I read four different volumes of manga this week and all of them had a cliffhanger ending of some sort. That’s why I’ll be talking about all of them in the same post. So if you want to know what I thought of the endings, and a little of what came before them, in “Slam Dunk vol. 26,” “Knights of Sidonia vol. 2,” “Bokurano vol. 8,” and “The Flowers of Evil vol. 5,” just click on through.
More than anything, the rhythm of the basketball games in “Slam Dunk” are defined by momentum. Who has it. Who’s getting or losing it. Who’s stopping it in its tracks. It’s something that’s driven home again in this volume as Shohoku, after a stellar first half that saw them gain a small lead, get stopped in their tracks by tournament favorites Sannoh. Their full-court-press keeps Shohoku from scoring and slowly eats away at the confidence of its members. It’s honestly painful to watch as the team we’ve come to know and love winds up in what could be a nearly insurmountable point deficit.
That said, Sannoh doesn’t have rookie “phenom” Hanamichi Sakuragi on their side. Though the hotheaded novice is benched by the coach partway into the second half, it’s not because he wants to “burn the sight of failure” into the player’s eyes but because the coach sees a way to turn things around that only Sakuragi can manage. Of course, Sakuragi being Sakuragi, he starts doing it in a way that is completely at odds with convention and social etiquette. His declaration at the end of the volume does herald the start of what will likely be Shohoku getting their momentum back. Then again, what am I saying? OF COURSE they’ll get it back, that’s the way this story is structured. Still, mangaka Takehiko Inoue has proved over and over again with this series that he is a master at selling the drama of these competitions even if we know what the outcome will ultimately be.
Things are more conventional in “Knights of Sidonia” as Tsutomu Nihei continues to offer his own unique stylistic take on the standard “teenage mecha pilots vs. aliens” story. To that end we see new member of society and pilot Tanikaze, “save the day by defeating an enemy no one else could beat” and then he “disobeys orders to save a friend.” He also winds up “being involved in a love triangle,” and “suffers the loss of a friend” while also “earning the ire of the ace pilot.” I’m still entertained and even a little amused at seeing him attack such conventional material in his own way, but if you didn’t like the first volume then there’s nothing here that’s going to make you change your mind. As for the cliffhanger, well, Tanikaze winds up getting a shot at redemption after becoming an object of public disdain subsequent to being screwed over by the ace pilot. Given that this series is following convention to the letter, there’s really no suspense at all in wondering if he’ll get it.
As for “Bokurano,” we get the wrap-up of Aiko’s struggle and a tense battle between Kanji and an enemy that doesn’t have to fight face-to-face if it doesn’t want to. The battle culminates in a tragic sacrifice and a crazy bit of lateral thinking that Jason Aaron would certainly have approved of. However, the most interesting part of the volume is Kanji’s conversation with sullen-even-by-teenage-standards Jun as we get some insight into the latter’s relationship with the sister he constantly bullies, a surprise revelation about his status with the group, and even a bit of foreshadowing as well. (Let’s just say that if you’ve seen the anime, it looks like Yoko’s key relationship was kept intact from the manga.) However, this volume’s cliffhanger involves a bit of a double-reversal as it contradicts something we’ve always thought was the case and was confirmed again here. I’m not complaining as it should make for some great drama next time, but there is a little awkwardness associated with its reveal.
Things keep getting more and more sordid in “The Flowers of Evil,” culminating in a sexual encounter between two of its characters that’s as brief as it is disturbing. Though the series has always felt somewhat dull in the way that it talked about perversion constantly and yet rarely indulged in things that felt at least naughty, this volume proves to be an exception. Particularly in the way that one character, the instigator in the sexual encounter, seems to be slowly losing their mind over a relationship that this person can’t be a part of. The results of this are... dramatic, to say the least and appear to put the kibosh on the plans of other characters to scandalize the town during its festival.
Or does it? At the very end, the book containing their plans is uncovered and every indication points to it leading to their downfall. Given that Amazon shows listings for three more volumes, I can only imagine that things will continue to get worse for them in ways that are thoroughly entertaining to us as readers. At this point, I can say that I’m glad to have stuck with this title after its rocky beginnings.