Shounen Jump manga are notoriously slow starters, and sports series certainly aren’t exempt from this trend. That can make them somewhat hard to figure out in the early stages, and I’m still at that stage with Kuroko no Basuke. Some things are pretty clear – the series is going to be well animated by I.G.. There’s a very solid knowledge of the game of basketball grounding the show – sure it’s SJ, but this isn’t a total disconnect from reality when it comes to players and their talent. But if I were to pick one word that sums up the impression I get from KnB after two episodes, it would be “quirky” – just like its main character.
I see evidence of this in lots of ways. Unlike most sports shounen, I find myself at a loss to predict what a character will say most of the time, or where the narrative will go next. There’s a somewhat kinky overtone to Aida, too, and her odd methods remind me just a bit of the stuff we saw in Oofuri. Then there’s Kuroko himself, who’s as hard to read as a character as he is as a player. It’s interesting and odd to build a series around someone so emotionless and flat – as he himself said he has “no sense of humor”, though he’s certainly capable of being unintentionally funny. In effect, this leaves Kagami – by contrast a much more conventional shounen character and an emotionally transparent kid by comparison – to do most of the heavy lifting in the first two eps. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues, because you’d think sooner or later the mangaka has to let us inside Kuroko’s head a little more – but in doing so, he risks destroying the characters mystique. We get bits and pieces here – Kuroko’s motivation for not following one of his fellow “Generation of Miracles” teammates to high school is that he never felt that they played as a team – but he’s still mostly a sphinx. Intriguing, but remote. But it’s still very early.
There are plenty of new faces this week, and old ones who get a little fleshing out. There’s Aida’s Dad (the always excellent Shinichiro Miki) The three other first-years get their introductions – quite literally, as Aida makes them declare their goals on the rooftop of the school, under the threat of having to strip naked and confess if they don’t meet them (kinky Aida-chan). Kawahara Kouichi (Yoshimoto Yasuhiro) delivers the ep’s biggest laugh when his goal turns into a soliloquy about his childhood, hopes, dreams and basketball. Hiroshi Fukuda (Sasaki Hiroo) shows he’s a good-hearted but gullible soul who just wanted to help. Furihata Kouki (Mizutani Naoki) really just wants a girlfriend, but that’s not good enough for Aida – so he says he’ll be the best at something because that’s what the girl he likes said it would take for her to date him (I’d keep shopping, Kouki). Of course Kagami’s goal is predictable enough – to beat the GoM and be the best in Japan.
Unfortunately Kouichi-kun’s long-windedness deprives us of what would have been the really interesting goal to hear, Kuroko’s, as the kids are booted from the roof for raising a ruckus (he does write “We will be the best in Japan” in the dirt, but I’d like to think he’d have used that bullhorn for something more personal). What introspection we do get comes from the first GoM player we meet, Kise Ryota (the suddenly very busy Kimura Ryohei) the star freshman of the Kaijou High team that Aida has signed up for a practice game with (and a model, too). He’s the self-professed “weakest of the Generation of Miracles” but still plenty good enough to make Kagami look silly – and while he claims to have been best buds with “Kurokochi”, our blue-haired android doesn’t remember it that way. He takes Kagami’s relative ineptitude as the signal that Kuroko is wasting his time and invites #15 to join him at Kaijou – but Kuroko refuses.
So our themes are in place – Kuroko wants to build a team, and not just a collection of stars (it’s the Bulls’ way over the Heat’s way). I suspect the other GoM members will show up in turn, each talented and arrogant enough to provide hurdles for Kuroko and his teammates to overcome (after failing a few times). It’s a good setup – but my favorite part of the series so far (along with the excellent soundtrack) is how it’s just a little off-center and weird in everything it does. Where I still don’t make the connection is on the emotional side, especially with Kuroko – I really want to hear Ono Kensho remind us of why he was arguably the best male seiyuu of 2007 with his work in Ghost Hound.