I’m not sure if this is the series to break the long-standing record of sports shounen failing to make a splash for me as a blogger, but quality-wise it’s off to a pretty good start. And no one is going to blame me for lack of trying…
OP: “Can Do” by GRANRODEO
So, sports manga, basketball – is anyone going to be watching? Hard to say, but as a fairly devoted fan of the genre – perhaps my natural instinct to support the underappreciated (George is my favorite Beatle) I had high hopes for this one. I’ve skimmed the manga a bit and I think it’s quite good, which is the most important thing. We’ve also got the fact that Production I.G. is at the helm, which may not virtually guarantee high quality as it might’ve a few years ago, at least means the series will get a professional and serious treatment. Director Tada Shunsuke is an I.G. stalwart (Bungaku Shoujo, Tsubasa Chronicle, World Destruction and Prince of Tennis as well) and writer Takagi Noboru has written for Shiki, Baccano! and Natsume Yuujinchou (he’s also writing the Sankarea Adaptation).
So the pieces are in place – what about the results? So far, so good. The premiere was a very faithful adaptation of basically the first chapter of the manga, which certainly leads me to believe I.G. is at least hopeful of a multi-cour run. This is (duh) basically the story of Kuroko Tetsuya (Ono Kensho), a seemingly nondescript (though less so physically here than in the manga) first-year high school boy who joins the basketball club at the relatively new Seirin High School. Kuroko was a member of the Teiko “Generation of Miracles” – a legendary middle school team that destroyed all in their path. Kuroko was the mysterious sixth man on that team, but to look at him no one at his new club – especially arrogant and physically dominant Kagami Taiga (Ono Yuuki) – can figure out what makes him so good. This pinball wizard is smallish, not especially fast, and can’t really jump or shoot. So – what the hell?
This is definitely a Shounen Jump manga, make no mistake about it, and the answer is that Kuroko is a “shadow” who uses his lack of presence to his advantage. He’s a magician on the court, an incredible passer who has eyes in the back of his head and always seems to be where you least expect him to be. It all has an air of magical realism to it, but again, this is SJ – if you’re looking for gritty realism, this isn’t going to be your cup of tea. If you’re a basketball fan, it’s nice to see a celebration of passing and artistry over raw talent – though Kagami is a capable representative of that side of the game, too. He’s just returned from a stint in America (I wonder if he knew Nana from Area no Kishi?) and doesn’t think a whole lot of Japanese hoops – until, that is, he sees Kuroko in action against the second-years (there are no third-years, the school being too young) in the intrasquad game.
Most of the fun here, I think, is going to come from seeing Kuroko attack the game of basketball from such a skewed and unusual perspective. There’s also an eccentric cast of supporting players, about whom we don’t learn too much yet. The team is coached by young Aida Riko (Saito Chiwa), daughter of a fitness trainer, who takes the measure of the boys on her team (and freaks out the newbies) by scoping them out shirtless (Kagami is off the charts, Kuroko barely registers). The captain is Hyuuga Junpei (Hosoya Yoshimasa, actually playing another character who looks a lot like Arata) who seems like a classic hard-nosed overachiever. The rest of the squad (some second-years, some rookies) are basically bit players in the premiere but they’ll have their moments, and there are some name seiyuus in the group.
As in all sports shounen, there are going to be multiple threads woven as the series progresses. Kuroko and Kagami’s yin-yang relationship is at the core of the premiere, but there’s definitely going to be involvement from the others members of the Generation of Miracles – Kagami has already set surpassing them as his goal, and there are hints that Kuroko’s past with that group has a dark side. The major question is whether Kuroko himself will emerge as a compelling lead. It’s fantastic to hear Ono Kensho in a MC role again – he was great in Ghost Hound but sadly hasn’t worked much of late. He’s intentionally a cipher in the premiere – an intriguing enigma who reveals almost nothing of his motivations or feelings, except perhaps a quiet sort of pride. As in any SJ series, those walls will start to come down as we go forward, and I think they have the correct writer/director/actor combo to pull that off successfully. As for romance, it’s too soon to say – especially given that we can’t know yet how far Production I.G. will progress with the story.
ED: “Start it right away” by Hyadain