I know I’ve said this already, but Koruko no Basuke definitely has a weird sensibility to it. How else to explain dedicating the entire first half of the episode to the quest for “Iberian Pork Sandwich” complete with caviar and truffles – only available on the 27th of the month and selling for 2,800 yen. What kind of high schoolers can afford to pay $35 for a glorified ham sandwich? Coach Aida certainly can come up with the weird hazing rituals for the first years, that’s for sure.
The thing is though, I’m glad that KnB has that random streak to it, because it’s the part of the show I find most interesting so far. To be honest I haven’t really bonded with any of the characters yet, and the basketball sequences haven’t totally blown me away. Of the sports series airing this season the best is Ginga e Kickoff, frankly – though because that’s a show about 6th-graders virtually no one in the English-language fandom is paying any attention – because its characters have established themselves as interesting and likable (especially the MC) and the soccer action is surprisingly real. Here, things still feel embryonic to me – as if there’s more to these people and their story that just isn’t breaking through the surface. Yet “Kuroko” undeniably makes me laugh when it goes into strange places like it did in the cafeteria scene, with Kagami’s crowd-surfing and random exclamations of “This is Japan lunch rush!” in credible Engrish. I’m not sure what it had to do with anything else but that scene did score comedically – and it finished the right way, with Kuroko using his Zen ninja skills to score pork where brute force had failed.
Seirin’s first match in the inter-highs continues to walk the line of surrealism, as they’re matched up with Shinkyo High – a team that seems an ordinary enough mid-table opponent at first, but reveals itself to be a tough squad thanks to the presence of Papa Mbaya Siki (Kimura Subaru) – a ringer of an exchange-student from Senegal (indeed a hotbed of basketball talent). After a hilariously inappropriate session of mispronouncing Papa’s name Aida sensibly turns to Kuroko for a nickname – and he comes up with “Dad” naturally enough. And Dad’s a big guy, about 6’7” with long arms, presenting some unique challenges even for Kagami.
Apparently the rules for Japanese HS basketball allow for two foreign-born players per team, so Shinkyo is doing nothing illegal here. Even so I was a little uncomfortable with the way the situation was portrayed – not so much the fact that Dad speaks in broken Japanese (quite natural for a gaijin, I would think) but with the attitude of his Captain, which is that Shinkyo has effectively found a way to legally cheat, and all they have to do is toss the ball to Dad and let him score. I don’t like the notion that just because a team has a gaijin player they’re somehow lazy and arrogant – it feels like a bit of a straw man here, too easy, and a little beneath the dignity of what’s been a fairly nuanced series so far. Hopefully we’ll see there’s more to both Dad and Shinkyo next week – we certainly got an interesting shot in the end credits.
The crucial missing piece for me is still some sort of charisma from Kuroko. He has his flashes – when he calmly says “Honestly, I’m beginning to get a little irritated” after Dad mistakes him for a lost child and picks him up, it feels like a blistering rampage, and he’s certainly capable of deadpan humor. I desperately want to like him – he’s unusual, and played by a terrific and criminally underused seiyuu – but Kuroko is emblematic of that feeling of incompleteness I get from the series in general. Kuroko is obviously a mysterious person with some depth, but as long as remains this impassive with so little insight given into his background, I just can’t find him all that interesting. I hope that begins to change in upcoming episodes.