It’s the Nationals, and Shohoku is down by six points at the beginning of the second half of their game against top ranked Toyotama High. Coach Anzai’s plan is for the Shohoku boys to beat Toyotama at their own game, to go head-to-head with their run-and-gun tactics. Rukawa is back on the court, with one eye swollen shut thanks to “Ace Killer” Minami, and although he’s ready and willing to play his best game yet, he is slightly hampered by the loss of sight on his left side. This allows everyone to see what kind of player Rukawa really is, as he must rely less on his sight and more on instinct and muscle memory. As they sprint across the court, Shohoku proves that they can keep pace with Toyotama’s style, but that still leaves them up against the Osaka area’s top three scorers. Driven by Rukawa’s show of skill, Sakuragi steps up his game to show his team the results of his special practice session, and suddenly Shohoku is closing the gap. The team is energized, and even Mitsui finally finds his game. Their momentum is strong, and it surprises Toyotama, who begin struggling as Minami starts missing shots and Kishimoto lashes out angrily. The team gets into an argument during a timeout, and even the coach gets involved in creating a scene. As Minami loses sight of what’s important, he makes a desperate move and charges into Rukawa, knocking them both to the ground, and hitting his own head hard enough to black out. He wakes up to his former coach, Kitano, treating his injury, who leaves him with some important words that puts the love of the game back into him and the other Toyotama boys.
As usual, there’s a subtle amount of character development in this volume. Rukawa proves his mettle, and illustrates just how hard he’s been working since he started playing basketball. Sakuragi’s training finally pays off in almost scary fashion, showcasing vast and incredibly fast improvements that take far longer than just a few months for most people to attain. And although Toyotama loses, and is therefore out of the Nationals, the team learns a valuable lesson to carry them through their disappointment. Sannoh Kogyo is the next team Shohoku will face, and they’re the reigning champion’s, so it won’t be an easy game. Anzai has faith in the boys, enough to give them a glimpse of exactly what they’ll be facing and trust that they’ll be strong enough the footage won’t shatter their confidence. Sannoh isn’t sitting on their laurels, either, as they take time to study every facet of Shohoku’s strategy and even put in a last minute practice session and scrimmage. They’re not going to make things easy for Shohoku. For whatever reason, I never noticed before, but why do Inoue’s characters only sweat on the upper half of their bodies? They’re completely drenched up top, but their legs are perfectly dry; it’s a little jarring. But it’s not important, it’s just me harping on something silly. The art is solid as usual, though it’s a real shame that the two chapters that appear to have been originally printed in color are forced to be black and white in this format.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.