The First Slam Dunk (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A solid Japanese animation sports drama

I am usually open to anything, but I hesitated a bit in case of watching Japanese animation film “The First Slam Dunk”, which is based on Japanese manga series “Slam Dunk”. Although I am familiar with that popular Japanese manga series it is based on, I have never touched it because I am your average nerdy guy not so interested in sports (Confession: I was a lot more interested “Detective Conan” and “The Kindaichi Case Files” for my insatiable appetite for mystery genre), so I was not particularly willing to watch “The First Slam Dunk” when it was released in South Korea a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, I became a bit more curious thanks to a series of positive audience reactions on the film. I eventually decided to give it a chance yesterday, and I am happy to report that it will entertain you enough even if you do not know much about “Slam Dunk” just like me. Like any good sports drama, the film keeps focusing on story and characters even while following every predictable genre convention to the core, and you will be surely enthralled by one dramatic moment to another in the film.

The story mainly revolves around one big match between two rival high school basketball teams, and, along the story, we gradually get to know the five principal members of the Shohoku high school basketball team: Ryōta Miyagi (voiced by Shugo Nakamura), Hishashi Mitsui (voiced by Jun Kasama), Kaeda Rukawa (voiced by Shin’ichiro Kamio), Hanamichi Sakuragi (voiced by Subaru Kimura), and Takenori Akagi (voiced by Kenta Miyake). Led by their taciturn but wise coach, these five members are now almost close to a big moment of glory and achievement, and they are certainly ready to play as much as possible against their mighty opponent team.

Along these five lads, Ryōta becomes the most prominent one as his family melodrama comes to function as the backbone of the flashback part alternating with the basketball match part. Even when he was very young, Ryōta aspired to be a first-class basketball player, and he certainly hoped that he would follow the footsteps of his older brother, who had already shown considerable potential as a high school basketball player. Unfortunately, Ryōta’s older brother died due to an unfortunate accident not long after their father died, and that certainly devastated not only Ryōta but also their mother, who eventually decided to move to somewhere else as often haunted by the memories of her dead older son.

Ryōta’s mother did not want her son to play basketball just like his older brother because that often reminded her too much of her older son, but Ryōta was adamant about going his way nonetheless. When he later went to Shokoku high school, he came to show more talent and potential, and he soon played along with his current principal team members.

Although they are less developed compared to him, Ryōta’s four principal team members are depicted with enough life and personality to engage us. While Kaede is the most flamboyant one in the bunch as reflected by his dyed crew cut, Hishasi and Hanamichi are also provided with each own personal moment, and I was often amused by the stoically hulking appearance of Takenori, whose younger sister incidentally works under his coach while not hesitating at all to show her interest in Ryōta. In case of their opponent team, its principal members are also presented with some care and respect, and you can see that they may actually beat Ryōta and his team in the end.

While frequently jumping back and forth between the ongoing game and the flashback part, the film does not lose any of its narrative momentum at all as doling out one thrilling scene to another. To be frank with you, I do not know much about basketball, but the movie still could engage me without getting me lost among all those quick and flashy physical movements unfolded on the screen, and I found myself more emotionally involved in what is going on among its main characters. As a seasoned moviegoer, I have watched lots of basketball drama films ranging from “Hoosiers” (1986) to “Hustle” (2022), and I can really tell you that not many of them can top those exciting highlight moments of “The First Slam Dunk”.

I must point out that the film occasionally shows several notable week aspects. I do not like when the film goes all the way for broad humor, but I accept at least that comes with the territory when you are watching a Japanese manga flick. I also notice that there are only a few substantial female characters in the story, and they are less colorful in compared to Ryōta and his principal team members. Yes, they are surely no more than plot elements in my humble opinion, but, to my little relief, they are thankfully not objectified at all unlike numerous female Japanese manga characters out there.

In conclusion, “The First Slam Dunk” can appeal to others besides its target audiences because of its considerable spirit and style, and director/writer Takehiko Inoue, who is also the creator of “Slam Dunk”, and his crew and voice cast members deserve to be commended for their good efforts here in the film. No, I do not think I will soon check out “Slam Dunk”, but I do appreciate the entertainment value of “The First Slam Dunk”, and I assure you that you will have enough fun and excitement from it.

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