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This Week in Anime – Slam Dunk: Scoring Big on Basketball and Comedy

This week, we take another trip down memory lane to explore one of the 90’s cult classics: . Join Nick and Steve this week as they dive into some of the anime’s iconic moments of comedy, teamwork—and one man’s dream to win the heart of the girl he has fallen head over heels for.

This series is streaming on YouTube

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Alright, Steve. There’s only one way we can talk about a basketball show from the 90’s. Let’s get in the paint and COME ON AND SLAM! AND WELCOME TO THE JAM!
You can call me Basketball Jones because I’m ready to alley-oop into another “This Week In Anime” column that’s sure to be nothing but net! And with that, I’ve exhausted my reserve of b-ball lingo, so I’m just gonna stand here and try to look really tall.
The summer is always a rough time for sports around here. Even with the new pitch clock, I refuse to subject myself to baseball’s tedium. So, I’ve been reduced to surviving on Slam Ball. So, I’ll take any opportunity to talk about actual (fictional) basketball.
I think I’ve been to precisely one non-school-related game, and it was featuring the Harlem Globetrotters. So, I can’t pretend like I’m an aficionado of basketball. But I have been known to enjoy anime from time to time, and when you mention basketball with anime, you can’t help but bring up the quintessential example, .
It’s one of those titles that’s practically primordial, one of the ur-sports anime that every other series gets compared to. A title that carried the lineup through the early 90s and nominated Takehiko Inoue as one of the titans of the medium. It also has a new movie coming out in the US this week, which is probably why Toei decided to finally stream the HD episodes on their YouTube channel.
It’s also one of those titles that didn’t seem to blow up in the US to the extent that it did abroad. Anecdotally (i.e., based on what gets retweeted into my feed), it seems like the new movie’s showings have been really popular in South Korea and the Philippines. Moreover, if you look at the YouTube comments beneath each episode, at least 75% of them are from Latin American viewers reminiscing about the series (and asking for Spanish subtitles). I think when people generalize about anime’s international appeal, it tends to be US-focused. So, it’s neat to see firsthand how truly international it can be.
That is pretty cool! Personally, I’d always been curious about the series, but it’s also one of those shows that’s super long and, until now, was only legally available in 480p. So I was excited to check it out and return to an era of basketball where Michael Jordan was the second coming.
I mean, as far as conceits/titles go, this one nails it. Every sport wishes it had a move as cool as the slam dunk. While I do appreciate that hockey just lets players beat each other up, for example, it just doesn’t possess the grandeur of someone making a big jump with a bright orange ball.
It calls back to a simpler era before Steph Curry and James Harden turned basketball into math when everyone’s idea of “good at basketball” was being tall and psychopathically competitive.

Thankfully, that’s something Sakuragi has in spades, even if the inside of his head is as empty as a Charlotte Hornets game.
And as we later learn: that’s an asset!

I really enjoyed my time with the show, and I attribute a lot of that to Sakuragi’s strength as a protagonist. There’s a temptation, because this series is so foundational, to call it standard, but I like the ways in which he doesn’t start out as your typical sports shonen guy. I love how he keeps tripping into conflicts with other delinquent dudes.
I imagine part of that is just how things have changed with mainstream storytelling over the years. These days, it’s expected for your sports anime protagonist to start out already dedicated to their chosen field of athleticism – from huge shonen hits like to smaller titles like , the main character functions as an infectiously obsessed hype machine. Meanwhile, Sakuragi hasn’t so much as touched a basketball at the start of the story and is struggling to learn lay-ups by the end of episode 10.
Yeah, it’s refreshing! I’ve never been that athletic myself, granted, so I could be biased. But I can relate to a guy who inadvertently gets himself into a whole new extracurricular activity solely for the purpose of impressing a cute girl.
I imagine it was also a calculated move back when the series first started. I don’t think most Japanese teenagers in the early 90’s knew or cared all that much about basketball, but being dumb and eager to seem cool to girls transcends time and nationality. It also conveniently puts Sakuragi in a position to learn about the sport from the ground up.
Good points. The romcom energy definitely overshadows the basketball stuff in these early stages, and that prioritization helps endear us to its cast before it tosses them and the audience head-first into the paint. I think it’s also smart of the series to have Sakuragi consistently play basketball wrong since that further helps communicate the right way it’s supposed to be played.

Plus, it’s funny.
As I said, the dude hasn’t even figured out a granny shot by the end of the episodes we’re covering, and that’s just under 10% into the show! It’s like if had spent an entire season with Echizen playing tennis without a racket.
His literal entire training arc so far has been about getting him to stop doing just dunks. It’s like the way you try to teach a toddler that they can’t have choccy milk for every meal.
Sakuragi is like me on Twitter: he cannot resist the thrill of a savage dunk. It doesn’t matter if it’s baiting a foul or against the terms of ser- I mean, the rules of the game. He’s got to posterize somebody.
And that’s why we get multiple instances of this frame in every episode.
I will say that aspect of the show can drag pretty badly. also operates with the notorious pacing of a long-running shonen adaptation, drawing out moments and repeating punchlines across multiple episodes when it really doesn’t need to. I guess when you’ve got a hundred episodes to work with, you feel like you can afford to spend two of them on Sakuragi being scouted by the Judo team.
I’m sure it hits differently when it’s spaced out daily or weekly too. This aired well before the anime model even considered the eventuality of a couple of chuckleheads shotgunning entire seasons so they could make little jokes on their website. And with that in mind, I didn’t let the pacing bother me too much. They’re being goofy with it. It’s fine.
There’s certainly a charm to it, but if anyone’s looking to watch this series now, I’d definitely suggest not doing more than a couple a day to keep it from wearing out its welcome.

