Real vol.4 by Takehiko Inoue (2009) is a character driven story that focuses on teens who are dealing with serious, real life issues. The backdrop for all of this is basketball. A sport that transcends and speaks the universal language of hard work, passion and determination.
Takehiko Inoue from Vagabond and Slam Dunk fame takes on wheelchair basketball. The series thus far has been focusing on teens who have had their lives dramatically changed by some major event. The backstory for each of the teens presented is comprised of tragic accidents and debilitating and often fatal diseases that has robbed them of their goals, potential or personal achievements.
In volume #4 of Real, the story focuses on recurring character, Kiyoharu Togawa, a teen who has lost his leg to bone cancer. At 17, Kiyoharu was the fastest on his track team. Then one day it all comes crashing down on him. His father, based on medical advice, decides to let the doctor cut off Kiyoharu’s leg to prevent any further spread of cancer and thus he undergoes rotationplasty. Since the procedure, Kiyoharu has shunned his teammates and keeps to himself.
The story dives into flashbacks on Kiyoharu’s catharsis. He meets up with a charismatic and outgoing guy name Tora who is into wheelchair sports and plays for the Tiger’s. Kiyoharu identifies with Tora since they both had the same procedure done. Tora helps Kiyoharu find his path. The point of the flashbacks is to show readers how far Kiyoharu has come to accepting what has happened to him and how he has decidedly moved forward. It has been an emotional struggle for him.
Eventually, we see how Kiyoharu gets stronger and as a member of the Tigers, he pushes himself and his teammates to a second place win in a wheelchair sports tournament. This also leads to an invitation to represent Japan on an International level. It’s a coveted spot that he’s worked hard to achieve. The flashbacks in the story serve to make us understand what a difficult road it was for him to travel.
Kiyoharu’s buddy, Tomomi Nomiya, who fancies himself another Jason Kidd on the basketball court, is still without direction. Nomiya was in a major motorcycle accident that left a young girl paralyzed. He was also kicked out of high school. Since being out of school he can’t seem to hold down a job. This latest job has him in a monster costume for a show but his performance is a major fail. Unscripted, he kills off the star of the show, the hero which I thought was quite funny. When his boss fires him, Nomiya doesn’t understand why, stating that “[t]here are kids out there who realize that the good guys don’t always win. Bet this show made them feel validated.” Amen to that.
Real is one of the meatier manga titles out there for adults. The artwork is very well done especially where the emotion of the characters which plays an integral part of the story, comes through brilliantly. I haven’t touched on all the intricacies of the plot or themes and at times, the tone of the story could become preachy. Other than that, this is one of the best series going right now besides my other guilty pleasure read, Vampire Knight. I highly recommend this emotionally charged and often action packed series if you enjoy complex stories with deft characterizations. My grade, B+.