REAL (vol. 1) – Takehiko Inoue [series ongoing]
I wanted to write a review for an ongoing manga series that may have slipped under some radars but absolutely should not be missed. Volumes 1 & 2 also landed on YALSA’s 2009 Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens list. From reading some of my other posts, you probably gathered that I’m more often than not a “shojo” manga girl – I love romance and romantic comedies. Shojo manga series tend to be my perfect snowy day, guilty pleasure reads. So it’s rare that I pick up a “shonen” or “seinen” manga. And not just any guy-friendly, action-filled manga, but a ‘sports’ manga at that. Perhaps what intrigued me was both the sport that Takehiko chooses to highlight, as well as the very compelling drama that permeates the lives of the three male teenagers: Tomomi Nomiya (18), Hisanobu Takahashi (17), and Kiyoharu Togawa (19).
Nomiya is a high-school dropout who regrets having a role in an accident that permanently crippled a teen girl. He misses the one thing he took seriously in school – playing basketball – and he’s trying to find his place in the world and a way to make amends for past mistakes. Takahashi, a former classmate of Nomiya’s, is the all-around beloved jock at school. He leads the basketball team, has tons of friends, and has girls fighting to be at his side. But while messing around trying to impress a girl on a stolen bike, he gets hit by a truck and is paralyzed from the chest down. Togawa was a late bloomer at school but found a passion for running late in his teens…only to then have his leg amputated due to cancer and to find himself tied down to a wheel chair.
The one thread that unites all three lives is a passion for basketball. Nomiya is constantly looking for ways to ‘feel alive’ again and searches for ways to be a part of the game he loves. While searching for something to replace his love of running, Togawa is introduced to wheelchair basketball and joins an amateur league. In volume 1 of the series, emphasis is on Nomiya and Togawa and how they actually connect. On the surface, Nomiya may seem like a delinquent, but he has an infectious optimism and the ability to connect with individuals without personal circumstances making things awkward; when he meets Togawa, he doesn’t see the wheelchair as much as someone who loves playing basketball as much as he does. The volume ends with Takahashi’s tragic accident, and thus the moment where he thinks he has lost everything. But with two of the three central characters connected via wheelchair basketball, readers can assume that Takahashi is going to find his way through the pain and depression to reconnect with his beloved sport (and the other two teens) in that wheelchair basketball league.
Takehiko Inoue is an author/mangaka well-known for his sports-themed series; and joy, he has a personal web site that has an English portal! In particular, prior to working on REAL, Takehiko saw massive success with another basketball manga series, Slam Dunk (which, according to the wikipedia entry, also inspired a 101-episode anime series, 4 movies, and video games). From what I’ve read, a distinguishing factor between Slam Dunk and REAL is the chosen emphasis. Where Slam Dunk focuses more on sport, with the high school drama of the characters being secondary, REAL seems to emphasis the character drama with wheelchair basketball as an important supporting thread. Also, where Slam Dunk is classified as “shonen” (for an average teen male audience), REAL is classified as “seinen” (geared for a slightly older-aged male crowd, generally starting around 17 or 18 years old and going up to about 30).
What pulls me back to REAL is the sensational and gripping art, the dramatic and authentic story lines, and the endlessly compelling characters. And actually some serious fascination with seeing the sport of wheelchair basketball from the inside out. There are currently 9 volumes released in the series, with more yet to come…and I already have all 9 volumes on my personal book shelves. So, if you’re looking for a manga about an unsung sport with male teen characters that exhibit unbelievable emotional depth…REAL is for you. If you really just want to read some cool basketball manga with a regular fare of teenage high school drama, then I bet you’d find Slam Dunk a worthwhile read.
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