Truly, one of the greatest sports manga ever made
You have been reading most and if not all my classic reviews, you would learn that a lot of old manga series are discovered by me thanks to my brother’s reccomendations. If I remember well enough, this was probably his very first manga series and definitely his favorite (next to Berserk, but that takes f*cking FOREVERRRR). It was probably the very reason he took basketball with such a passion during his highschool years. Now this was a long time ago, and he always told me, firsthand to read this manga if I was ever going to read a sports manga. So now, my time has come and I finally did read this and, wow. That was one hell of an inspirational joyride.
So whats the series about anyway? Judging from the title and the fact if you knew anything about the basketball world, it’s about basketball. The story is about the Shohoku Highschool’s average basketball team that rises to one of the top schools for basketball in the nation, thanks to a team of rowdy teammates that constantly fight and annoy eachother. Spoilers! but it’s a sports manga!
How did this start? Well, our humble beginning starts with Sakuragi Hanamichi, our emotional and inspirational guide through this series. He has recently gotten rejected by a girl who remarks she’s in love with a basketball player in their school and his “friends” come out to celebrate his 50th loss of potential love. Sakuragi has started his first year of highschool on a very low note and constantly headbutts his friends if they mutter any word that sounds like “basketball”. While he goes out to cool his head, a girl mentions basketball behind his back and Sakuragi turns with rage. Instead of headbutting said girl, he finds Haruko Akagi, a rather cute girl who asks him if he liked basketball due to Sakuragi’s noticeable height. Sakuragi in fear of losing yet another girl, answers yes to her question. Later on, she shows him their school’s gym and asks if he knew what a slam dunk was. Sakuragi fails his first attempt and later finds himself joining the basketball team for his school under the leadership of Team Captain Akagi Takenori (called Gori[as in Gorilla] and he is also Haruko’s older brother). Sakuragi knows nothing about the sports rules and or playing mechanics which caused him to lag behind his potential teammates. He is trained basics for the game much to his dismay and thinks about quitting the team due to the boring lessons. For now, Sakuragi played only to impress Haruko but when he realizes that she’s in a one-sided relationship with Rukawa Kaede, another player in his team. This makes Sakuragi try even harder to win Haruko’s heart. The tale of victory, loss, teamwork, perseverance, and determination, this is Slam Dunk.
Characters. Of course, with this being a sports manga there’s obviously going to be a lot of characters because it focuses on a team, but no matter. I will focus on Shohoku’s team as a badass team can only be countered by yet another badass team(which means MOAR CHARACTERS), something I don’t really have time for.
- Sakuragi: The self proclaimed genius of the Basketball team. Sakuragi initially joined to impress Haruko by being an ace player and also beating his self proclaimed rival, Rukawa. However, after playing many more games and adding victories and losses, he becomes to love the sport for what it is. His natural abilities with speed and jumping allows him to be an unexpected game changer against many of his opponents. His bright red hair also gets him some infamy as a “punk” sort of character. He initially has a hairstyle like Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho, only to have it completely trimmed down to a light buzzcut. His brash attitude is backed up by his strength and he uses his head as his greatest weapon when it comes to fighting. As I have mentioned, he has potential but he needs to learn his basics first and always ended up getting fouled out. Because we see through his eyes the most, we usually see characters being depicted as animals. Rukawa as a fox, Akagi as a gorilla, and almost everyone else as a monkey. He views Rukawa as a rival, Akagi as rough teacher, Mitsui-Miyagi-and Kogure as teammates, and Anzai as a fat old man (but he still has some degree of respect for him). On the court, he becomes the one of the starting players alongside the next four characters. His position is mainly foward offense as he cannot dribble the ball or control it for most of the series and his jumping ability allows him to dunk and be a boss at rebounds. It was through pure determination (and some motivation from Haruko) that sparked his love for basketball. He is loud, arrogant, and brash but is extremely weak around girls.
- Rukawa: Rukawa is part of two one sided relationships. One being the one sided love between Haruko (who he doesn’t really care about) and a one sided rivalry with Sakuragi. Rukawa is the pure, naturally talented character that is an archtype for most sports based series. Alongside Sakuragi, they are called the aces of the team (but only Rukawa is recieved with the most positive reception from the crowd). Rukawa’s main hobby is sleeping but later becomes very dedicated to the sport and tries to become the number 1 in Japan and go on to America. He himself is an extremely good player. But his attitude towards his teammates (which he warms up to over time) make him a player that doesn’t really pass that often. Alongside Sakuragi, he’s an offensive foward only he has more options on how to score. Rukawa is also a very good fighter. Not so sure about him vs Sakuragi but he’s pretty badass. His attitude REALLY makes me believe that characters in modern series like Sasuke from Naruto or Hijikata from Gintama act like.
