Comic Picks By The Glick

Real vol. 9

November 26, 2010

As “Slam Dunk” finally starts living up to its hype, the Takehiko Inoue basketball title that I’ve always liked delivers one of its best installments yet. This is in spite of the fact that with this volume, I’ve finally given up hope that Inoue will ever find the right balance in showcasing the struggles of the series’ three main characters. Wheelchair basketball star Togawa gets the short shrift in this volume as the volume’s focus alternates between perennial screw-up Nomiya’s efforts to get back in shape in the hopes of playing professional basketball and the changes in Takahashi’s world.

While I’ve said before that Takahashi’s struggle to cope with his paralysis and ongoing rehabilitation is the strongest thread in “Real,” another dimension to his struggle is added here. “Scorpion” Shiratori, a former pro wrestler who was recently paralyzed in an accident, winds up at the same facility and in the same room as the former high school basketball star. The man is big, burly, and as about as refined as you’d expect from a pro wrestler but he also challenges Takahashi’s own worldview. As someone who has been going through rehab for several months now, Shiratori looks up to the young man for guidance on what to do. The warm feeling of superiorty Takahashi gets from this is subsequently crushed when he finds out that the wrestler might actually walk again.

It’s these constant challenges that Inoue throws at Takahashi that makes his struggles all the more involving. While there’s a lot of focus on the technical aspects of his rehabilitation, we’re spared no detail on seeing how this affects mind as well. Adding Shiratori to the mix also creates a nice three-way-dynamic between him, Takahashi, and Hanasaki the otaku who is farthest along in his rehab and better at it than his two companions. In all honesty, Inoue could’ve just focused on telling this story from the very start and it would’ve been worthwhile all on its own.

If he had, then we wouldn’t have Nomiya’s struggles to act as an effective counterpoint. The man may not have any physical handicaps, but his inability to work well with others and overall lack of direction show that his mental ones are screwing his life up fine. He’s been making some progress with getting his act together and now sees his chance to go pro by trying out for the Tokyo Lightnings in the spring. Before that happens, he has to get back in physical shape and find out what it takes to be a good point guard.

He gets some help with that through the minor contrivance of hearing the Lightning’s coach discuss exactly what he’s looking for at a bar. I’m willing to forgive that because it causes Nomiya to re-think his approach and realize what he was doing wrong when he was on the same team as Takahashi in high school. Even though his rival was never a team player, Nomiya also realizes that he never made the effort to work with him and that was his failure as well.

Things come to a head when he visits Takahashi at the hospital to let him know about his plans and his failings as a player in high school. It’s a powerful scene in the way that he’s able to communicate with his former teammate in a way that he wasn’t able to do before. This also strikes me as being a potential turning point for Takahashi as well, in that the one person he always felt superior to (even with his disability) is going to try and make something of himself. So if he doesn’t do the same, what’s left for him?

Regrettably, this will be the last volume of “Real” that we’ll see for a while as we’re now caught up to the Japanese releases. With “Vagabond” coming to a close, my biggest hope is that Inoue devotes himself to working on this series full-time. If he can keep up the quality seen here, then I’d be willing to bet that Inoue will ultimately be remembered for this series than anything else he’s done.

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App