Title: Slam Dunk
Author: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volumes 26, 27, and 28 (of 31), $9.99
Vintage: 1995-1996 by Shueisha; February, April, and June 2013 by Viz
Genre: Sports, basketball
The tournament match against national champs Sannoh continues. And continues and continues, through all three of these volumes, and will continue on into the next. As far as I know, it’s the longest match in the series, but for good reason. The match pushes both teams to their absolute limits, but while Sannoh is mostly consistent throughout the game, Shohoku’s players grow and improve right in the middle of the biggest match of their lives. Sannoh’s defense is almost unbeatable, and Mitsui is feeling the pressure as he fights to get his shots off. Just as his confidence starts returning, the quick-footed Sawakita starts putting the pressure on Rukawa, but his pride won’t allow him to be beat. After Sawakita is benched for losing his focus during a foul, Rukawa takes a breather, but Sawakita is replaced by the absolutely massive Mikio Kawata. Mikio is practically an immovable wall, and Sakuragi must contend against him. Sakuragi is growing frustrated trying to get around such a huge player, but Coach Anzai comes up with a plan. Not only does Sakuragi figure out Mikio’s main tactic and put a stop to it, but he manages to get around Mikio’s defensive maneuvers, eventually causing a frustrated Mikio to be pulled from the court. Shohoku ends the first half of the game with a two-point lead. But as the second half begins, Sannoh quickly takes back the lead, and keeps it going.
Shohoku starts losing their focus, and Sannoh not only picks up a solid rhythm, but starts their famous full court press to prevent Shohoku from making any progress at all. Then they get on a scoring streak, piling on sixteen points in just two and a half minutes. Through sheer determination, Shohoku finally breaks the press, but they still can’t manage to score and Akagi starts losing his confidence as a player. Five minutes in, and Sannoh pulls away with a twenty point lead. Everyone from Sannoh’s couch to the other teams watching in the stands gives up on Shohoku at that point, but Coach Anzai doesn’t. Shohoku starts making fundamental mistakes, like double dribbling and traveling, in their attempt to fight Sannoh’s defense, but Anzai has a new plan. He pulls Sakuragi from the game so the hot-headed first year can observe the court. He shows Sakuragi that if they focus on rebounds, they can bring the game back in their favor, and that happens to be one of Sakuragi’s specialties. He pulls a little stunt to pump up his team, then he’s back on the court.
It takes a little bit of time for Sakuragi to find his rhythm, and perhaps a little bit of unsportsmanlike behavior, but he does manage to turn things around and get Shohoku back in the game. His job isn’t over yet, though. Akagi still doesn’t have his head in the game, and Mitsui is on the brink of collapsing from exhaustion. Fortunately, Sakuragi keeps doing what he does best to get his team the ball, and Akagi receives a few odd words of support from a very unlikely source. Akagi finally realizes that he doesn’t have to beat Kawata, he just has to work to support his team so everyone can shine. The team finally starts working together to use everyone’s talents to their advantage. Akagi screens, Mitsui shoots, and Sakuragi rebounds if the shot misses. All they have to do is trust in each other to do their jobs. Sannoh’s coach catches on, however, and moves his best defensive player, Kawata, to guard Sakuragi. However, putting such a highly ranked player up against him only increases Sakuragi’s confidence, and he’s not about to let Kawata keep him from his duty to his teammates.
It’s an exciting three volumes, even though we’ve been on this single game for a while. Inoue keeps things interesting by continually growing his characters, even in the middle of the biggest game of their lives. And that’s one thing they never stop doing throughout the entire series – they grow as people and as players from volume 1 and on. That’s one of the things that makes this series worth reading. So does the excellent, detailed artwork and the attention paid to the games themselves. You might as well be sitting in the bleachers at the actual game, cheering Shohoku on. It’s exciting, it’s realistic, and it has a lot of heart. Particularly this trio of volumes, as the team struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds, and everyone starts to give up on these underdogs, even themselves. They come together, though, and when Shohoku focuses and really works together, they can do almost anything, as long time readers of the series can attest to. So keep reading, keep cheering, and watch Shohoku become the amazing team they’re meant to be.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.