- Akagi: Akagi is Haruko’s brother and his called Gori because of his humongous stature. Akagi along with Mitsui and Kogure are the veterans of the basketball team. Akagi started out as crappy as Sakuragi did but has become one of the greatest centers of the region. Akagi unlike the rest of his starting teammates is not a complete jock. He is very smart and ends up teaching the four because they failed their exams. Akagi is extremely passionate about the sport from the very beginning moments he had started playing. Akagi was Sakuragi’s first opponent and was his teacher of his great rebound skills. He started out seeing Sakuragi as an idiot with potential but he later accepts him as a fully trusted teammate, but still hits him on head when Sakuragi gets too arrogant. Like I have mentioned, he is the center for the team.
- Miyagi: I’m not actually sure if Miyagi is in the same age group with Rukwa and Sakuragi but he is the latter’s “best friend” in the team. Miyagi is very short to be a basketball player but makes up for it with his incredible agility and his awareness on the court which makes him the point guard. Miyagi was introduced to us as a former basketball team player but was suspended for a while because he had to be in the hospital. Miyagi is apparently a troublemaker and regularly got into fights. After helping Miyagi (and the next person in this list) his troubles are dealt with and he becomes a character with a little problems in the series. Miyagi starts out as a punk to Sakuragi and they literally brawl it out in the gym, only to be stopped by Akagi, Ayako, and Haruko. Later that day Miyagi tells him that he is in love with Ayako and he tells Sakuragi the sadness of being rejected more than 10 times. However, Sakuragi (with a hilarious face) tells him he knows exactly how he feels. The two arrives the next day as bros. He actually had a bad fight with Mitsui’s gang and I think Miyagi was the one that punched some of Miyagi’s teeth out. Mitsui answers this by bringing his gang to the school’s gym and starting a fight which would lead to the deletion of the team. It all works out though
- Mitsui: Mitsui started out as a long haired ugly ass motha f*cka but actually become one of the better looking character in the series. Miyagi did him a favor of beating him up but he retaliates and tries to get the basketball team disbanded by starting a fight in the gym between his gang and the basketball team. Miyagi seeing that this is his fault tries to get everyone to not retaliate against Mitsui’s gang but Rukawa and Sakuragi brawls it out with the gang members. Sakuragi’s friends show up to kick some ass too. However, Mitsui confronts Kogure, one of the veteran members of the team. Kogure reveals to us that Mitsui was one of the best middle school players in the region. His dedication to their Coach made him come to Shohoku instead of the really good schools. However when his knee (If any one of you say arrows, I will punch you) was injured he was left out of the team. Because of this, he later quit the team and make a gang. So after the incident with Miyagi, he has returned to cause a bad rep for the basketball team. Later, the teachers find out about what has happened and Sakuragi’s friend takes responsability for the fight, one of Mitsui’s friends also takes blame for the fight as he sees that Mitsui wishes to play again. Mitsui then meets Coach Anzai once more and then decides to rejoin the basketball team. After getting his uglyass hair cut short, he vows to never fight again. Mitsui is the shooting guard and excells 3 pointer specialist and is probably the only one in the team to pull many in succession. However, due to his years of absence, his skills have gotten rusty with almost everything else and his stamina isn’t at its peak. Mitsui is dedicated and doesn’t really have that many problems with the team but his nearly fanatical devotion to Anzai does kinda of get on the nerve of a few characters.
- Kogure: Other than the starting 5, Yasuda, and a few other recruits of the basketball team, Kogure filled in the spots when Miyagi and Mitsui wasn’t here. Kogure wears glasses but he should not be taken lightly as he has a great knowledge for the game (as much as Akagi because they joined at the same time). Kogure, once the starting 5 are revealed does not take part in the game as much but he still is a vital component to their team.
