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animefringe november 2003 / reviews

Slam Dunk Vol.1
Format: right-left manga
Production: Raijin / Takehiko Inoue
Comments: Basketball...Vagabond style.
90%
Rating:
Animefringe Reviews:
Slam Dunk Vol.1

Once, long ago, I used to play basketball. In fact, back before school ate my life, I played a lot of sports. Oddly enough, I've never been a fan of any sort of professional sporting events, despite living in one of the "Best" cities for sports fans - home of the sometimes-impressive Cardinals, Rams, and Blues.

However, I'm still very much in love with the spirit of honest competition. I enjoy the romantic ideal of one team working as hard as possible to overcome any obstacles for the simple goal of proving themselves capable. A physical strain is a nice way to help put the rest of our lives in perspective, to help get a grip on our limitations as well as our potential.

Thus, setting this basketball series in high school - where players aren't playing the game for millions of dollars - is a good idea.

As with many good series, this story begins with love. Well, at least it starts off with what Sakuragi Hanamichi thinks is love. When a cute classmate expresses her interest in basketball to Sakuragi, he is filled with a burning desire for the court. He's extremely tall for his age and in good shape (the latter coming mostly from all the exercise he gets fighting with others), and while he isn't dumb, studying isn't the top priority in his life.

Women, however, are. Even though he's as inexperienced with the ladies as he is familiar with the tingly feeling his fists have after beating a foe to a pulp, he hasn't given up trying to win a girlfriend. He'll do whatever it takes to score points with a member of the opposite sex, and when Akagi Haruko asks if Sakuragi is a basketball player, he can't resist changing his life to match her expectations.

If he knew how hard it was going to be, he might have had second thoughts. Luckily for us, he didn't.

We soon discover that he has some natural talent for the game, though he is completely untrained. Ignorant of the rules as well as the techniques, he steadfastly head-butts his way onto the team with images of Akagi clouding his vision.

In only the first volume, a great cast of characters is assembled. We're introduced to Akagi's older brother, who happens to be the captain of the team and a significant obstacle for Sakuragi to overcome. More threatening to our protagonist, however, is the aloof yet amazingly skilled Rukawa Kaede. Apparently, Akagi already has a crush on the more experienced player, and thus Sakuragi has plenty of justification to begin fostering a deep-seated hatred of Rukawa. Most amusing, perhaps, is the cute female team manager Ayako, who takes on the pleasurable task of getting Sakuragi into game shape.

Every character radiates personality. Part of that, of course, comes from Takehiko's excellent artwork, which is as playful as it is detailed. The story goes from a humorous tone to a determined mood without missing a beat, and even though I haven't thought much about basketball in years, I found myself addicted to Slam Dunk almost instantly.

There's a great use of tones every once in a while, but the true skill of Takehiko Inoue is showcased with the huge variety of emotional reactions his artwork depicts. He's great with details, but you'll be too enthralled by the excellent characters to pay attention to the shading on their clothing. It's just as well, of course, for great artwork only needs to support a great story, not carry it.

While I couldn't afford Raijin's weekly anthology (and can't really even afford it now that it's gone monthly), they're doing an amazing job of picking out some top-notch titles to release domestically. This book features a message from the author (along with actual photographs!) and is printed from right to left without alterations to the original sound effects. Raijin releases may be harder to find in bookstores, but if they maintain this level of quality, I suspect they'll soon be following TOKYOPOP and Viz as a major manga publisher. They certainly deserve it!

So, pick this title up even if you don't care for basketball. Underneath the sports theme is a great story about love and growing up, even if it seems as if Sakuragi never attains either. No matter what happens in the end, it's sure to be an entertaining ride.

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