Also, you’ll need a pretty high tolerance for near-toxic levels of testosterone. Nearly every dude here is a walking, hulking mass of potential (comedic) violence, even the quiet ones.
If you love dudes whacking each other in the back of the head so hard that it leaves a big red lump poking out of their hair, you need to run to Toei‘s YouTube channel this instant.
Seriously, these guys must be Looney Tunes themselves. I won’t be surprised if somebody pulls out an anvil or a big bundle of dynamite during their first match.

Every single one of these guys would have been at home on the 80’s Pistons.
The physical comedy is just an extension of the situational comedy, where every main dude is a 7-foot-tall Adonis who is also the pettiest collection of single-digit neurons on the planet.

Presumably, they’ll all get along at some point, but I can tell you it does not happen in the first ten episodes.
I do like that Sakuragi finally pushes Rukawa enough that he starts fighting back. The dude takes himself way too seriously most of the time, so seeing him finally crack and stoop down to our main character’s level is way more satisfying than I would have expected.
It’s also nice that Haruko turns out to be a big dumb goofball too. I didn’t expect much from a love interest in this era of shonen, so her having some personality was a welcome surprise.
I do wish her role was a little more than just standing on the sidelines and cheering for the characters. The end of episode 10 gives us a little more of that when she starts training Sakuragi herself. I think it’s cool to have a female lead who also plays the central sport, and I’d love for that to be played up more. Though her friendship/one-sided crush with Sakuragi definitely has its charms.
Yeah, it’s still not much in the grand scheme of things, but I knew she had potential the minute I saw her old “basketball freak” t-shirt.

Though, if we want to talk about deliciously ’90s fashion choices, I can’t let the column go by without posting Ayako’s fit.
Ayako’s a lot of fun too. While fulfilling the Designated Girl role of team manager, she’s also a shit-stirrer who is clever enough to (mostly) rein in Sakuragi’s dumbassery or strategically deploy it when she feels like it would be funny.
There’s no lack of chaos being sown in these episodes, but her doing so deliberately adds a lot of appeal.
Also, while he hasn’t done much yet, you know the team is in good hands when their coach is just Andy Reid if he never got into football.
Akagi rounds out the main cast’s dynamic nicely too, since he’s the senior guy genuinely serious about taking his team all the way to the nationals, yet he keeps getting dragged by Sakuragi into his world of nonstop buffoonery—to the point of literally showing his entire ass.
You gotta feel for the guy. He just wants to be in a regular, serious sports show but keeps getting dragged down by the horny doofuses around him. Also, he keeps racking up concussions.
That’s the gag that made me laugh the hardest. I don’t care how old I get; you can’t beat a good dose of sudden cartoon head trauma.
It’s rough being the straight man, especially when your younger sister attracts dumbasses like a Venus flytrap.
I mean, it also has to be tough when your imouto starts reciting the Deep Magic in tongues long forgotten by the ears of mortal men.
Yeahhhhh, guess we gotta talk about that part. So, while Toei has provided the HD versions of the episodes, their subtitling work leaves a lot to be desired. While stuff like the above is uncommon – but still too common for a professional release – there are two full episodes where a good 60% of dialogue lines just…stop. They’re gone, cutting off the back half of sentences mid-word. It’s bizarrely sloppy in a way I haven’t seen in decades.

It’s only on episodes 4 and 5. But still, that’s 1/5th of this initial batch of episodes, and it’s far from the only error.
Those episodes also have a bunch of punctuation errors, like asterisks randomly popping in and ellipses turning into apostrophes. I did a quick check, and it looks like these uploads use the same script as the SD release on Crunchyroll, so I imagine they just ported the subtitles over and didn’t bother to QC-check any of it. This isn’t a great look, but I guess Toei‘s been kinda notorious for finding ways to mess up releases of highly anticipated shows.

For what it’s worth, though, the HD remaster looks pretty good overall.
It’s solid and definitely the better option in terms of visuals. You can also largely get through those two episodes with the context of the visuals, but it’s still a huge black mark on this release that could very likely show up as more episodes are released. Plus, even the episodes without those problems still have some odd timing, often coming on screen a full second or so ahead of when the corresponding line is spoken.
And I certainly don’t want to sound too ungrateful about a 101-episode series being provided for free! That’s a cool gesture and a savvy marketing move for the film. But you’d think, with how beloved is across the globe, they’d want to put their best foot forward.
I guess it wouldn’t be a Toei release if there wasn’t some kind of catch to an otherwise good deal. But despite that speed block, I do think fans of retro anime should give this one a shot if they haven’t already. There’s a crusty, smelly charm to it like a well-used locker room. Plus, maybe the slow-burn approach to basketball will convince some of you nerds to go outside and practice your mid-range jumpers.

Note: don’t do it horizontally. Only Rukawa and Vince Carter can do that.
Even if you can’t tell your hoop from your half-court, it’s super easy to pick up on ‘s appeal, whether you’ve got an eye for that ’90s aesthetic or a thirst for men with shoulders as broad as a bus. It eases you into the paint with lots of comedy, and it’s a goldmine for ball-focused double-entendres. Truly something for all audiences.
To quote the inexplicable English eyecatch: “The first part of was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s get together in front of the TV!”



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