Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Slam Dunk: Tight shorts or a bathrobe? Tough decision.

It's-a some links:  Hey, Mike Allred is doing some sort of project at DC, and Neil Gaiman is writing a Metamorpho story for it.  Interesting.  I'm always ready to read more Allred, so I'm looking forward to this one, even though it probably won't show up until 2010, I'm guessing.

And speaking of projects at DC, I'm actually interested in Kyle Baker's upcoming Hawkman thing, of which a couple pages can be seen here.  I have basically zero interest in the character, but I really love Baker's work, and this looks quite beautiful.  Now if only he would finish Special Forces...

Slam Dunk, volume 2
By Takehiko Inoue



Last time around, we ended with a highly intense cliffhanger.  Well, not really; Hanamichi may have quit the basketball team in a huff, but he's obviously not going to be gone for long, or else there wouldn't be much of a series.  And sure enough, a showdown with some thugs convinces him to return.  I'm not sure of the logic of that decision, but whatever, that means more sports comedy!  And so Takehiko Inoue spends a good half of the volume detailing a practice game between the team's newcomers and the upperclassmen.  But unfortunately, the headstrong Hanamichi isn't allowed to play, no matter how much he begs.  But while the action heats up on the court, he makes a comedic spectacle of himself on the sidelines, insulting the coach, yelling at the girls who are there to watch the cute boys, and cheering against Rukawa, his rival for Haruko's heart.  With Inoue's skill at crafting goofy comedy, it's hilarious to watch, and the sports action is exciting too.  And when Hanamichi finally convinces the coach to let him play, the two elements combine for a laugh-out-loud moment that has to be seen to be believed.

And then in the second half, we switch gears to off-court intrigue, as Aota, the captain of the judo team and a longtime rival of Takenori, the basketball team's captain, decides to recruit Hanamichi, sure that a tough guy like him would prefer the impact of martial arts.  This ends up lasting for the rest of the volume, as Aota ends up alternately fighting with Hanamichi and attempting to entice him with pictures of Haruko.  It's a funny sequence, again combining Inoue's flair for comedy with his skill at depicting physical movement.  It does go on a bit long though; I was waiting for the action to get back to the basketball court.  But that's just an impetus to pick up the next volume, for which I will be waiting anxiously.

Even though it's still early in this series, it's easy to see why it was so incredibly popular in Japan; Inoue is putting together a cast that is highly enjoyable to watch, and he plays their strong personalities off each other exquisitely.  It's fun to imagine some of the future developments, as the sports action kicks into high gear with actual games, and Hanamichi learns more about actually playing the game.  At the moment, he's a force of nature, all bluster and only a little skill; eventually, he's going to have to learn about teamwork and put aside any off-court rivalries in favor of actually playing real basketball.  I'm sure Inoue will make this simply delightful to observe, along with all the interpersonal and romantic drama that will surely transpire.

But while we're looking at what we already have, I can't help but point out how well Inoue does what he does.  The near-constant goofiness is perfectly executed, making Hanamichi such a lovable lug that you can't help but want him to succeed, while still feeling some satisfaction when he gets comeuppance for being such a selfish jerk.  It's a great balance, and as with the elements mentioned above, I can't wait to see how Inoue develops the character.  But for now, I can glory in scenes like this one:



Aw, jeez, you know he's going to get in trouble for that attitude (if you hadn't figured it out already, that's the coach he's messing with).  It's also fun to watch him interact with the other characters, and see his tough-guy demeanor melt when he's around Haruko.  And the way he gets flustered when she demonstrates her crush on Rukawa is hilarious:



And on the other front, Inoue's action is unparalleled, filling his layouts with motion that doesn't seem to sit still on the page.  The way he draws limbs as if they are blurred out because they are moving so fast, combined with the excellent use of speed lines that don't overwhelm the image, make for some incredibly eye-catching scenes:



And that's one of the less-dramatic scenes; the moments of really big athletic feats are given full-page or even-double page spreads, freezing characters in isolation on the page as if everything has switched to slow motion:



It's beautiful, and while I love to analyze this sort of thing, Inoue is so good at storytelling that I don't even notice this stuff until I look back at it a second time.  The first time through, I'm flipping pages as he propels me through the story, breathlessly awaiting each new development.  It's glorious; I can't get enough of it.  As I said, it's easy to see how this sold 100 million copies; with this kind of skill, Inoue can drive volumes right off the shelf and into readers' hands through sheer artistic force.  I cannot wait to see what's coming next.