The First Slam Dunk Review

The First Slam Dunk
The First Slam Dunk
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The last time anyone in anime saw the Shohoku High School basketball team was 27 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. In as much as The First Slam Dunk suggests a prequel to the iconic 1990s manga and anime, it is an extension of the cartoon series adapting its concluding part –the fatal match between Shohoku High and Sannoh High. With that being said, by the time you reach this point in the movie every relationship and character arc is already there so those who have never read the comic book will miss out on some key elements that may make it hard for them to connect themselves with it.

Nevertheless, all these details are misleading because “Slam Dunk” the first-ever ever-animated film actually builds up to an anime’s ending. To start with, everything in this movie takes place during one game, which is pivotal because it is the ultimate showdown involving a team counted out by everyone against unbeatable champions. In telling us their story from before they started playing, rather than saving up all interesting points until the end of their story and making us sit through boring expositional scenes first before allowing them to play basketball on our screen (game), makes us care about their characters while they are still in action. The same could be true when someone plays video games; you begin at level one without having been taught how to defeat your enemy but learn everything while playing; this is what any game entails.

Another important decision shifts the attention of the main characters. While redheaded Hanamichi Sakuragi looks like he should be our anchor here (he isn’t), we focus mainly on his friend Ryota Miyagi including his sad past related to his family mostly regarding his elder brother who is also a basketball coach. From Miyagi’s point of view, you can summarize Slam Dunk’s history via flashbacks creating context for major events but also deepening him as a character along with his motivations. As a result, Inoue introduces new recruits to the major team relationships without taking much time out of the game so as to make what happens on the court more significant

Their character dynamics are enthralling, which will make you become very immersed in them. On the face of it, Shohoku’s line-up appears quite clichéd – the handsome boy, the bruiser, big guy number two, tough guy number one, and the prankster- but even within its 124 minutes run-time The First Slam Dunk adds enough depth to them that seem like authentic people. Even if he is not at the center of attention, Sakuragi always manages to steal every scene by behaving like a maverick inspired by Dennis Rodman and having bright red hair resulting in many funny moments especially when he is exchanging words with Anzai his coach. If there’s anything that ever gets too melodramatic about this movie at all whatsoever for Takehiko Inoue, he just has Hani who must cut off all seriousness by doing what? Making silly gestures while playing basketball; I mean Sakuragi does have a sense of humor.

The other crucial choice is changing the main character. Instead of iconic red-haired Hanamichi Sakuragi, we will focus on Ryota Miyagi, his tragic past, and his relationship with his family especially his older brother who also happens to be his basketball mentor. Through Miyagi’s flashbacks, we get retrospects that are kind of summaries of Slam Dunk’s history and recontextualize certain important events from Miyagi’s perspective deeply while still enhancing more about himself than ever before. Inoue uses how Miyagi gets his teammates as an opportunity to remind us what has happened so far in the story ensuring there is enough background to all key characters’ relationships for the game they are engaged in not to look abrupt but without taking time away from the thrill of sport.

It’s easy to get hooked on these characters because they’re a blast. At first glance, the Shohoku squad seems like stereotypes – a pretty boy, a delinquent, a big tough guy, an edgy short guy, and a prankster – but even within 124 minutes runtime The First Slam Dunk freshens them up enough that you feel as if they were actual individuals. Sakuragi steals every scene he appears in despite being a deuteragonist with his Dennis Rodman-inspired maverick attitude and bright-red hair which leads to those moments of comedy that would usually involve him interacting with coach Anzai. Every time the film threatens to become too melodramatic out comes basketball genius Sakuragi breaking through with some shenanigans.

The more dramatic scenes aren’t always suited to the animation style especially at first where it plunges right into the uncanny valley for a few minutes. It gets better after a while (the CG crowds never do though) and by the time we reach heavy emotional punches in the second half, they hit us like bricks.

The visuals are aided by exquisite pacing that simply builds up and up until an explosive finale, with twists and turns worthy of The Last Dance. Equally impressive is the electrifying sound design that isolates sounds to highlight their significance as characters’ inner thoughts let us in on their emotional investment in the game. The gravity of the film is added to by the sounds of the ball hitting against the floor, going through the net, and sweat running down athletes’ bodies onto the court which makes its atmosphere tense, making it an epic battle for Titans inspiring enough that you may want to stand up with characters in the background chanting “defense!”

Concluding Remarks

The First Slam Dunk was a sports anime. This movie gives us an exciting basketball game filled with NBA finals thrills and drama combined with incredible visuals and camera angles never possible in live-action. Takehiko Inoue reimagines his own manga providing something new for fans of long standing but also making sure he has made an ultimate entry into this 90s classic for those coming across it for their very first time.

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