At the end of the second volume, hot-headed protagonist Hanamichi Sakuragi impressed team captain Akagi by declaring himself “a basketball man” in answer to pressure to join the judo team. As a reward, Akagi decides that Hanamichi (who has been learning the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, et cetera) is now ready to learn to shoot. To Hanamichi, of course, this means the slam dunk, but what Akagi has in mind is a more common shot, the layup. Even though Hanamichi practices a good deal on his own, he’s just not getting it until Haruko, the object of Hanamichi’s affections, gives him some pointers. Meanwhile, the Shohoku High team prepares for an exhibition game against Ryonan, a school with an incredible team.
The game against Ryonan—which spans all of volumes four and five and the first third of volume six—is nothing short of riveting, even though Hanamichi is incredibly, incredibly obnoxious throughout. His cockiness wouldn’t grate so much if, like Ryoma in Prince of Tennis, he actually had the skill to back up his claims. Still, his overwhelming confidence does help the team in a few crucial moments and they hold their own extremely well. One of the things I love about sports manga is how the mangaka can quickly create interesting opponents for our team, and Inoue does so here with Ryonan’s ace, Sendoh, who must work much harder against Shohoku than he ever anticipated and enjoys himself much more as a result.
After the exhibition game, Shohoku sets their sights on the district preliminaries and the road to nationals. At the same time, Ryota Miyagi, a second-year student who’d been hospitalized after being injured in a fight, returns to the team. He and Hanamichi butt heads at first until they discover a shared lack of success with the ladies and quickly become buddies. Alas, some thugs have a grudge against Ryota and the basketball team, and a brawl on the court ensues that could disqualify them from competition.
I’m hopeful that the introduction of Ryota marks the start of a Hanamichi I’ll be able to like. Somehow, Hanamichi doesn’t feel the need to exert his prowess over Ryota and is able to receive instruction from him without being a moron about it. It’s extremely gratifying! And even if I find Hanamichi annoying, there are plenty of other characters for me to like. My favorite is Kogure, the mild-mannered assistant captain, but I’m also fond of Yohei Mito, Hanamichi’s right-hand henchman, who is sweetly protective of his friend’s newfound passion and unforgiving of those who would spoil it for him.
Inoue’s art may not be very pretty in Slam Dunk, but it’s extremely easy to follow where games are concerned. I never once had a question about who had passed to whom, or even whether the ball bounced before someone caught it; it must be hard to depict movement so gracefully, but Inoue really excels at it. The “bonus NBA content,” which I assume is provided by VIZ, has also proven to be more interesting than I thought it would be. I admit that I skip the player profile in each volume, but the second page includes all kinds of tips about strategy, and I find it both educational and entertaining. I never actually knew, for example, that the point guard was the fastest member of the team.
If you’re looking for a completely fun and addictive sports manga, Slam Dunk will definitely fit that bill. I’d like it more if Hanamichi weren’t so irritating, but I have hopes that he’ll gradually mature and, in the meantime, there are a lot of other positives to keep me reading!
Review copies for volumes 5-7 provided by the publisher.