Reviews

Nov 27, 2008
Real (Manga) add (All reviews)
Beatnik (All reviews)
Preliminary
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.