With each new volume of Slam Dunk I’m simultaneously happy and a bit disappointed – happy because I can read another volume of a great sports manga, and disappointed because we are slowly inching towards the final 31st volume. I continue to find Slam Dunk fascinating even when a basketball game gets spread out over several volumes. Shohoku is still playing tournament favorite Sannoh, but things finally start to click for the loveable underdogs. My favorite aspect of this volume was that the breakout star of the game wasn’t the cool Rukawa or the sometimes doltish basketball savant Sakuragi, but their sometimes overlooked and quiet teammate Mitsui who starts out the volume by hitting three 3-pointers in a row. He’s able to take advantage of the fact that Sannoh’s focus is on Shohoku’s star players and score with simple precision. Everybody is mystified by Mitsui’s sudden confidence, including his own teammates. The Shohoku fans remember that Mitsui used to be a junior high MVP, but his play has suffered because he felt like he had to live up to some past glories. Shohoku’s enigmatic coach concludes that Mitsui is starting to believe in himself again at just the right time, and there’s a great wordless interchange between coach and player as they make eye contact and pump their fists. Simple moments like this where Inoue just uses a few simple panels to underscore a moment do so much more to drive the story forward than pages filled with expository dialogue.
Once the opposing team realizes that Mitsui needs more coverage, Shohoku needs to change up their strategy yet again. Rukawa and Sakuragi both have some moments, but Sakuragi is tested when the opposing team puts a huge substitute player in and his coach tells him that the monster is his assignment. It is a measure of just how far Sakuragi has come that while he does give in to his first impulse of trying to fight strength with strength, he eventually hits on a way to deal with the new player using strategy and observation. Each volume of Slam Dunk always feels very satisfying. To describe the plot, it might seam as if the story is moving forward at a glacial pace, with three volumes or so spent on one basketball game. But the evolution of characters and personalities brought on by the conflict of basketball is layered and dense, and that makes this title such a special sports manga.
Review copy provided by the publisher.