‘The First Slam Dunk’ marks the first time I’ve ever seen these popular manga characters in action. Besides knowing their existence since the ‘90s, I have never read the manga or even watched any of their anime, regardless of the series or films. This, in turn, initially worries me whether I will end up feeling lost upon watching this new anime film.
But thankfully, ‘Slam Dunk’ creator Takehiko Inoue, who also served as both writer and director of ‘The First Slam Dunk,’ ensures that even newcomers like me can enjoy as much as the fans of the manga/anime series minus the confusion. Originally released in Japan last December, the anime film was greeted with a large fanfare after it successfully scored a big hit at the local box office. The success of ‘The First Slam Dunk’ has piqued my interest and, not to mention my curiosity to finally check out what the big buzz is all about after the film expanded its international rollouts in several Asian countries so far in early 2023.
Well, after experiencing a 124-minute cinematic ride of thrillingly-staged basketball court action, the poignancy of the characters and its heartfelt yet involving story covering the likes of determination and never-give-up-attitude, no wonder ‘The First Slam Dunk’ struck a chord among many fans and audiences in Japan in the first place. It was the sense of familiarity that I’m sure most of us can relate to and root for the characters, even if you are not a fan of basketball sport.
Then, there’s the strong nostalgia factor, which more or less plays a major role in contributing to this anime film’s popularity. Besides, it was the first ‘Slam Dunk’ movie since the last anime film, and the series ended their respective runs in 1995 and 1996. That was a long 26-year gap, and releasing ‘The First Slam Dunk’ proves to be the right timing not only in terms of bringing back the good old memories for those who grew up with the manga/anime series but also helps to re-introduce these beloved characters for the modern generation and newcomers alike.
In ‘The First Slam Dunk,’ the story is predominantly told from the eyes of Ryota Miyagi (voiced by Shugo Nakamura), who donned the No. 7 jersey and served as a point guard for the Shohoku High School’s basketball team. We first see him as a kid still learning the ropes about playing basketball with the help of his older brother, Sota, and the subsequent incident that happens to one of the family members. The film then shifted its focus to the present day as we are in the middle of the court action between the Shohoku and their rival, Sannoh.
Apart from Ryota Miyagi, we get to see his fellow Shohoku teammates, including the red-haired Hanamichi Sakuragi (Subaru Kimura), the cool-mannered Kaede Rukawa (Shinichiro Kamio), and the imposing captain Takenori Akagi (Kenta Miyake) and the ambitious shooting guard Hisashi Mitsui (Jun Kasama) as they try their best to overcome their tough opponents throughout the course of the action. The combination of the present-day events and numerous flashbacks that go back and forth is carefully mapped out so that you don’t have to worry about playing catch-up, making the anime film more accessible.
Ryota Miyagi may have been given a prominent backstory, giving ‘The First Slam Dunk’ a necessary beating heart and soul. However, that doesn’t mean the rest of his Shohoku teammates are neglected. Each of them has a unique personality, namely the bold and fan-favorite Hanamichi Sakuragi, who is easily the most exciting character here. I learned that he is supposed to be the main protagonist in the ‘Slam Dunk’ series. But even though Inoue chooses to place him as a supporting character in ‘The First Slam Dunk’, Sakuragi’s engaging presence is one of the main reasons that bring this anime film to life.
Amazingly enough, I enjoy how Inoue structured his entire anime film based on a single basketball match between the Shohoku and Sannoh instead of spreading the action across different team challenges. The match itself is undoubtedly the highlight here as Inoue and his animation team goes all out in creating the incredibly tense and sweaty action on the basketball court as we see either side of the high-school teams performing their brand of offensive and defensive attacks. We see slow motion, close-ups, swift movements, close calls, tracking shots, and even moments of silence – all of which are designed to accentuate the adrenalin-rush experience while successfully capturing the sheer excitement of how a spectacular basketball court action should be.
Then, the final suspenseful seconds evoke the sensational feeling of a ticking bomb about to explode. It was no doubt a breathless moment. Inoue’s decision to combine traditional hand-drawn 2D animation and 3D is visually striking, coupled with its impressive fluidity in capturing the court action and right down to the characters’ varied expressions.
With Satoshi Takebe’s lively score and catchy soundtrack, ‘The First Slam Dunk’ shoots and scores a perfect 10 in my book as one of the best films I have come across in 2023.