As we were led to believe at the end of the previous volume, Sakuragi leads the charge in getting Shohoku’s momentum back through means both unconventional (yanking on a player’s jersey) and skilled (swatting a player’s lay-up down onto his shoe). Even though he’s doing his best, there are still other issues at hand, such as Akagi being shut down by Kawata and Mitsui running so out of stamina that the only thing we’re told that’s keeping him going is “faith.” Still, in a series that’s all about momentum we see Shohoku’s finally turning a corner as they get back in the game and chip away at the seemingly insurmountable lead that their opponents have built up.
That’s not the issue here. The issue is that I did something somewhat unadvisable last night that has me somewhat concerned for the forthcoming end of the series.
I’d been having trouble remembering how long “Slam Dunk” was -- 33 volumes was what I had remembered -- so I looked it up on Anime News Network and found out that it was 31. That had me concerned. If the match against Sannoh was going to wrap up in the next volume as I was expecting it to, that didn’t leave much time for the inevitable rematch against Kainan. They’d been in the audience and beaten Shohoku before, so I figured that the last match would involve our protagonists taking them on and winning the regionals in the process.
Wanting additional confirmation, I went over to Amazon to look up vol. 31 to see if they had a back-cover blurb that indicated whether or not it was the “final volume.” Sure enough, they did and it is. What I also saw there was that things had come down to the last minute in the match with Sannoh and that it was anybody’s game at that point!
“Last minute?” “Sannoh” still in vol. 31?
I’m being told that the match which kicked off in vol. 25 is going to run all the way through to the end of the series?! That’s over six volume and even longer than the battle against Ryonan which was as exciting as it was interminable. Yes, it’s still a compelling game at this point, but it’s depressing to know that the next three volumes, with the last one arriving in December, are going to remain focused on this one match. Mitsuru Adachi’s “Cross Game” had its issues, and the slow pace there was antithetical to the in-your-face intensity that “Slam Dunk” trades in. Yet, I think I prefer that approach to the glacial pacing that Takehiko Inoue is demonstrating here. I’ll admit that comparing the two styles, across two different sports is an “apples and oranges” thing, but Inoue’s approach winds up building more frustration than anticipation the longer he draws out each match.
There’s also another issue with what I’ve found out and it further underlines why seeking out the info I was can backfire on you. As “Slam Dunk” is ending at vol. 31 with the resolution of the game, it tells me that Shohoku is going to lose. I could be wrong, but as their match is only the second round of the regionals it seems highly unlikely that Inoue will end Shohoku’s story on a “and then they won every match after that” note. More likely is that they lose by a single basket in what turns out to be the most thrilling match of the regionals and cause Sannoh to regard them as the most worthy of rivals. It’ll be “Rocky” by way of Japanese culture, and I’m not too sure how I feel about that.
I’ve been expecting since the first volume that Shohoku would ultimately go on to win the championship because that’s how all Shonen Jump series work -- people set out to be the best at “X” and the series follows their journey from there. The journey in “Slam Dunk” has generally been very entertaining and even managed to subvert expectations a couple times along the way with Shohoku losing a couple times. Those moments have helped add tension and drama to a series whose conclusion I had thought was a foregone one.
That said, even if they do wind up losing, the ending might still be worthwhile. “Slam Dunk” is one of the best-selling comics of all time and I doubt that it got that way with an ending that let everyone down in the end. Before I started reading it, all the buzz I’d heard was on how good it was without any mention of the resolution being disappointing. This is opposed to “Death Note” where its “jump the shark moment” was also buzzed about before its release. I mean, people still love “Rocky” even though he didn’t win in the end (uh, that’s a spoiler warning for a movie that’s even older than I am) so maybe I’m getting myself worked up over nothing here.
So, don’t expect to hear anything more from me about “Slam Dunk” until the final volume comes out in December and I do the podcast retrospective of the entire title. Even with its problems, I still think that this might wind up being the one Shonen Jump title that didn’t run long enough. After all, the series only chronicles Sakuragi’s first year at Shohoku. You can’t help but wonder what happened to him after that.