I’ve gone back to the land of red pompadours, ridiculous antics, corny speeches, and high school students who aren’t even really like real high school students. It has been some time since my last review; I must say, I was in disbelief at how the program handled things in comparison to my expectations. Many contemporary sports anime have let me down and lowered my expectations. I was concerned the series would be dull because it took a while for there to be a real basketball game in the series (and even then, it was a low-stakes match). Thankfully, its silly appeal, strange cast of people, and corny setting made me like it.
What I enjoyed about the prior season is carried over into this batch of episodes, which offered me precisely what I wanted when I initially started watching the show. Our primary cast of characters, their relationship, and the baggage they carry off the court were all introduced in the first twenty-four episodes. We’ll see how this group of anxious high school students performs on the court now that the entire squad is gathered. This is the first time the series’ thrilling athletic angle and Slam Dunk’s coming-of-age tale have been well balanced. These silly teenagers almost all want to prove themselves. They play basketball because it’s a genuine passion of theirs and a means of expressing themselves, so when one of those things is compromised, it impacts the other.
Consider Mitsui, who nearly destroyed his basketball career because he was so driven to succeed. He joined a criminal gang after feeling lost, but he later found his love for the game again, bringing him back into the main cast. But even when he succeeds in discovering who he is, he still has to cope with the fallout from his choices, which can still have an impact on everyone else on the basketball court. Just his tale is enough to make me adore the program. Considering that these are all just high school students attempting to make their place in the world, nothing about this feels forced or gimmicky.
I love these goofballs and want to see them succeed, whether it’s Rukawa learning he can’t win games by himself or Akagi trying his hardest to lead the rest of his squad well. If, like me, you were dissatisfied by the lack of basketball, then this new group of episodes practically triples the amount of actual games we witness. I give the program credit since, even for contemporary sports anime, it does something different. Even if the games are given a lot more attention, the personnel know how to maintain the pace of the activities interesting. A lot of what we watch on the court is skimmed over, and most games only consist of a few episodes. Later in the season, when they garnered greater interest than the early rounds of national qualifiers, this helped build some of the biggest games.
Even while the games’ tempo has significantly improved, there are still problems with the show’s general pacing. I’ll hold off on making a final decision until after the show, but certain things went on far longer than necessary. Even while I enjoy many of the off-the-court jokes, there are certain episodes that feel like filler, and some flashbacks that could have been resolved in half the time. This may also be related to some recurring jokes that lost their hilarious factor or didn’t age well, such as Sakuragi’s constant boasting about his genius status while being maybe the team’s least experienced player or Mitsui’s popularity with ladies. With the exception of a few outdated insults that made me roll my eyes, none of it is awful. It’s unfortunate that it’s a little too lengthy because it’s thrilling when we eventually receive the reward to particular situations.
The character arc of Sakuragi is the best illustration of this. He seems at first like a parody of a sports anime hero. For a good portion of this series, he doesn’t really enjoy basketball, and his only motivation is to win over a girl who isn’t interested in him romantically. That’s acceptable in some circumstances, particularly because it is known that he is a diligent worker who is able to see through people’s facades. The issue is that when the plot introduces a number of other strong, passionate people, it becomes uninteresting until Sakuragi reappears. But eventually, he starts to doubt whether or not he is the genius he claims to be, so his irritation pays off. He remains modest while maintaining that self-assured manner. Even with the occasional strangeness of the Toei subtitles, I was cheering at the screen when we got to that tremendous game between Shohoku and Kainan.
Finally, there has been a noticeable improvement in both the animation and audio quality. Given the length of its episodes, nothing is particularly noteworthy technically, but the show finally makes better use of its resources. Framing is given greater attention than elaborate animation. The more humorous scenes feature the smoothest animation. There’s the soundtrack, which sounds like it belongs in a nineties coming-of-age film. It fits very well and features some sick guitar riffs that show off throughout the basketball games. My experience with Slam Dunk may best be described as cheesy yet extremely addictive.
The program is leading its primary appeal, even though other elements, including its tempo and some of its humor, haven’t aged well. A wonderful lesson that is still relevant today is the growing pains that accompany the realization that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that sometimes you have to make due with what you’ve got in order to achieve your goals. Despite the rather convoluted setup, Sakuragi’s character arc helped me warm up to this group of characters and their interactions with one another. Can it pull off its finale? is the question that now needs to be answered.