In the fifth volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, the “friendly” match against Ryonan High is beginning to wind down. With captain Akagi out of the game momentarily, Hanamichi Sakuragi has finally been given his chance to strut his stuff and prove that he is a bona fide ball player.
Like a rookie in most any professional sport, Hanamichi’s play is wildly erratic. At times he shows flashes of brilliance and shows off his raw athletic ability, but most of the time his greenness, combined with his inflated ego, steals the show. In this volume, Hanamichi has his hands full. Not only does he have a tough task in defending Ryonan’s center Uozumi, but Rukawa has become exhausted from having to defend the talented Sendoh. Still, Hanamichi has managed to give Shohoku a spark, and thanks to his efforts they have decimated Ryonan’s previously big lead by the time Akagi returns to the court.
Hanamichi is one of those characters who, despite being unbelievably dense at times, is one who is all the more endearing thanks to his relentless energy and “never say die” attitude. There are quite a few reasons why this series is so popular worldwide, and Hanamichi is one of them. However, his antics both on and off the court are definitely beginning to wear thin. Especially how his feelings regarding Rukawa translate onto the court. The oft-puerile dialogue and the gags that come with it are what holds Slam Dunk back from being truly great, but it is still entertaining all the same when the humor does work. That said, it is quite obvious that Inoue had not fully refined his humor yet when he began writing this series. Not to the level of his more recent (and far superior) series Vagabond and REAL, that is. Hopefully during the course of the series, the humor will improve.
On the other hand, what really sells this series is the basketball. It is really that simple. The action being much more prominent in this and the previous volume is a welcome change of pace from the more run-of-the-mill high school fare and the aforementioned humor. Inoue loves and is quite knowledgeable of the sport and his depiction of the fast-paced game is captured in terrific fashion. Despite being still images, they exude such a sense of vivacity that it almost feels like being at an actual game. It makes one want to cheer out loud for Shohoku as the exhilarating panels fly by.
Bring on the next volume and the conclusion of the game. Go Shohoku! Crush Ryonan!