starts off with the same thing every new player has to start off with: the fundamentals. Yes, you really do spend a lot of time dribbling in place and just running around the gym. Sakuragi spends most of his time in this first volume just trying to make the team, never mind playing any actual basketball. The one exception to this is a one-on-one matchup between him and the team captain, but the overall emphasis is clearly on taking the first steps to becoming a player. However, with Inoue's passion for the subject matter and swift storytelling, not to mention his extremely well-developed sense of humour, you don't even notice. This story had me rooting from the get-go. I shudder to think how good this series can get once some actual games come along.
To shift my metaphor to a different sport, Slam Dunk hits a home run on the first pitch. It's an exciting mix of brusing fistfights, broad comedy, sports action, and even a little romance. And it never slows down for a moment. If you've liked any sports manga at all this is an easy recommendation. And if you haven't, this may be a good one to start with. It's got style to burn, but at it's heart it shines with something truly special: the love of the game.