Not only was this worth the year-long wait from the release of vol. 9, but my reaction upon finishing it was basically, “Damn! I can’t wait to see what happens next!” “Real” is in a position similar to other series like “Berserk,” “Black Lagoon,” “Yotsuba&!” and “Blade of the Immortal,” where the long waits between volumes isn’t dictated by sales but by the fact that the English release has now caught up to the Japanese release. Or, in the case of “Real” and “Berserk,” it’s staggered to mirror the year-long wait between volumes in Japan as the latest installments in both series are currently out over there. In any case, such a long wait between volumes means that you really need to deliver the goods to keep the audience invested in the story, and while everyone knows that I don’t think that’s a problem with “Blade,” this latest volume shows that it’s probably not going to be an issue with “Real” either.
Things start off with Togawa going in for his yearly checkup to see if his cancer has returned. Though we’re told that he has gone through these checkups regularly for years without complications, mangaka Inoue still manages to wring a moderate amount of suspense from the whole “What if?” question that hangs over the character through his visit. Though we’re also told of his plans to participate in a wheelchair basketball training camp, this is pretty much the extent of his story in this volume.
I don’t think that’s really an issue as it allows us to get back to the far more interesting tales of Nomiya and Takahashi. The former is still maintaining his training regimen to get back in shape for the upcoming basketball tryouts with the Tokyo Lightnings while the latter continues to wrestle with the struggles of his rehabilitation. As I’ve said before, Inoue could’ve made the entire series around Takahashi’s recovery and it still would’ve been worthwhile due to the depth he gives to its emotional and physical aspects. Here, we see him and his friends band together against their hag of an instructor’s (questionably) brutal techniques, get a look at the difficulty inherent in coming to a complete halt in a wheelchair, and see a wheelchair basketball game at their facility.
For the longest time, it’s seemed that Takahashi was eventually going to discover this and that it would play a key role in his rehabilitation. We don’t get to see that just yet here, but there’s a vitality and determination in his face and eyes in the final chapter as he watches the game and later tries to grab a ball by himself that hasn’t been seen since before his accident. Not only am I looking forward to seeing where he goes with this sport, but I’m also hoping that he’ll eventually wind up on Togawa’s team. If for no other reason than by tying the wheelchair basketball star’s story to the series most interesting struggle, it might finally get the traction it needs to become compelling in its own right.
Then there’s Nomiya, who makes great strides towards his goal of becoming a pro basketball player. While he spent most of the last volume training his body and getting his mind in the right place, we get to see the results of that effort in a practice game here. Though it shows that he does have “the right stuff” as he leads the team back from a ten-point deficit, we also see that he still has some issues he needs to control if he actually wants to make it as a pro. We also get to see him give a “commencement” speech of sorts to his former high school class that I was expecting to be dripping with sentimentality and self-regret on his part, but I was proven wrong. Nomiya’s ambition and self-confidence give it a very true-to-character spin that makes it uplifting in spite of itself.
In a real sign of where my interests in the various stories being told here lie, it looked like the final chapter of the volume was going to end with Togawa’s team gearing up for their next match. I’m sure it would’ve been entertaining to watch, but that wasn’t the story I wanted to see. Fortunately it closes out with Nomiya heading to the Tokyo Lightnings’ tryouts. Part of me wants to say that having him get on the team will be a foregone conclusion, but if the series has one message it wants to impart to the reader it’s that “nothing worth having ever comes easy.” I think that the man has struggled enough for ten volumes to make the cut, but the only thing I can say for sure is that (after reading so much manga from Inoue) seeing him perform the tryouts will be absolutely worth the year-long wait for vol. 11. Bet on it.