Manga Moveable Feast Update: The current Manga Moveable Feast is winding down over at Playback:stl. Love Hina is a delightful series, but unfortunately I did not have time to participate this time around. My volumes remain buried in a box somewhere. There are plenty of great articles to be read, though, over in the Love Hina MMF archive. Be sure to check it out!
Title: Slam Dunk
Author: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volume 18 (of 31), $9.99
Vintage: 1994 by Shueisha in Japan, October 4, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Sports, drama, comedy
The big game between Shohoku and Ryonan has begun, and it’s not going to be an easy one. With Coach Anzai in the hospital and Akagi’s injury, the Shohoku team has two major setbacks. They’ll have to go above and beyond to beat Ryonan and continue forward in the tournament. Fortunately, Sakuragi’s 500-shots-a-day training seems to be paying off, as he has helped put some of their first points on the board. Though Sakuragi is certainly trying hard, his lack of experience is starting to show, and Ryonan’s secret weapon, Fukuda, is wiping the floor with him. To add to their troubles, Akagi begins to focus more on his injured ankle than on the game, worried that if he moves a certain way or exerts too much force, he’ll aggravate the injury. It becomes increasingly clear, to Shohoku, the fans, and even Ryonan, that Akagi is not in top form, and the rival team attempts to take advantage of his lack of focus. Up against monster player Uozumi, Akagi can’t afford any hesitations, nor can he hold back even the slightest. It takes a “pep talk” from Sakuragi to get his mind back in the game, and finally Shohoku is playing to form. After a humiliating take down, Sakuragi manages to cool his temper, showing a growth of maturity in the hotheaded youth. With the whole team now playing their best and working together, things start looking up for Shohoku. The Ryonan coach sees that it’s time to play a new card, and gives Fukuda a special morale boost that launches Ryonan into an even higher level of play, drawing roars from the crowd and drowning out Shohoku’s presence. As the first half of the game comes to a close, Fukuda is dominating, and Sakuragi is benched (well, floored) with an injury.
Again I have skipped a volume in between, and I am sad to say that I didn’t even notice. As good as this series is, if you skip a volume now and then, it won’t make much of a difference. Shohoku started playing Ryonan in volume 17, which I missed, and I really don’t feel like I missed out on anything (I seriously didn’t even realize I had missed reading a volume). Sometimes it feels like the games are moving so slow (as in, how many volumes can a single game run?), but the pacing is actually pretty decent. There’s a game going on, and you’re watching it, you just also happen to be able to get inside the players’ heads. That’s one of the best things about this series. The downside is that it does all sort of blur together after a point, where you could read every other volume and still manage to follow things. Don’t get me wrong, though; the series is a lot of fun to read, though it’s not one I would ever go back and reread. If it was available on Vizmanga.com, I would recommend that format, since the prices are slashed about in half, but it’s not. I feel I must reiterate, as I have mentioned in past reviews, that the sports genre is not something addressed much in American comic books. Slam Dunk is absolutely the place to go to fill that void with its realistic depiction of the game of basketball, its relatable and genuine characters, and its excellent panel presentation and artwork.
Ageha Yoshina loves getting into fights, especially when he’s getting paid to rough up some punks. Ageha is known for helping people solve their problems, usually violently, for money. He’s having fun living his life, while the reality of the world looms over everyone’s heads. The Earth is heating up, the ice caps are melting, war is unending, Japan has a high suicide rate, people are disappearing (wait, what?), a meteor could strike the planet in just a few years, and social security is going bankrupt. Even with all of that going on, Ageha does his best to focus on the present and enjoy life. On his way home one night, he passes by a public phone that is ringing. With no one else around, Ageha decides to answer the phone, and a strange creature suddenly appears, then just as quickly disappears, leaving behind a strange red phone card that says only “Psyren.” In class the next day, he remembers where he’s heard that word before. His classmate, Sakurako Amamiya rarely speaks, but when she does, she spouts some story about the coming of something called “Psyren.” He accidentally discovers that Amamiya has a phone card like the one he found, but when he confronts the girl, she brusquely denies knowledge of it…and then vanishes after a mysterious cry of “Save me!” Worried about his former childhood friend, Ageha starts looking into the mystery of Psyren. From an occult club member he learns that Psyren is behind the disappearances, and that the organization is led by a being known as the Phantom Nemesis Q. He also discovers that the red phone cards seem to be some sort of conduit between the real world and Psyren. Then he learns that someone is offering a five million yen reward for anyone who finds out the truth behind Psyren, and that people are selling the phone cards for ridiculously high prices online, and that’s all he needs to convince himself to take the plunge. Unfortunately for Ageha, his desire to save Amamiya overcomes his desire to roll in riches, and rather than sell the card off, he decides to use it. When he inserts his card into a payphone, a voice on the other line conducts a bizarre survey. Frustrated, he eventually hangs up before his results are given, and is later confronted by two strange men who demand to be given Ageha’s Psyren card. As he attempts to escape, his phone rings, and he is transported to a vast wasteland. Now in Psyren, he’s immediately attacked by a centipede-like monster, but Amamiya suddenly arrives to save the day. The injured Amamiya seems to know quite a good deal about the game they have been forced into. The two meet up with a group of several other players, then a phone rings, signaling the start of the game. All they have to do is find the exit, where another phone will allow them to leave the game and return home. Thinking it’s just that simple, and with their greed pushing them on, the others set out to find the other phone, leaving Ageha and Amamiya behind. Once Amamiya gathers her strength, she informs Ageha that the other players ran off without all the information. A map appears on the phone’s screen, which shows the location of the exit, but also shows a dark area that is off limits. Basically, it’s instant death if a player enters that area…and it’s exactly where the others were heading. Ageha decides to save them from their foolishness, but strange animal-like creatures aren’t the only thing they have to contend with. A bizarre humanoid creature of immense strength bars their way and has no intention of letting anyone through alive. It’s a ferocious fight for survival, but once the dust clears, Psyren starts to look a little familiar, and it becomes clear that Amamiya is hiding far more that a little extra knowledge.
Yet another generic action manga; hooray. I would like to be joyous over the debut of a new title, but it’s dull, and it’s all things I’ve seen before. Battle Royale came immediately to mind, although it’s really nothing like that ridiculously violent and gory series beyond being set in a sort of deadly survival game scenario. Then, as I read a bit more, it started reminding me of Square Enix’s DS masterpiece The World Ends With You, which made me a little nauseous, because that’s one of my favorite video games. For some reason, the protagonist reminds of of Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, except Yusuke (and his situation) is a lot more interesting (and entertaining; that series is hilarious). So many elements of Psyren remind me of so many better series. It’s an amalgamation of some great elements, just used poorly. So not only do I feel like I’ve read it all before, I’m reminded of things I’d much rather be investing my time in. There’s not really anything here to pull me in. The two genuine monsters shown so far aren’t all that interesting (one looks like a gigantic, psychotic parakeet), and the main character is fairly generic for the genre. The girl tagging along with him seems to be a tad crazy for some reason, but honestly, I don’t even care what trauma has made her erratically nutso. She just sort of randomly spouts paranoid gibberish (well, I guess she’s not paranoid, since it’s actually happening; it’s just the image she presents) with a crazed look in her eyes. Everything is just so atrociously generic. I suggest grabbing a volume of Blue Exorcist instead, because it’s actually entertaining.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.