After beating Ryonan back in volume 21, Shohoku has made it to the Nationals. They’re all revved up to play against last year’s national champions, Sannoh. Beating Sannoh will pit them against Aiwa Gakuin (who made it into last year’s final four). They’re forgetting one things, however. Before they can even get to Sannoh, they have to beat Toyotama, and Toyotama isn’t about to let them forget that. Members of Toyotama make themselves known to Shohoku on the train ride to Hiroshima, and the fires of rivalry are immediately stoked. In fact, along with Kainan, they nearly get into a brawl with Toyotama outside the stadium. The team captains calm everyone down, and the Shohoku boys have a restless night before their first game of the Nationals. They have the support of their friends to keep them going, though, including Kainan, and even Ryonan, along with the usual assortment of hometown fans. Shohoku is fine for about the first fifteen seconds of the game, but they soon learn they have grossly underestimated Toyotama. The high ranked team takes them to town, and quickly starts putting points on the board, running a fast game that Shohoku just can’t keep up with in their initial surprise. They also start losing focus as the Toyotama players start talking trash on the court, particularly Sakuragi, whose hot head makes him miss a clear shot entirely. Coach Anzai switches the team’s tactics immediately, and sends in Yasuda to slow the pace of the game back down. The cool headed Yasuda performs his task admirably, and Shohoku is finally able to not just put some points on the board, but keep pace with Toyotama throughout the first half. Toyotama responds with a highly aggressive style of play, and their so-called “Ace Killer,” small forward Minami, sets Rukawa in his sights. With their top scorer injured, and tempers rising, it’s going to be difficult for Shohoku to regain their focus. But Coach Anzai is a man with a plan; he’s not about to let his kids go out in the very first round.
This volume returns to the fast paced action of a high stakes basketball game. It’s nice to have the occasional slower, character focused volume, like the previous one, but Slam Dunk is at its best when emotions are running high on the court. The characters shine more, and Inoue’s artwork is better served illustrating the quick movements of energetic players. The characters are still growing, as they do in every volume. For example, Sakuragi is finally taking notice of Rukawa as more than just an irritating rival, but as a genuinely good basketball player, and someone he should be observing and learning from. Maybe he could learn how to control his temper as well as how to handle the ball; then he could be a really amazing player. Toyotama is a vicious team, and honestly they seem to play a little dirty. They don’t just block or try to foul the top players; they go out of their way to injure them and get them out of the game, permanently. It’s interesting to watch Shohoku deal with such a team, as they aren’t exactly the most level headed young men, and certainly aren’t very willing to sit on their hands while Toyotama basically picks a fight with them. If they can keep their cool and focus on their game, they’ll easily be able to keep up with and surpass Toyotama. Coach Anzai does his best to deflate their egos during half-time, but his plan for winning this all important game will have to wait until volume 24.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.