“Slam Dunk,” by Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond) (2008) is a series about a kid who joins his high school basketball team in order to impress a young girl he loves. It’s a story about love and basketball, hua.
First year Shohoku high school student, Hanamichi Sakuragi is a loud-mouth bully. His shock of red hair has made him an oddity among his classmates. However, his height and build makes him stand out to his upperclassman and his quick temper often gets him into plenty of scrapes.
Sakuragi is also not very popular with the girls. He’s been rejected 50 times in a row with the last girl telling him that she’s in love with a basketball player. This puts him into a depressive funk of which his friends tease him mercifully. Needless to say, Sakuragi is heartbroken, stating that “winter” has settled inside of his heart. He’s an emotional guy, who’s mood changes like the wind.
Being the sore loser that he is, anyone who reminds him of basketball is greeted with a head-butt. That is until Akagi Haruko asks him if he likes basketball and tells him that she “loves athletes.” Sukaragi falls instantly in love with Haruko and declares himself, what else, an athlete. And just like that, “spring has arrived” in the form of Haruko, who he hopes will ask him to walk her to school one day.
We watch as he enthusiastically throws himself into the sport without knowing any of the rules (or caring). Sukaragi is a handful because he is arrogant, impatient, lacks manners and doesn’t respond to criticism well. Molding him into a passable basketball player isn’t going to be easy. His goal to impress Haruko gets complicated even further when he runs into her older brother who happens to be the captain of the basketball team, Akagi Takenori.
Sakuragi earns himself a spot on the basketball team because he has the potential to be a formidable player (while being determined and enthusiastic). I don’t think he realizes his potential as an athlete, at least, not until the Judo team tries to recruit him. There’s a defining moment in the story where he decides he wants to be a basketball player and that’s when the story really starts to get good.
Haruko secretly teaches him how to slam dunk and do lay-ups. Surprisingly he improves and this is seen as a natural progression of talent and didn’t feel forced or contrived. Of course, there’s a rival for Haruko’s affections and his name is Rukawa Kaede. Rukawa is a star athlete who is very popular with the girls. He is the complete opposite of Sakuragi. While both men have the same physical height and build, both men are very different. Rukawa is quiet, reserved and a skilled basketball player who shuns the girls attention while Sakuragi is a loud mouth bully, looking for the spotlight and is determined to learn what (maybe) Rukawa takes for granted.
There is the usual on/off basketball court rivalry between Rukawa and Sukaragi and the conflicts with the captain of the team & staff. The three of them together, however, form a formidable team and may have what it takes to make it to the National Championship, which is Ayagi’s dream (and passion).
To start off my analysis of this series, must mention the artwork: the men are drawn to be very tall and very built in here like whoa. They are very striking and very imposing to look at. This series so far has been a lot of fun and prior knowledge about basketball is not necessary to follow along. However, the author does take the time to explain a few of the elements of basketball and did it in such a way as to make it not seem so boring or distracting.
The hero in this series, Sukaragi is a handful. Often times, I called him an idiot but you can’t help but root for the guy. It is always impressive to me to see a character change or grow substantially from where they started. It is so cool to see a character determined to be something and succeed at it. But can a loud mouth bully become a formidable basketball player? Will he get the girl in the end? I can’t wait to find out the answers myself.
I’d have to conclude that yes, this series is a lot of fun thus far and I can see why it is so popular in Japan. I know Nath enjoys this series very much and she’s one of a handful of readers I turn to for manga recs. “Slam Dunk” is a must read for sports fans or non-sports fans, it really doesn’t matter. My grade, B+. I bought my copy (that has over 30 color pages, sa-weet) but you are able to read this manga online (sorry you will have to google it). I already pre-ordered the second volume that is due out this month;this is a series I plan to follow.
Additional info: Slam Dunk, Volume 1is already completed at 31 volumes and was recently licensed in the US by Viz Media with two volumes translated and available in the US at this time.