Tomomi Nomiya, former captain of his high school's basketball team turned delinquent, decides to drop out of school after he is crushed by the guilt of ruining a young girl's life in a traffic accident. As he dedicates his free time to helping her, he stumbles upon Kiyoharu Togawa, a former sprinter who has lost the use of his right leg and now plays wheelchair basketball as an alternate outlet.
After challenging Kiyoharu to a one-on-one game, Tomomi is completely defeated. Inspired by this encounter, he realizes that he can't let his love for basketball die so easily and decides that he will do what he can to help others while striving to become a professional player. Meanwhile, Hisanobu Takahashi, Tomomi's replacement as the high school's team captain, gets into an accident and finds himself permanently paralyzed below the waist. Real tells the touching tale of these three young men as they struggle to overcome their disabilities and inner conflicts in order to achieve their dreams while igniting a passion that will bring them together.
A manga revolving around wheelchair basketball. This is another representation of the manga form's greatest asset: variety. There are manga out there about any subject, topic or issue. There is a manga out there for everyone. Real is for everyone. Everyone with matured tastes anyway. It needs to be made clear that this manga is heavy on characterisation and not on battle royales involving hoops.
Takehiko Inoue's Real is his most mature and accomplished work. You won’t find constant court action here with secret techniques powering up people. This is a tale about three young men, the issue
of disability in Japan, and of course basketball.
Nomiya is a rash outspoken school dropout searching for a purpose in life. Everything about him says he should not give a shit and just be a hooligan, but inside that rough exterior of his is a decent person wanting to make good use of his life. This is a man who acknowledges who he is, a very mature act indeed. He looks for redemption in the girl who he caused to become disabled thanks to a traffic accident.
Togawa is already in a wheelchair and a rabid basketball player. His arc is more predictable in the Slam Dunk mould of wanting to be a better player, setting his sights on a rival to use as a measuring stick for his own skills. How he got into the wheelchair is more interesting than what he's doing in it, but regardless his predicament is still engaging in a conventional sense. You root for him to succeed.
Takahashi is an antagonist introduced early on, making Nomiya's life a misery by not adhering to the spirit of sportsmanship, causing Nomiya to become an outcast by turning the school team against him. He's pretty much your typical teenager, ugly egotistical traits and all. He unexpectedly becomes the reader's guide to disability and enables Takehiko Inoue to explore the horror of having control of your own body and senses wrenched away from you. This character's arc is by far the most compelling, as Inoue slowly turns the hateful archetypical bully of the first volume into a relatable person by the fourth.
Reading this manga I kept trying to spot how Takehiko Inoue would go wrong; would make glaring mistakes or fall for convention. But he doesn’t. There's no typical genre formula for the basketball games, there's no beat by beat rundown of disability like you'd expect in some shonen genre tale with commentators spelling everything out for you. This is simply a tale led by three main characters dealing with what’s real in their lives, how to differentiate between reality and fantasy whether it be in society status or relationships, the falsities between the lines, how to hold onto truths, how to discover them in the first place.
How to deal with the cold harsh and undeniably true-to-life act of being abandoned by your so-called friends when you lose the ability to walk. How to continue to live in your new state, bearing that crushing defeat, the humiliation and loneliness that comes rushing in when you are outcast by nearly everyone in your life.
Real is Takehiko Inoue's best manga to date, it doesn’t use basketball games as a crutch, it doesnt revel in clichéd tropes of manga, it’s just simply a compelling story with a backdrop that’s rare to the manga form, so kudos to the author for going there and tackling it responsibly and creatively.
Real isn’t going to be everyone's cup of tea, because some are so used to associating manga with certain tropes. This most certainly isn’t Slam Dunk part two, but if you've an open mind and want to be pulled into the plights and trials of three young Japanese men dealing with life's challenges, drawn exquisitely by one of manga's most skilled artists, then read Real.
Takehiko Inoue made his name in the 90′s with Slam Dunk, the hugely popular basketball manga. After that he was sponsored by ESPN to do another basketball manga, Buzzer Beater, but that one didn’t go down as well. So the next year he decided to switch genres and starting drawing Vagabond, the samurai epic. But I guess after a few years of him waking up surrounded by pages of samurai doing slam dunks, he realised the basketball was in him and he needed to go back to that genre before he exploded. Sitting in front of his editor and faced with pitching his new sports
manga, he desperately needed some new angle.
“It’s about bask..bas…” gaze darts around the office.
“Baske…ba…baaaaa” eyes dart from newbie mangaka sweating profusely to experienced editor in chief picking his nose to the new sub-editor who only has one leg so is in a-
“Wheelchair basketball! My new manga is about wheelchair basketball!”
One thing I was worried about going into Real was that the depiction of disabled folks would come off as patronising. There can be a bit of a tendency in stories focusing on disabilities to paint the characters as selfless heroic individuals with no faults, as though they think glorifying their achievements will somehow counterbalance the lack of respect regular society gives them. This is absolutely not the case with Real. The characters are assholes. Completely and utterly horrible people. There’s three main characters, two of which are in wheelchairs. One of them is a stuck-up, self-absorbed, weak-willed bully. The guy not in the wheelchair is a temperamental, anti-social idiot. Even the third dude, the up and coming wheelchair basketball star, is an angry whining little twit.
