Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Sports Manga: A Review

by McCamy Taylor (Who Does Not Like Sports)

Cover of REAL Vol. 1 (Amazon.com)

First a confession. The only team sport I will watch on television is basketball. Everything else bores me. However, there are a number of team sports manga titles which achieve greatness. I am going to review three of them.

Everyone has probably heard of Slam Dunk by Vagabond creator, Takehiko Inoue. You may even have read or seen the anime of Buzzer Beater, a sci-fi sports manga about human basketball players trying to compete in the intergalactic league against better endowed aliens. But his real sports masterpiece is REAL...as in wheelchair basketball is "real" basketball. The ongoing manga (which is available in the U.S.) tells the story of young men who discover that losing a leg or all feeling from the waist down does not mean that they have to give up sports. The three main characters are a high school dropout former basketball player who causes an accident which leaves a girl paralyzed and seeks a way to atone for his guilt, a former track star who loses a leg and finds a substitute for running in wheelchair basketball and a high school basketball hero who becomes a paraplegic and thinks he is as good as dead until he sees a game of wheelchair basketball. This is 100% adult manga -- no, not because of nudity, because it deals with the issues it raises in a totally realistic way. There are no miraculous cures, just lots of hard work and frustration and sadness when crippling diseases progress as they inevitably do -- and joy when people refuse to accept the limitations which fate and society seem to have set for them.

In a somewhat lighter vein, Ping Pong is the story of three...high school ping pong aces! Yes, I know what you are thinking. "Ping pong!?" I have never watched a ping pong match, but I have read the manga and watched the film adaptation of the manga multiple times. Note, there is a manga and anime called "Ping Pong Club" which is hilarious. This is not that manga. Ping Pong by MATSUMOTO Taiyou is exactly what you would expect if you have read the authors Black and White aka Tekkon Kinkreet -- a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a "hero". The two best friends, Pico and Smile, each have their own way of playing ping pong and each resists their team (and society’s) efforts to change the way they play. The perfectionist, Dragon, serves as a counterpoint. Dragon believes that ping pong is pain -- i.e. a person must lose himself if he wants to achieve greatness in the sport. Pico and Smile show us that a person who stays true to himself can become even greater.

Finally, though I hate baseball with a passion (it puts me to sleep), baseball manga can be fun, mostly because the authors can fill all that dead time when the pitcher is standing around scratching himself with thought balloons. So we can hear the guy on second plotting how he is going to steal that base, and what it says about his soul that he plans to steal that base. There are several good baseball mangas, but my favorite is probably Rookies by Masanori Morita. In this high school story, a "violent" teacher is reassigned to a new high school after he injured a student in his first high school in a brawl. It turns out that the double black belt teacher is not mean. Far from it. He loves the students and wants them to achieve their dreams. But he has a bit of a temper problem, especially when it comes to bullies. No problem. The baseball team at his new school also has a temper problem. Last year, when the opposing pitcher beaned their batter, the team took to the field and beat the shit out of the opposition. For this, they got a one year suspension, and they spent their time off turning into smoking, brawling, skirt chasing thugs. Now, some of them want to play baseball again. But they have to fight against their bad reputation. Luckily for them, their new teacher is willing to fight for them -- even though he has never played a team sport in his life. As with REAL and Ping Pong, this is all about how individual players can rise to greatness by nurturing (rather than suppressing) their individuality.

The manga, REAL is licensed and available in the U.S. There is a great live action adaptation of Ping Pong which lifts dialogue straight from the manga, which is not licensed in this country (but has been translated by fans). Rookies is also not licensed, but there is a J-Drama (pretty much true to the original but overly sentimental) you can watch on line, and fans are in the process of translating the manga.

© 2012 McCamy Taylor

Bio: If you don't know who McCamy Taylor is, you're really not paying attention. Aside from reviews like this one, many of her short stories and novellas have appeared in Aphelion and other print and online publications, and she is the reigning Aphelion Long Fiction editor. Her most recent fiction contributions to Aphelion are The Margaret Mitchell Estate Strikes Back and Become Like a God in the August 2012 edition (i.e., this one!).

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