Monday, January 11, 2010

Real, vol. 1

The story: Nomiya is just another teenage guy who loves basketball. But, after a nearly fatal motorcycle accident, he's kicked out of school and off the team, which is glad to let him go. While trying to find some purpose in his mistake-riddled life, he runs across Togawa, a guy just as passionate and intense about basketball as he is. Only, the stoic Togawa plays wheelchair basketball. Soon enough, the two team up to scam other b-ballers out of their cash by winning pick-up games against them. While they're pretty confident in their strategy, they come up against another wheelchair player who is the best Togawa's ever seen and promptly lose the game. Will Nomiya and Togawa be able to conquer their inner demons and find a way to play basketball fair and square?

Reaction: This is a really amazing story of two guys' love of basketball -- but the turmoil they each experience is what makes it more than just a story about basketball. Nomiya is wracked with guilt and, in some ways, is punishing himself by not playing ball at this story's beginning; Togawa has been living in a shell, but Nomiya is slowly picking away at it, forcing him to rejoin society. The short moments of growth shown here reveal a lot not only about the characters, but the type of mangaka Takehiko Inoue is; it's a subtly nuanced story with an emotional depth worth following.

Deep thoughts: This book reminded me of the 2005 documentary Murderball, about a wheelchair rugby team. There's the expected explanation of what happened to make the characters disabled, but these are by no means people or, as in this book, characters who feel sorry for themselves. The reason they play a sport is because they need to -- for as much as physical, as social and mental, reasons. There's a lot of frustration and anger, but there's also determination and toughness.

Artwork: Inoue's artwork here is more mature and developed than that seen in his other popular basketball manga series, Slam Dunk. There's a real grit and intensity throughout these pages, but there's also comedy. While Nomiya isn't a pretty boy by any means (in fact, he looks more lumbering and scary than anything else), there's a lot to laugh at when it comes to his hairstyle emulation of other ballers, like Kobe Bryant or Jason Kidd. The action here is well done, with intense game play and believable movement.

The verdict: Highly recommended. In recent years (and thanks to my husband), I've become a big basketball fan. While this series isn't so much about basketball as it is about the lives of two young men, I found it funny, touching, emotional and, well, real. The characters make this story worth reading while the love of basketball makes it easy to connect with. Real is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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