While this goes a long way to making the characters feel like human beings with genuine personality, dreams and weaknesses, it can also mean that watching them gets a bit difficult at times. Particularly at the start of the story. Real takes the approach that these characters will learn and grow to become better people through their interactions with others over the course of the story. To achieve that though, they really shove these characters down to absolute rock bottom. High school dropout loses his drivers licence and cripples the girl he picked up and has that looming over his conscious as he tries to put some sort of life together. Top-tier student breezing through class gets spinal cord snapped in traffic accident and realises while in hospital that none of his previous relationships are worth shit. Aspiring wheelchair basketball player tries to set up team but most of the players abandon them due to his relentless ambition.
But in US Marine style, breaking them down completely allows the story to start rebuilding their lives. It’s fucking gruelling to sit through at the start. With every breakthrough a character has, something else will knock them back. Team gets back together, instantly loses first match. Guy manages to get job, company goes bankrupt. But with each knockback, the person will learn something. They’ll draw inspiration from one of the other characters in the story and this will spur them on to go further. It’s a feel-good story about triumph in the face of adversity, which you could probably guess from the fact it was about wheelchair basketball. But in humanising the characters and knocking them down so low, it becomes that much more rewarding when they do make a breakthrough.
The artwork is fantastic. Takehiko Inoue opts for a more realistic drawing style, which works well with the story. Characters do seem to sweat an awful lot, which makes the basketball matches look like the players were all bukkake’d before getting on the court. This is compounded by the fact Inoue likes to draw the characters with their shirts off to display muscles and so forth. The author has no qualms whatsoever about drawing dicks either, which is a little bit weird. This is actually relevant material, since your own body image is a huge theme in the story. It’s both a huge part of sports and your disability. Shots of the Australian wheelchair basketball player with his humongous biceps next to his stick-thin legs go a long way to demonstrating how characters come to terms with how they body will be shaped.
Where the artwork really seemed to improve over the course of the series is the visual metaphors and panel composition. Now I admit that the panel composition thing may be just me taking time to get used to his style, given the guy is kind of a veteran at this whole manga thing. But the more the manga went on, the better he seemed to get at depicting the thought process of characters using visual cues. The moment that was an absolute standout for me was when the guy in hospital remembered the game of basketball he played against the guy in the wheelchair before he broke his back and he suddenly realises there is a sport for him. There’s a fantastic flow to the way the panels show his mind naturally wander before his eyes widen when he remembers the guy in the wheelchair. As for the visual metaphor, these increase over the course of the manga and go a long way to allowing me to understand how the disability effected people. Stand out moment here was the guy sprinting in a race and seeing his leg crash into some imaginary mud and snap off.
It took me a bit to get into Real as the story construction requires the start to be gruelling reading. But once the characters started growing, it became a highly absorbing and rewarding read. It hasn’t ended yet. There's 11 volumes out at time of writing. But I can’t see it continuing on for too much longer because it really feels that the characters have gotten over the worst of their problems. Plus it’s about wheelchair basketball. Goddamn wheelchair basketball! How awesome is that! Go read Real, it’s pretty great.
What can be said about REAL, that hasn't been said yet?
It is masterfully written manga by Takehiko Inoue revolving around overcoming what life throws at you. Three main characters are trying to live their lifes and find their path.
You relate to them, because atleast once in your life you had similar thoughts. As manga progresses you progress with it. You want to join them in their fights with obstacles. You want to go out and start playing basketball. You want to start studying and live your life at the fullest possible way. You are inspired not by their victories, but by their transformation.
Jorney is sometimes more important than the destination. And this is one of those times.
Favourite quote from the manga: "I just want to be a better person"
What this manga revolves around can simply be described in two words, wheelchair basketball -- but that surely does it as much justice as calling nights dark.
If you've seen the movie Murderball, then this series is a essentially and almost entirely just the manga format of what that documentary has to offer in terms of issues relating to people of the disability -- but from a Japanese perspective of course. As a side note, if you haven't seen Murderball then get off your ass and do so!
Takehiko's brilliance can be seen immediately in his art. It is his own and it is unquestionably excellent and
recognizable -- my personal favorite among manga artists. What makes his work so superb and endearing are his characters. Upon reading any series of his, be it Slam Dunk!, Vagabond, or this one, the immediate impression of the characters is that they are just that, characters. They have very specific personalities and their mannerism and dialogues and all other aspects to them are very specific to them. An obvious observation yes, however, this does wonders in providing a certain realism and depth concerning the ability of the reader to relate and understand the scope of what the characters within Inoue's mangas, and do so with an incredible grasp of who and what the characters represent with a certain clarity that is in my opinion genius.
Every page, and even the ones with not a single word communicate vastly the experience and environment of the characters within them and the thoughts and minds of these common yet distinct people that you will have the gratifying experience of encountering in a manga.
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