Sunday, April 8, 2012

First Impressions – Kuroko no Basuke

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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
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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.

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ED: "Start it right away" by Hyadain
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17 comments:

  1. Eh ...

    Well, you know that I love supporting the underdog as anyone Enzo (I liked George too :P), but ... while I was watching this, all what was going through my head was how much I wanted a Slam Dunk Reboot ...

    So um, yeah, I think I'll put this on the back burner along with the rest of my backlog till I hear something good about it, but otherwise ...

    Cool OP and ED tho ...

    (Guess is not watching then)

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  2. This indeed screams shonen jump,especialy the "riko vision"!
    The protagonist is also very jump-esque with no natural/standard talent but still something that makes him special and him putting themphesis on teamwork,but it doesn't rub me the wrong way like in other cases *cough* enigma *cough*
    Will keep watching just to see what concepts it's going to come up with.

    off topic;
    George is made of awesome.
    Fun game to play:Ask someone who was the first beatle to have a solo #1 hit after they broke up,watch them debate over if it's paul or john,the watch their reaction when you tell them it's george!

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    1. Not half. And that album is easily the best of all the Beatles' solo records, even if it isn't quite the top seller.

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  3. I consider the works of Adachi, Chihayafurua and Ookiku the only good sports animes out there, which remain interesting throughout their run time. Typically shounen sports animes like this tend to be filled with cliches and have never worked out.

    This however seems a bit interesting. Kuroko does seem proud of his ability, isn't a newbie but isn't very good in the conventional way. He isn't like most MCs in these kinds of anime. He probably can't win a game himself like Kagami could but his ability drastically improves his team. I find that interesting. I've read a little into the manga and I think we can expect the same from IG as they did with PoT. Not too serious, filled with shounen cliches but still interesting enough to keep going. The pace of the manga is also quite slow(and very far ahead), so this could have multiple seasons or be a long running anime.

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  4. Been following this manga since chapter 1 and I'm impressed with this first episode. The OP, ED and music is very good. I'm not yet bought on Kagami's voice but Ono Yuki is okay I guess. He's making a name for himself, playing 3 main characters this season, 2 of them are WSJ adaptations.
    Kuroko's is okay. Saito Chiwa really has some range, didn't recognize her voice here.
    The plot is just starting but seeing from the OP the players from the GoM, it seems this will be 2-cour or quite possibly long running so I'm excited to see the matches. It's a very unappreciated manga that scrapes the bottom 5 of the ratings every week but somehow it doesn't get cancelled. It spikes into the middle tier sometimes and made it to the top 5 a few times.
    I for one like it and will stick to it so expect one comment from me every week even though we both predicted that this won't garner a lot of audience.

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  5. I love sports series too but I wasn't completely sold on this one. It doesn't help that I have a pretty busy year ahead and need to cut down on the number of series I watch. But I might give it a few more episodes.

    I always thought Ringo was the unappreciated Beatle LOL

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  6. Guardian Enzo, you are always mentioning how you're obsessed with last Kenshin arc not being animated so far. Well, how about the national champ arc on Slam Dunk not being animated?? It's just as bad or even worse since a few frames of that last Kenshin arc have been animated in OVA as a quick summary, you know. The Slam Dunk arc, however, has never been animated, not even a frame!

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  7. Sorry Anon, I've never found time to read Slam Dunk (yet). It's on the bucket list.

    Anyone out there reading Baby Steps? Now there's a very underrated sports manga with a fantastic MC.

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    1. I'm outraged, outraged, Guardian Enzo!! And you call yourself sport manga/anime blogger? ha ha fake outrage aside, Slam Dunk is like the mother of all sport boom in 90s in Japan. How can you not read it yet? Guaranteed, us USA readers can have a harder time getting into it at first as we have, ahem, NBA, here. So Slam Dunk appears to be a fake-NBA (with all those Japanese characters dunking & flying) at a glance, but it's one of the funniest stuff I've ever seen. It's basically gag manga for the first 5 volumes or so before turning into sport manga. I can honestly say it's even funnier than GTO manga and that's one hella of compliment. But I'm sure you know all these due to its reputation.

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    2. oops, double post. my bad.

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    3. Problem is, I wasn't reading manga yet, and the list of manga that I want to read that pre-date by fandom is ridiculously long. The other problem is that it's not just about sports shounen, I'm very much a generalist and love many genres, and they all over a ton of older titles I'm still trying to catch up on.

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  8. Guardian Enzo, well... I recommend you to read Slam Dunk ... It's one of the best sports manga I've ever read... btw, Shoot! is also a good sports manga.

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  9. I am an athletic trainer and I can say that while Kuroko's Basketball does exaggerate the ability due to the visuals (with the numbers and symbols) when the coach asks them to take their shirts off it is entirely possibly to size up how good someone is at a sport by looking at them with their shirts off. it takes a lot of time and observation to come close to the degree they talk about but it is 100% possible to do that. heck I have only been a trainer for a few years and I can tell you just by looking at someone (mainly guys) if they play a sport and if so what sport they do play with a high degree of accuracy. I did roll my eyes when the coach did not see him when he was right in front of her, and I also have other problems with the concept and other things, but I currently see enough promise in the show to check out the second episode.

    + fire and ice relationship with the center and kuroko, athletic trainers being major characters, interesting premise

    -plausibility of kuroko's lack of ability, strength, and to much exaggeration of abilities

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  11. Kuroko no basket is really good. There are some exaggeration, but it has been a long time since i'm able to enjoy a sport anime to this extent

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  12. My interest in basketball began after watching then anime version of Slam Dunk, and went on to read the manga for the National Champion Arc which was not animated. After then there wasn't other much basketball manga that caught my attention, except Kuroko no Basuke.

    It got me hooked right from the start, and half-way through the manga, I hoped it would be animated, and now it did!!! ^_^ I was worried at first that I would be disappointed with the anime version, and I'm glad to say that it didn't. Watching the 1st episode reminded me of how quickly I got hooked onto the manga.

    Of course, Slam Dunk is the classic when it comes to basketball anime/manga. But I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Kuroko no Basuke. Even though I had stopped reading the manga for a while, I quickly got drawn in again when I picked it up again.

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