(Not A) Real Review

By | Sunday, December 09, 2012 Leave a Comment
I just read volume one of Real by Takehiko Inoue. I picked it up because I saw someone (can't recall who) reference it as possibly the best sports manga ever. Now, while that was only one opinion, and probably subject to a bit of hyperbole and/or bias, I figured I'd give it a shot because I've never read any sports manga before. In fact, I've deliberately strayed away from sports manga because I'm not much of a sports fan in the first place, so why would I want to read about it?

That said, I was curious to see what exactly a "sports manga" is, since it's a whole genre that we really don't have here in the States at all. And since the reviewer did say that it focused on basketball, the sport that I'm most familiar with, I thought this might be as good of a shot as I'd have at figuring out what the deal is.

The story starts with a high school student returning to school to get his things after being expelled. Turns out he was a star basketball player, but also kind of a dick and a bit of a bully. On his way off the property, he removes his clothes and takes a dump on the front step. Oh, and we learn that he recently caused a motorcycle accident with some random girl he picked up one night, and she's now hospitalized, paralyzed from the waist down. Not an auspicious beginning for someone who seems to be the protagonist.

He eventually runs into a wheelchair-bound student who's also really good at basketball. But he left the local wheelchair basketball group because he felt they weren't taking the game seriously, and what's the point of playing if you're not out to win. The two strike up an uneasy partnership to hustle rich kids at a neighborhood court. So that's two protagonists who aren't terribly likeable.

Then there's the new captain of the high school team. He's definitely a bully and demeans most everyone he meets. He then steals a bicycle from in front of a store and, when he's seen and starts being chased, he pushes his girlfriend off and races away. Another unlikeable character, but at least he's hit by a bus in his escape attempt.

Now here's where it's a bit weird. We've got several main characters who are, to put it bluntly, assholes. We've got several characters who are wheelchair-bound. We've got this basketball theme that returns repeatedly, along with occasional references to current NBA players that I know next to nothing about. By almost any perfunctory examination, I should not care about this one iota. I can relate to nothing any of these characters are going through.


The one broad idea that seems to keep coming up is an unwillingness to give up. These characters are all facing tough challenges and they flatly deny the possibility that anything can stand in their way. It's something that you see in a lot of fiction, of course, but tying it to a sports story does connect with me in a way that I wouldn't have expected. Namely, that I find myself mentally yelling "Don't give up! Don't give in! Keep going!" when I'm running or working out.

It's an attitude that I think a lot of people like conceptually, but I wonder how many practice it? I mean, obviously, there are physical limits everyone has. (No matter how strong you are, your bones can only support so much weight before they break.) But the idea of continuing to push yourself physically is one that is really difficult to fully embrace and, I suspect, is one of the reasons why so many people are so overweight these days; they don't have to push themselves, so why bother?

I'm debating about picking up Real volume 2. It was certainly well-executed, and I think I can see where they might be going in making the characters likeable. I even didn't mind the sports part all that much. But it was just a little too far removed from what I can directly relate to really get into it as much as I'd like. By the same token, there's a lot to be said for a well-executed story that presents a point of view you're unfamiliar with. I've certainly touted that idea elsewhere recently, so it might not hurt to follow along for at least a couple more volumes here.
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