Title: Slam Dunk
Author: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump)
Volume: Volume 22 (of 31), $9.99
Vintage: 1994 by Shueisha in Japan, June 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Sports, basketball, comedy
The last volume reviewed in this column was volume 19, which featured the game between Shohoku and Ryonan for a spot in the National Tournament. Shohoku squeaked by with a win in volume 21, but the volume ended with Rukawa announcing his desire to play basketball in America. Coach Anzai immediately shuts him down, and volume 22 opens with a look into Anzai’s past, to a time when he coached another promising player who went to America after becoming frustrated with Anzai’s coaching methods, which he felt were holding him back. Anzai doesn’t want to make the same mistake again, and Rukawa realizes that his coach just wants to make him the best possible player he can be, and not just that, but the best player in Japan. Seeing the faith his coach has in him, and the honest desire to build him into an amazing player, Rukawa throws his all into practice, and startles his teammates with his new intensity. Rukawa’s new drive lights a fire under Sakuragi, of course, who refuses to let his rival outshine him. After watching an intense one-on-one match between Rukawa and Mitsui, Sakuragi decides to challenge him, but finds himself quickly defeated. Meanwhile, Akagi is scouted by a top university team, but they insist he make it to Nationals in order to convince the admissions committee. Things are looking great for Shohoku, until four of their top players, including Rukawa, Sakuragi, and Mitsui, fail their exams, which would keep them off the team for Nationals. Akagi begs the teachers for a second chance for his teammates, and rounds them up for a serious study session. Immediately after the makeup exams, the team goes to a week-long training camp with another school. Sakuragi, however, is made to stay behind for some one-on-one practice with Coach Anzai. With a little help from some of Sakuragi’s friends, Anzai sets up a grueling training regiment to turn Sakuragi into a secret weapon. Everyday he practices shooting, refining his form. By the time he makes twenty thousand shots, the team returns from their camp, and they begin practicing for their next big game…as soon as Sakuragi picks up some new sneakers.
This volume takes a step back from the fast-paced, hyper intense games that have made up the last several volumes, and focuses on individual players. Specifically Rukawa and Sakuragi. The idea that Rukawa could get even better, when he’s already considered one of the best players around, is a little unbelievable, but it’s all in his attitude, not his ability. He has the skills, they just need to be fine tuned, and he needs to have patience and rely on his coach to help make that happen. As for Sakuragi…. Didn’t we just read like two volumes of this series where he does nothing but practice shooting? And he’s still doing that? Did it not work the first time? Must we do this whole story line all over again? The only reason for this that I can come up with, was that his first batch of shooting training with Akagi was for under the basket shots, and Coach Anzai’s take things a bit farther back. I can’t rightly recall, though if that were so, then it makes more sense. Otherwise it seems a little silly. Akagi gets a nice little surprise when he’s scouted in this volume, but he doesn’t let it go to his head. In fact, it drives him even more. In particular, he wants to prove that Shohoku is a team of individuals working together, and not just one person carrying everyone else. The look into Coach Anzai’s past is a nice touch, and serves to explain the way he coaches Shohoku. Feeling that he failed the player from his past, he’s a bit more careful now, though he still feels strongly (possibly even more so) about his players. He truly wants them to be the best they can be, for themselves. He pulls out a few surprises this volume, too, earning respect from, believe it or not, Sakuragi. The sneaker-shopping episode at the end of the volume is short, but it’s a nice little bit of down time, and gives Sakuragi some alone time with Haruko. They also meet a serious basketball fan who believes Shohoku can go all the way. Another fun volume from Inoue.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.