Another double review? It's like I read a bunch of these at once or something!
Slam Dunk, volume 4-5
By Takehiko Inoue
It's obvious that Takehiko Inoue loves basketball, and in this series he's depicting it as faithfully as he can, with a bit of the old manga exaggeration (these are some ridiculously athletic high school kids). And this enthusiasm translates really well for the reader, who is able to get right into the story and follow the action of the game. And follow it we do; Shohoku High is playing their rivals Ryonan in a practice game, and it lasts throughout these two volumes, a total of eighteen chapters, and isn't even finished yet. Talk about not sparing any details.
But in addition to the exacting athleticism, the other thing Inoue does so well is humor; the previous volumes established Hanamichi Sakuragi as a loud, obnoxious, bumbling oaf who has a higher opinion of himself than anybody else, and that characterization comes into play here as we agonize along with him while he sits on the bench during the entire first half of the game. We get antics galore, as he shouts at the players, jumps around like a goofball, messes with the scorekeepers, tries to wheedle the coach into putting him in:
And even kanchos the other team's coach for urging his players to build up a 30-point lead:
His ridiculousness is laugh-out-loud funny, but the antsy feeling of wanting to play is relatable, so when he finally does make it in, it's not only a release, but an opportunity for more hilarity, as he gets overly nervous, turns the ball over by travelling, and accidentally tackles another player. But once he gets it together, he's an unstoppable ball of energy, leading to another hilarious scene in which he dives after a loose ball into the other team's bench:
I love the way Inoue makes time slow down in the first two panels, removing any "motion blur" effects, and then brings the leap to a crashing conclusion. Oh, man, that's some funny stuff.
Then, suddenly, volume 5 changes things up, spending the entire page count on the last few minutes of the game as Hanamichi gets a taste of real competition and learns about rebounding, blocking out, and passing on the fly. It's tense stuff, and we watch pretty much every possession, as the teams jostle for the lead before the clock runs out. The humor doesn't completely go away, but when Hanamichi has a reason to focus, we see him concentrate on the game and become an intense athlete rather than just a bumbling doofus. And Inoue can deliver the sports action just as well as the comedy, whether in depictions of athleticism:
Or intense rivalry:
It's tons of fun to watch, and seeing Hanamichi continue to develop and learn new facets of the sport should make further volumes compellingly readable. Hell, the game still isn't over yet, so the next volume is going to be worth rushing out to get as soon as possible.