- Haruko: Haruko is the girl who kick-started Sakuragi’s passion for basketball. She is just a whole hearted, nice girl who is quite smart as she teaches the dumber memebers of the team to pass a test when they needed to pass to get to a match in time. Because this isn’t a romance anime and because Sakuragi just becomes passionate about the sport as much as he still likes her, the series ends before any romance happens. She’s still in a one sided relationship with Ruakwa though
- Ayako: Ayako is the manager for the team who helps everyone out in general. She teaches Sakuragi the bare basics of the sport. Like, Kogure, she’s support.
- Anzai: Anzai was known as the White Devil/Demon during his years as a coach for college level teams. His brutal ferocity and his strictness named him that name. All changed when one of his student wished to go to America so he could show his talents. Anzai tells him that would be a stupid move as he barely even knows the concept of proper teamwork. The student does not heed to words of Anzai and goes off to America. However, a videotape regarding said student is given to Anzai as he sees his former student being a terrible player compared to the American players. Later it is revealed that the student has died in a car crash under the influence of drugs and a letter he never had the courage to send detailed that he regrets not listening to him and is so ashamed and he couldn’t possibley come back. This completely changed Anzai and his White Demon status become known as the White Buddha for his completely calm demeanor. Under the rather chubby mind of this old man, is a mind of a brilliant strategist. Like a few other characters, he notices Sakuragi’s potential and allows him to play even if his basics sucked. Anzai teaches him how to shoot properly by making him do 20,000 shots during a weeks time.
- Sakuragi’s Gang and other teammates: Sakuragi’s gang consists of Mito, Noma, Ohkusu, and Takamiya. Mito being one of the toughets fighters, Noma with the noticeable mustache, Ohkusu the blondie and Takamiya the fatty with glasses. Althought they usually tease Sakuragi for his inability with his basketball basics they remain very loyal to Sakuragi, coming to his aid for fights and cheering him on every game he has. Theres also a few more characters like Mitsui’s gang members and the rest of the team. The school’s Judo captain also appears often, mostly trying to get Sakuragi into the judo team but passionately cheers the team on
Well wasn’t that a wall of text. Anyways, most of the character analysis was already done in this huge thing right here so let me just talk what makes it so different. A lot of sports series have a main character who joins a team because he’s already freaking amazing. Look at Prince of Tennis, Eyeshield, and Bamboo Blade. All of these characters in their respective series have great “talent” for the sport and have little room for improvement. Sakuragi was great “potential” and I think thats what makes this series so different from the rest. Sakuragi literally sucks at basketball from the beginning and the only thing he knows how to do is jump, pass, and dunk. He almost quits because he was tired of learning the basics. He has no idea for the fundamentals and only after chapters and chapters of motivation does he truly begin to accel. Sakuragi’s training and his determination is what makes such a great experience. Watching kids with great talent already is fine but to watch a noob become the best is something amazing.
The relationship between the teammates is great too. But the rivalry between Rukawa and Sakuragi, the two aces is one of the better rivalries I’ve seen. Spoilers but the two do share an epic moment in their final game. Rukawa realizes that he cannot win against the team they are facing alone and during the last few seconds, passes to Sakuragi (something which he has NEVER DONE) and Sakuragi takes the winning shot.
Actually, the shot is one of the things that pisses me off actually. The series is called Slam Dunk, I was completely expecting that game to end, with a jaw dropping dunk. Rukawa, the cold fox that never passed to anyone, passes to the kid who declared himself as his rival to win the game. Instead of said slam dunk, Sakuragi takes a 2 pointer. But that could signify his change. His burning heart that wanted love and superiority against his rival has solidified into a heart of a player who has become calm and has learned to love the sport for what it is.
EDIT: Forgot this part. Many series depict “training”. It’s a common thing to do. If you want to be stronger or more skilled, you train. It is very very clear Sakuragi goes through training, but even so, he still manages to fail a few times. Points for realism? Very much so
I can really see why my brother took up basketball during his highschool years. Hell, I myself feel motivated to go outside, shoot a few hoops and slam dunk a few too. Sakuragi’s character is just so relatable. Hell, my brother tried to train me in basketball and I would say I was tired of basics and that they were annoying, much like Sakuragi has done.
Without a doubt, one of the BEST sports series ever made. It proudly stands next to GTO in my favorites
The desperate ploy to gain love has turned into a passion for a game he called stupid. Take a word from the Tensai himself, read it, you won’t regret it