Thursday, March 19, 2009

Athletic Monster Mash interlude #2: Slam Dunk lightens the mood a little

Hey, it looks like Eric Powell is going to be doing a crossover between The Goon and Metalocalypse sometime this summer.  That's pretty awesome.  Here's the trailer.

And I don't know if I've linked this before, but the late, great Seth Fisher's mom is continuing to post on his blog, analyzing his work and posting some of his short stories.  Good stuff, including this one that originally appeared in Heavy Metal.

Slam Dunk, volume 3
By Takehiko Inoue


Wow, this manga is about as enjoyable as comics get.  As we've seen in previous volumes, Takehiko Inoue has a real flair for goofy comedy, exciting sports action, and appealing characters, and that's as true here as ever.  He gets a lot of mileage out of just bouncing his obnoxious lug of a main character off of the rest of the cast, and at times, it seems like he's walking right up to the limits of likeability while still remaining on readers' good sides.

This volume sees Hanamichi, that doofus of a protagonist, constantly goofing around, bickering with his rival Rukawa, and refusing to cooperate when the team captain tries to get him to practice and actually learn how to play.  He just wants to do slam dunks all the time, so when he is forced to learn to do a simple lay-up, he struggles hilariously:


He also can't stand to see Rukawa get any attention, so he keeps throwing balls at him:


This leads to at least one laugh-out-loud moment; Hanamichi is a boundless source of slapstick comedy, since he's completely external.  Other than occasional pinings for his crush Haruko, nothing crosses his mind that he doesn't shout out to everyone nearby.  He's also constantly bragging about how good he is, even though he barely knows anything about basketball.  He's only interested in self-glorification, so learning about such basics as rebounding is beneath him:


The only reason anybody even puts up with him is due to his excellent natural athletic ability.  With some training, he could be a great addition to the team, but he's such a force of nature, it's near-impossible to get him to do anything constructive.  Hilariously, the other characters are already learning how to manipulate him into actually following instructions, as when the coach infoms him that the reason he's not in the starting lineup is because he's the team's secret weapon.

This all makes for some great reading, and you can see some canny moves on Inoue's part as he introduces his readers to the sport along with his protagonist.  It's easy to see why this manga made the sport so popular in Japan; things start out simple, rather than barraging the reader with rules and technicalities.  So far, Hanamichi has learned about the slam dunk, basic dribbling and ball-handling, the lay-up, and rebounding.  He's got a long way to go, with much, much more to learn; topics like man-on-man defense, full-court press, and blocking out are sure to pop up on the curriculum, with Hanamichi probably complaining about them all the way.

That's another thing that works so well about the series: while Hanamichi is self-centered and obnoxious, he doesn't get away with acting like a jerk.  He's constantly reprimanded by Akagi, the gorilla-like captain of the team:


And he makes himself look ridiculous more often than not; it's hilarious to watch him try to look cool and completely screw up nearly every time.  Hopefully, Inoue will continue to develop him as a character and actually have him learn some teamwork and respect for his fellow players.  In the meantime, we'll get plenty of great moments, with many more sure to come next volume when the team plays an exhibition game against a rival school.  I can imagine all sorts of hilarity stemming from the situation, and expecting Inoue to exceed my expectations is a pretty sure bet.