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March 31, 2014

Bento Bako Weekly: Slam Dunk volumes 29-31

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Written by: Kristin
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slamdunk29Title: Slam Dunk
Author: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: 29-31 (final), $9.99 each
Vintage: 1996 by Shueisha, 2013 by Viz
Genre: Basketball, comedy, drama

[Review of volumes 26-28.]

Well folks, this is it. The last volumes of Slam Dunk. Four months of nonstop basketball action condensed into…thirty-one volumes. In fact, I believe this final match against Sannoh has been going on since volume 25. Talk about an epic shonen battle (in fact, the last two volumes make up about four minutes of game time, with the final volume stretching out the final minute of the game). It seems ridiculous, but remarkably the tension is kept high throughout. Even more remarkably, Shohoku continues to improve in small ways very quickly. Volume 29 kicks off with a double digit lead by Sannoh, which is quickly reduced to single digits with a show of skills by Sakuragi and Rukawa. Of course, Sannoh isn’t about to let them keep going, and their ace player Sawakita proves why he’s one of Japan’s best players. He’s fast, he’s talented, and he knows how to read the court and predict the moves of other players. He widens the lead again, and everyone starts to believe Shohoku’s finally been stopped. Some quick background on Sawakita reveals that he’s been playing one-on-one basketball with his father since he was four years old. But Sawakita plays by leaning his opponent’s flaws and reading predictable moves. As Rukawa faces this new challenge, he realizes that to beat it he has to make use of all his skills – his teammates. Instead of continuing a one-on-one match, Rukawa starts passing the ball, which is so rare it surprises the entire gymnasium. This new element makes Rukawa more unpredictable, which forces Sawakita to play a reactive defense.


To further throw Sawakita off his game, Sakuragi joins Rukawa on defense to put the pressure on Sannoh’s ace. Shohoku begins closing the point gap once again, helped along by a shot from Rukawa that mimics Sawakita’s shot learned in America. Even with less than three minutes on the clock, Shohoku’s players continue to evolve. As Shohoku regains momentum, Sannoh’s coach grows nervous; his team has never faced such a tenacious opponent before. Even Takenori can feel that things are different this time; he’s got a team he can rely on. As Sakuragi is quick to show when he makes a dive for a ball about to land out of bounds and switch to Sannoh, and smashes into a table with his back. With the ball remaining in Shohoku’s possession after Sakuragi’s daring dive, even the crowd starts to shift in favor of the underdog team. The game shrinks to a five point difference, but Sakuragi starts to feel the effects of his crash with stabs of pain in his back. Not only is it distracting, but it affects his ability to play. Though Ayako mentions the injury could be career ending, Sakuragi doesn’t let it stop him, but sensing he’s at his limit, Coach Anzai orders a substitution.

Sakuragi obviously isn’t thrilled, and insists on going back out onto the court despite the pain he’s in. This game is the defining moment of his life, after all, and he’s not about to sit it out. However, despite the pain he’s in, Sakuragi’s there when it counts, and any mistakes he makes are quickly remedied by his own effort. Surprised by Shohoku’s continued effort, even when they appear to be completely exhausted, Sannoh makes a handful of small mistakes, including fouling Mitsui, which brings Shohoku within one point. As the clock ticks down to the game’s last seconds, everyone pulls out the last shreds of their strength and stamina for a final push. A basket by Sannoh in the game’s last 10 seconds seems to signal the end, but Shohoku has one last play up their sleeve in the game’s final seconds that lets Sakuragi prove his merit. Despite the win, the ending of this final volume is a little bitter sweet, but it also shows that there’s a bright future for Shohoku’s heroes of the court.

slamdunk31Inoue really shines in these last volumes, keeping the tension building and the outcome of the game up in the air until its last few seconds. Shohoku really comes together as a team here, with traditionally solo Rukawa learning to rely on his teammates rather than trying to do everything on his own. Akagi takes a bit of a backseat in these volumes to Rukawa and Sakuragi, though he certainly has his shining moments, as well. The starting five all get their little moments, though the spotlight is clearly on Rukawa, Sakuragi, and Sannoh’s Sawakita. Despite not being a basketball fan, or even a sports fan, I’ve enjoyed reading Slam Dunk. Although as a reader you’re simply holding a book in your hands and watching games play out panel by panel, it gets as exciting as a real game of basketball. It’s hard not to internally cheer along with the crowd. And while there is some predictability to things, it’s still incredibly exciting. I have very few complaints, and the only one of importance deals with Sakuragi. When he’s injured during his dive for the ball, he ignores the pain until he just about collapses, then continues to insist on playing. With a game as tight as this one, and so much on the line, to allow a player on the court who can barely stand isn’t a smart move, and Sakuragi should know this, despite his ego. He continually makes mistakes when he’s distracted by the pain or his back locks up, and it’s by sheer luck and willpower that they don’t destroy the hard work of the rest of his team. In reality, I think he would have been benched (and his coach does try), but of course this is manga, and you can’t just bench the hero in the end game. The series has a strong end overall, and a nice wrap up chapter to round things off.




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