The legendary basketball anime is back! Slam Dunk will return next Australian spring, with creator Takehiko Inoue not only writing the script, but also directing. After a long absence, the timing could not be better.
Slam Dunk first debuted as a manga in Weekly Jump in 1990 and ended its run six years later. It was not the first basketball manga, beat The manga was a massive hit, selling over 120 million volumes in Japan, and spawned a hugely successful anime that aired between 1993 and 1996, as well as four animated feature films.
For anime fans of a certain generation, this is a hugely important show. Slam Dunk is one of the most important sports manga and anime ever produced. It has an immediacy to it, with cool characters, that continue to interest even non-basketball fans. The characters are cool, and the manga has helped popularise basketball in Japan even more, much like the manga Captain Tsubasa did for soccer.
Slam Dunk is packed with references to NBA stars of the day, like Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, which went over the heads of many readers at the time. It wasn’t necessary that readers got every nod and homage. What was clear was Inoue’s love of the sport.
Kids in Japan who never followed basketball became fans, and the manga had huge crossover appeal to young women. My wife, who was born in Osaka, became a huge Slam Dunk fan. It wasn’t the sport that interested her, but the stories and the characters. For her and others growing up in Japan in the early 1990s, any new interest in basketball was an added plus.
Hanamichi Sakuragi, an entering freshman at Shohoku High, holds a record for being rejected by 50 girls during middle school. Ever since the last girl turned him down for a guy on the basketball team, Sakuragi’s been traumatized by the sport. One day, an unsuspecting Sakuragi is approached by a cute girl who asks him, “do you like basketball?” Sakuragi immediately falls head over heels for this girl, Haruko, and answers “I love it!” Dreaming of the day he can capture Haruko’s heart, Sakuragi, who doesn’t know a dribble from a dunk, begins his training. But Haruko had her sights set on another freshman, Kaede Rukawa, the superstar rookie. The freshmen pair and the rest of the Shohoku basketball squad begin their season with their sights set on a national championship…
Basketball is not new to Japan, where it’s been played since at least the 1920s, with leagues forming in 1930. For decades, school kids have played basketball as part of their physical education curriculum, piling into gyms during the cold winter months to shoot hoops. However, even with domestic leagues, it hasn’t been followed as closely in Japan as sports like baseball, which is a national obsession, or even volleyball, which regularly gets primetime broadcasts.
But that’s starting to change, and as Crunchyroll pointed out in the above clip, that started to change in part to the success of Slam Dunk.
Decades after its debut, we’re starting to see the Japanese basketball come into its own after years of languishing in the fringes. Players Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe are playing in the NBA, for example, and the national woman’s team just won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
This is a good time time for Slam Dunk to return, and an even better time to be a basketball fan in Japan.