For the Shohoku High players, the past echoes in the present as Rukawa learns something about Coach Anzai that leaves him determined to be the best high school player in Japan. With ten days remaining until the start of the national tournament, Coach Anzai send the Shohoku High team to Shizuoka for a week of practive with another local team. But Sakuragi stays behind for a special practice session that will push him to the limit and improve his individual skills for the crucial games ahead.
Slam Dunk isn’t a series I read regularly, but I do like to check in on it from time to time. With the Inoue Manga Movable Feast being this month, this was the perfect time to check out the latest volume. This time the action is off court as Shohoku prepares for the national tournament. Preparations are both physical and mental, and inspiration comes from some unexpected places.
Rukawa has really stepped up his game, both mentally and physically, as in practice he shows his determination to be the best. He finally shows Sakuragi the real difference in their skills, and even the thick-headed Sakuragi gets it. But fortunately, that thick skull doesn’t keep him down. Except maybe in class, where he, Rukawa and a few others need a study session to help them through a make-up test so they can play in the Nationals. But for Sakuragi, the real test comes in the special training session Coach Anzai has for him, and a video camera gets through to him where words alone couldn’t.
While there are a lot of good moments in this volume, the one where Sakuragi finally sees what he looks like when he’s doing a jump shot was the best. It not only shattered his illusions of what he thought he should look like, it made him get serious about the training and really work hard for it. I loved that moment when he realized he didn’t look as cool as he thought he did. I though it was great that his friends were their with him, not just cheering him on, but were really ready to help him improve by not going easy on him.
It was also interesting to see why Coach Anzai emphasises the fundamentals so much. A former student who didn’t get it while under Anzai finally does realize how important they are after going to “The Land of Basketball”, America. I don’t know enough about basketball to judge, but I do wonder if Inoue is criticizing US Basketball when he has Yazawa noticing that no one passes the ball, not just not to him, but to anyone. It seems to imply that teamwork or the fundamentals is not considered important, and the teams are all made up of individuals playing for themselves on the same side. Is this a criticism from the time, or of US Basketball in general? Or of the US itself?
While I do enjoy reading Slam Dunk, it isn’t a must read for me. I think part of the problem is that it is too much basketball and not enough manga. Not that I would want the series to be more like a traditional shonen. I think the team dynamics and Sakuragi striving, stumbling and striving more is really interesting. Inoue does a great job of not just showing the players feelings during a game, but also making the reader feel those same emotions. But unlike a lot of other sports manga, Slam Dunk is just as much about basketball as it is about the characters. In a lot of ways, I do think the Basketball is more important, and that is a significant difference for me. Slam Dunk is a good series to read, but probably even better for the sports/basketball fan.