Real (2008) by Takehiko Inoue, mangaka of Vagabond and Slam Dunk. Real has been translated & licensed in the US and published by Viz Media. The subject matter: wheelchair basketball. Rated T+ (older teens).
Now here is a gratifying read and a story with some substance. The story follows three teens who find themselves grappling with life changing events in Japan. All are passionate sportsman. All come from different backgrounds. And like the back blurb states, they all have one thing in common, however: their love for basketball.
Eighteen year old, Nishi High school senior, Tomomi Nomiya aka Nomiya has been kicked out of school. Sporting an Afro that he labels the “Kobe Bryant look,” Nomiya views himself as a screw-up and a passionate basketball player. Life seems to have spiraled downward for him since he quit the basketball team. He was recently in a motorcycle accident that left him with a scar and the girl he was with, paralyzed. He makes daily visits to her because he feels responsible. Since the accident, he has cultivated a fear of driving. He seems stuck in a cycle, looking for absolution when it can’t be found.
Next is Kiyoharu Togawa, a 17 year old kid who was diagnosed with bone cancer at 14. His leg was amputated thus making him wheelchair bound. He’s been competing in wheelchair basketball with the Tigers. When Nomiya first meets Togawa, he is impressed with his speed and intensity. But Togawa is reserved and a shadow of his former self who quit the team. He seems to lack focus and feels beaten by his handicap. His defeat in a pick-up game with another athlete who is also wheelchair bound revives his focus and competitiveness from the old days.
Lastly there is Takahashi Ichikawa, a senior and captain of the basketball team at Nishi High. He’s a bully, striking back at his teammates on the basketball court by not passing them the ball. Selfish, arrogant and not a likable guy, life throws him a curve ball, making him a cripple, when he steals a bike and gets hit by a dump truck. He lies alone, in a hospital bed realizing,surprisingly, that life goes on and that no one seems to miss him. Self-pity eats at him but he is determined to walk again.
I’ve read all three volumes and have really enjoyed the story arcs. The prevalent theme seems to be that life without basketball means no life at all. This really is a character driven story about these three boys passion for basketball. The first volume seems to be a little all over the place in respect to character and plot. I didn’t know who was the lead character and then realized as the story progressed that all three teens seemingly share the spotlight.
Passion. Each teen has it in spades. The author did a great job with fleshing out Takahashi and Togawa’s background but Nomiya’s life outside of his love for basketball, remains elusive. We see some growth in the boys as they struggle against routine to find some direction, some purpose. Nomiya and Togawa form a tentative friendship out of their mutual love for the sport. The love of basketball being the transcending factor here.
The most captivating story arc for me would have to be Takahashi Ichikawa, who realistically struggles with accepting his fate followed by Togawa (vol.2). In some form or fashion, all three boys have had their dreams cut short. It’s up to them do something about it. There is a rather subtle romance that hasn’t really been the focus; the set-up was brief and hasn’t really been fully explored yet.
If I had to describe this series thus far I would say it is intense, heartbreaking, captivating, engaging, insightful and more importantly, inspiring. In life, we’ve all faced obstacles. Some people have more serious obstacles to tackle than others. In times of hardship, you have to find your inner strength. You have to reclaim your life back. The journey has only begun for these three boys. I plan to continue this journey with them. As for the artwork, I’m just a reader, not an artist but the artwork in here is fabulous.
I strongly recommend this series, especially if you enjoy stories with complexity. This is one of the better graphic novels out there that seems to have some substance to it. Characterizations once you’re past the first entry is solid, as is the story. I felt really invested and cared a lot about these characters and their futures. Real keeps it real and gets high marks in my book for originality. My grade, B+.