I can’t think of two series more dissimilar than the shonen basketbal Slam Dunk and the shoujo soap opera with gender role reversals Ai Ore, so of course I will write about them both at the same time!
Slam Dunk Volume 23 by Takehiko Inoue
I throughly enjoyed being able to read six early volumes of Slam Dunk, so I was excited to get a peak at the most recent release. While there are a few new characters, the core message of the manga is the same and moving forward to this volume I can see that Inoue’s art style has evolved to look much more similar to the more recent series Vagabond, particularly the character designs. One of the interesting things about the art in this volume of Slam Dunk was that while it still retains a certain level of simplicity that I would expect from a shonen sports book, there’s so much more detail in the characters’ facial expressions and posture, which pulls me in to the emotional arc of the story.
Shohaku heads to the nationals, and while they’ve been training hard and racked up some impressive achievements they can’t face their current opponents without a struggle. Hanamichi is his usual charming self as he almost gets into an altercation with the captain of their first opposing team as they travel to their next match. As always, Inoue’s treatment of the physical aspects of basketball is a treat. He blends the mental struggles of the athletes as they try to figure out their opponents with some great scenes of passing, stealing the ball, and generally great athleticism. Hanamichi is always the emotional core of the story and his earlier bluster doesn’t live up to his initial prowess on the court, as he gets so nervous he manages to throw the ball into the stands instead of making a basket. The Shokahu team makes the mistake of getting into a running game with Toyama, and they have to focus again on playing at a different pace. Akagi comes alive as center when the game is slowed down. After all of Hanamichi’s training, he begins to appreciate how amazing Rukawa really is as a player. His coach tells him to watch Rukawa closely, steal everything he can, and practice three times as hard, because if Hanamichi doesn’t “you’ll spend your whole high school career playing and never be as good as he is.” Slam Dunk is so much fun compared to other sports titles that I’ve read, largely because the characters of the whole team are so well defined and it is interesting to see the interpersonal dynamics in play both on and off the basketball court. Hanamichi really is a classic manga character, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll do in the next volume if he’s allowed off the bench.
Ai Ore Volume 6 by Mayu Shinjo
The more comedic later volumes of Ai Ore continue to be a fun summer read, although I expect I’m going to enjoy her forthcoming series Demon Love Spell a bit more. This volume focuses on a shoujo staple plot as the boys and girls head out to a beach vacation. Mizuki’s self-conscious behavior threatens to spoil her enjoyment of some time alone with Akira, but Akira’s unscrupulous friend Ran is even more of a problem as he manages to force Akira to cross dress at the beach. Later on, Mizuki and Ran find themselves alone in a hotel room and what happens in this series is exactly the opposite of the type of seduction scene one would expect from a Mayu Shinjo manga. Ran comments to Mizuki that she’s overreacting to everything that he says and he “might make the mistake of thinking you’re aware of me as a man.” Mizuki is absolutely bewildered and says that she knows Ran’s a guy and “I’d never think of you as a girl! Don’t be an idiot!” Later on, when Ran’s seduction techniques don’t work out the way he was expecting, Mizuki announces that he has the eyes of “a dead sardine.”
For all of Mizuki’s tremulous behavior about Akira, her innocence and direct way of speaking basically provides her with an invisible shield that most Shinjo heroines lack. Anybody other than Akira attempting to get close to her is going to get resolutely shut down, and it is nice to see Mizuki and Akira so secure in their odd relationship. There a certain lack of angst overall in Ai Ore, even though there’s plenty of flailing and tears with Mizuki and Akira dealing with young love the humor in this manga makes it fun to read. I think there are just a couple volumes left for this series, and it looks like after this vacation idyll there’s going to be a return to some more music/entertainment industry centered plots, so that will be fun.