Slam Dunk 3-7 by Takehiko Inoue: B

slamdunk3How did I let myself get a whole year behind on Slam Dunk?! Of course, the upside to such a monumental lapse is having half a dozen volumes to gobble up back-to-back!

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.

slamdunk5The 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.

slamdunk7I’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.

Slam Dunk 2 by Takehiko Inoue: B+

Volume two of Slam Dunk sure has been a long time coming! When we left off in volume one, hot-headed Sakuragi had grown frustrated with fundamentals training and quit the team. We pick up the story with Sakuragi regretting his decision, and he soon returns to practice after quickly polishing off a thug who’d been spoiling for a fight.

Although Sakuragi is still as clueless and boastful as before, he’s slightly less annoying than he used to be because he is starting to become interested in the sport more for its own sake than as a way to secure Haruko’s affections. Like a good shonen hero, his rate of improvement exceeds everyone’s expectations and he manages to impress the coach during an intra-team practice match despite needing to learn a special lesson about the value of teamwork.

The supporting cast gets a little more attention in this volume, most notably Assistant Captain Kogure and the team manager, Ayako, though they’re mostly relegated to reacting to the actions of others’ and/or calling out the names of moves like “Fly swatter!” The intra-team match is the highlight of the volume, giving readers an idea of how cool an actual game will be once the story advances that far. I’m personally looking forward to it!

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Slam Dunk 1 by Takehiko Inoue: B

Sakuragi has never been a hit with girls. In fact, in three years of junior high he amassed an impressive fifty rejections! Now in his first year of high school, he once again believes he’s met the girl of his dreams. Haruko loves athletes, and basketball in particular, so to win her affections, Sakuragi becomes determined to join the school team.

This aim is complicated by Sakuragi’s overwhelming, almost painful stupidity and violent outbursts of temper. He mouths off within earshot of the captain (who also happens to be Haruko’s older brother) and publicly humiliates him in a basketball contest. Though he manages to control himself long enough to get onto the team, he is quickly frustrated by fundamentals training and ends up storming off the court in a huff.

I know Slam Dunk is a classic of sports manga, a genre I really like, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I thought I would. Most of that has to do with Sakuragi’s temperament, though, so I’m hopeful that as he’s forced to learn discipline and teamwork, the ignorant boasting and random karate chopping will gradually subside. The actual playing and practicing of basketball is great fun to read, another reason I assume my enjoyment will increase in future installments.

I was both impressed and a little confused by Inoue’s artwork. The style is by turns realistic and comedic, and though sometimes it borders on unattractive, there are definitely moments of greatness. A page and a half spread of the basketball court is a particular standout; the way the panel is framed does an excellent job in conveying the size and height of the room.

The confusion stems from several characters that appear to be of African descent. Their names are Japanese, though, and one of them is Haruko’s brother, so I am assuming they’re not supposed to be a different ethnicity than their peers. I was also struck by the resemblance of one of Sakuragi’s buddies to the late Robert Goulet. Consider the evidence:

A number of extras are included in this volume, all without deviating from the standard Shonen Jump price of $7.99. The first chapter is printed entirely in color, and a glossy color section in back includes a profile of a real-life NBA superstar and some tips on how to perform a slam dunk. And a sticker!

I liked this okay, and I’m confident I’ll like the rest more. It’ll be a long wait until volume two–due out in February–but Viz recently announced that a new series is due to replace Slam Dunk in the magazine come March, so the frequency of releases ought to increase in the near future.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.