Sunday, October 19, 2008

REAL Vol.1 Review

Read this review

Sunday October 19, 2008

Basketball on wheels


REAL Vol.1
Story and art: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: VIZ Media; 224 pages
(ISBN: 978-1421519890)
For ages 16+

ANYBODY familiar with Takehiko Inoue’s work will quickly realise that the guy really loves basketball. He was responsible for Slam Dunk, which focuses on basketball and is one of the most popular manga in memory, and he also authors Real, a manga about wheelchair basketball.

Real isn’t a happy, upbeat and cheerful manga. Instead, it’s a mature work intended for an older audience, and it isn’t afraid to portray the unpleasant aspects of life. It features delinquents, bullying, traffic accidents (and their consequences), people getting punched in the face for no good reason and even some very minor bits of nudity.

That said, however, it’s the fact that Real doesn’t pull any punches that contributes to it being such a good manga. It earned the Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival back in 2001, and I’d say it’s well-deserved.

What strikes me as interesting is that Real doesn’t really focus on basketball; it just uses the sport as a backdrop for the story. I mean, the action is there, you have balls being bounced and ... er ... slams being dunked, but that’s not where the meat of the story is.

Real could have been about soccer, or ping pong, or competitive line dancing, and it would still be great. What Real is truly about is the characters, how they face challenges, and how they develop. The sport is just there to drive them forward.

The first volume starts off with our archetypal high school delinquent, Tomomi Nomiya, getting kicked out of school. With nowhere to go and feeling guilty about a traffic accident he was involved in, Nomiya stumbles upon somebody playing basketball. Somebody in a wheelchair, to be precise. His name is Kiyoharu Togawa and Nomiya foolishly challenges him to a game of (wheelchair) basketball and proceeds to get his butt kicked by a guy with one leg.

The rest of Vol.1 follows Nomiya and Togawa as they’re united by their common love of basketball, and it serves as an excellent setup for the rest of the series. Togawa is way too competitive, and he has to slowly overcome his substantial pride to rejoin his former wheelchair basketball team.

Nomiya ... well, he’s a delinquent and an oddball, but he’s not a bad guy once you get to know him. He’s still trying to figure out what to do with his life and make amends for his mistakes.

Running parallel to the main story thread is the tale of Hisanobu Takahashi, the popular kid at school and leader of the basketball team. He’s not a terribly nice guy, but it was still unfortunate to see him getting kissed by a truck at high speeds. This “side story” doesn’t really go anywhere in Vol.1 but it establishes a major change in Takahashi’s life.

The artwork and storytelling are excellent €“ something to be expected from an experienced mangaka like Inoue.

I also enjoyed how a “serious” manga like this has bits of humour mixed in to keep the mood from getting too dark. A special mention needs to be made to the coloured pages at the start of most chapters €“ the only thing bad about these pages is that they made me want to see the rest of this manga in colour.

If you’re a fan of mature stories, you should give Real a read. It’s not really a story about sports. It’s a story about people who are undaunted by personal tragedies, going on to grab life €“ by the basketball.

(Rating: 4)

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