TL;DR – basketball sports anime that requires you turn off the ‘sports accuracy’ part of your brain in order to enjoy it.
Review (warning: spoilers)
In the 1990s, the penultimate basketball sports manga to me was Slam Dunk written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue. I had never seen a manga (or comic) depict the physics of a sport so accurately. The game of basketball illustrated in every panel of Slam Dunk felt and looked so realistic that even if you could not read and understand the Japanese dialogue, the pictures allowed you to follow what was happening in the game. The manga was adapted into an anime and released also in the 90s and now looks dated when compared to the anime sophistication being pumped out by studios today. I would love nothing more than Slam Dunk to be rebooted as an anime series using today’s artists and technical skills, but this may never become a reality.
Kuroko no Basket could have been the Slam Dunk for the 2010s. Arguably to fans it is. The animation is excellent and the characters are as engaging as the ones in Slam Dunk, but what Kuroko no Basket seeks to do is go up a level. This is not a bad thing, but the way Kuroko no Basket ‘levels up’ is not done through plot but instead through the game physics itself. Imagine this basketball anime series being like Goku in Dragon Ball going Super Saiyan mode.
The end result are characters that defy basketball logic. In junior high school, there is a team of miracles. Five players that have supernatural gifts when it comes to basketball. They dominate the junior high competition so thoroughly that they get bored and decide to go to different high schools in order to compete against each other. Kuroko is the sixth man of this team of miracles. There is nothing special at all about his physical basketball skills but his talents on and off the court lie elsewhere and were an essential part to keeping the starting five in junior high together.
This generation of miracle basketball players comprises of the following:
- Ryota Kise is a blonde-haired small forward who has the ability for a specified period of time to copy exactly the moves of other players. This includes the ability to use his photographic skills to copy his other generation of miracle teammates.
- Shintaro Midorima is a green haired shooting guard who can shoot three-pointers and never misses (if he gets the shot up untouched). This includes shooting from the opposite end of the court.
- Daiki Aomine is a dark haired ace and arguably the greatest of all the generation of miracles players. He has the best all around game and plays with a ‘street-ball’ style that is unpredictable. He can make shots by throwing the ball at ridiculous angles and does not need to do a conventional jump shot.
- Atsushi Murasakibara is a purple haired centre who rebounds, blocks, and dunks with such ease that he finds the game boring (he only plays because he is so good at it). He hates players who have a passion for the sport and this includes Kuroko.
- Seijuro Akashi is a red haired point guard. He has an ability through his eyes called “Emperor Eye” that allows him to defeat whoever is guarding him. He sees victory as absolute and guaranteed through his eyes.
Kuroko joins a high school separate to his former teammates and seeks to combine forces with Taiga Kagami (an athletic basketballer returning from playing in the United States). Kuroko, Kagami and the rest of his teammates go up against high school teams starring one of the generation of miracle players. Kuroko, in his own way, seeks to show each of his former teammates the joy of basketball and the need to play with teammates (it is a team sport after all).
On one hand, as a basketball fan, I found this series contrived and ridiculous when it comes to the games themselves. Even Kuroko, as episodes progress, acquires ‘skills’ that are superhuman (or Super Saiyan) in nature.
On the other hand, as an anime fan, I can see how this series has been a success. The enjoyment comes from turning off your basketball brain otherwise you will pick it apart for failure to follow any basketball physics logic. Midorima shoots better than Steph Curry, Kise can do more than Kobe Bryant, Aomine is greater than Michael Jordan, Murasakibara makes Shaq look like a toddler and Akashi would run rings around Magic Johnson. It is all silly but still enjoyable.
When Kuroko helps Kagami get into the ‘zone’, there is a genuine thrill. The interactions between all the characters are interesting and fun. You find yourself cheering on Kuroko and his team even under the ridiculous circumstances they face. I found I had to laugh when they broke down basketball plays and explained how certain players do the seeming impossible.
But like I said before, turn off your sports brain and you will still enjoy this anime.
Now can someone please pick up Slam Dunk again and animate it like what happened when Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood was the second adaption of Full Metal Alchemist?
7 out of 10