SLAM DUNK article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 8, July 1999
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
Takehiko Inoue's premier series, SLAM DUNK, quickly became one of Japan's most successful comics of the 90's. The 31-volume story resulted in a 101-episode TV series, several features, video games and more merchandising than you can shake a pencil case at; plus all the show's songs were top 10 hits. In short, this was one popular series!
In the first panel of SLAM DUNK, a pretty girl says, "I'm sorry, Sakuragi; I like Oda from the basketball team."* Though this might mean heartbreak for your average guy, to Hanamichi Sakuragi, it is utterly devastating: This is his fiftieth* rejection! Sakuragi's Army (his homies*) celebrates this remarkable record, but only until the volatile Sakuragi violently shuts them up.
Later, as he broods about how much he hates basketball (not that he knows anything about it), someone asks, "Do you like basketball?" Hell's fires burning in his eyes, Sakuragi turns around to find a cute girl. It's charming Haruko Akagi, basketball enthusiast. After marveling at his height and build, she asks him again about basketball. What can he say except "I love it!" So starts Sakuragi on the road to basketball greatness.
Nothing comes easily to Sakuragi. Though a natural athlete, he is also an undisciplined delinquent. Haruko's enthusiasm is contagious, but Sakuragi soon discovers Haruko is infatuated with a player named Rukawa. He takes it quite hard. The situation worsens after Sakuragi's Army comes across the irritatingly emotionless Rukawa right after he's been in a fight. When Haruko sees them and the bloodied Rukawa, she momentarily assumes the worst of Sakuragi, who returns to loathing basketball. But fate has other plans for the big redhead. Dispirited, Sakuragi regains his fire when he gets beaned by a basketball that afternoon. He takes out his frustrations on the hapless players until he's effortlessly stopped by the mammoth captain of the team. Sakuragi goads the captain into losing his cool and is challenged to a one on one... in basketball! Knowing nothing about the game, Sakuragi makes a complete fool out of himself and the captain; however he does manage to demonstrate great potential and make a slam dunk, winning the competition. It's not until afterward he discovers the captain is Takenori Akagi, Haruko's big brother. Sakuragi's attitude takes an abrupt 180; he decides to join the team.
The Shohoku basketball team has championship ability; not just anyone can join, least of all some pretentious punk who knows nothing of the sport. Sakuragi focuses all of his attention on getting in. One morning, when Akagi-senpai finds Sakuragi passed out from the effort of polishing the court until it sparkles, he finally decides to give the brat a chance. Sakuragi's transformation is remarkable. He gradually manages to change himself through hard work, experience, a little humility and sheer will, struggling his way from aimless punk to valued team player as they work their way toward the national championship.
On the surface, SLAM DUNK may seem to be a story about a basketball team's rise to the championships, but it offers much more than that. It deals with many of the social and personal concerns teens, especially in Japan, can face. Most often, the series confronts tough issues in a plain, unsentimental way which gives it a refreshing realism. This, combined with Inoue's amazing ability to convey action and humor, has made this series an international favorite.
*It's actually Sakuragi-kun and Oda-kun, in case you would prefer it to be that way.
Though it best describes them, if ‘homies' is too much of a slang term, maybe use ‘gang'?
I have no idea what this looks like when you look at it in MS Word, but it's supposed to be in bold and italic. I'm sure you can figure out it's a word worth emphasizing, but, well, I thought I'd make a note of it. ^_-