When I was in school, anime was a big thing. Although there were a few favourites, none was bigger than Slam Dunk (SD). The basketball comedy was a massive hit among the teeners, which the show’s high school setting greatly aided. Furthermore, all of these productions were ‘Tagalized’, meaning they were dubbed in Filipino for optimal effect. I remember my fellow students braving the rush hour just to get a glimpse of the action. Years later, this reminded me of tennis superstar Rafa Nadal, who, as a kid, would hurry home to catch eps of Dragonballz. SD has a fairly large cast, with disparate characters across various high schools in the ‘Kanagawa District’. While SD obviously chronicles the shocking rise of Shohoku High and their dance in the Interhigh tournament, SD is also a portrait into the maturation of a ball player. Friendship, rivalries, school priorities, and family, form some of the key themes in the presentation. Though it is not as exhaustive as the original manga, the programme can function as a handy snapshot into high school life and basketball dreams in days of yore.
Kaede Rukawa #11 (forward). Though only a freshman, he is the undisputed ace player of Shohoku High. He yearns to be a complete talent, honing his outside shooting while being a deadly slasher and improving defender. He single-handedly carried his squad in the game against Kainan, while going mano-a-mano with Sendoh in the next match. Off the court, he can be found sleeping – even while riding his bike. Being the number one player in Japan is his goal.
Sakuragi (forward). The redhead assassin is the star of the show. He is noted for his quick temper, his braggadocio, and his rebounding prowess on the court. He is a self-styled genius who hates losing and has a massive crush on Haruko. He is also enamoured with the art of the slam dunk. While he initially joined the club to impress Haruko, he grows to love the game and becomes the chairman of the boards. While away from the hardwood, he likes to hang out with his clique. The series explores his development from gung-ho beginner to a staple in Shohoku’s first five. His steep learning curve, which includes dribbling and layups, is mined for comic effect. His constant foul trouble is likewise foregrounded. On the team, he is closest to Miyagi. He likes comparing himself to great players like Sendoh and Rukawa, with the end result of winning Haruko’s heart. Coaches and fellow players often cite his tremendous leaping and caroming ability, secretly admitting that he is a star in waiting. He has ongoing rivalries with Kainan’s Nobunaga and with Fukuda and by series end, his jump shot has become just as dependable as the latter’s.
Takenori Akagi #4 (Centre). The hulking slotman is the team’s captain and longest-tenured player together with Kogure. He came in together with Mitsui and yearned for Shohoku to be the best team in all of Japan. Uzmi of Ryonan is his greatest rival on the show. His skill set is a testament of the virtues of hard work and patience. While he used to be a lowly foul shooter, his obsessive work ethic on his free throws halted his being a liability in that area. Moreover, he is a beast underneath the basket with his post moves and agility, although the drop-off in the talent level around him has forced him to shoulder much of the burden. Unlike the rest of the team, he takes as much stock in his studies as he does with the hoop.
Hisashi Mitsui (Two guard). He was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) while with Takeshi Junior High. He feels a tremendous sense of indebtedness to Coach Anzai, who prodded him when he had lost all hope of snatching victory. He then signs on with Shohoku out of gratitude to the coach. He immediately states that his goal was to transform Shokoku into the primero outfit in the land. However, he tore his ACL and lost his way while on the sidelines. When he is in rhythm, he is arguably the best shooter in the district. This was never more apparent than in the Shoyo fixture. There, he drained five triples in the second half after being limited to only five points by intermission. He likewise did this against a much taller quintet. His defence is also pretty robust, as he was able to shut down Sakuragi while playing out of position. However, his lack of fitness after his time away from hoops has been his Achilles.
Ryoto Myagi #7 (point guard). He is the point man of the offence, setting up his teammates, high fiving them, and calling plays. He acts as the de facto coach on the floor and regards himself as the best point guard in Kanagawa. Popular opinion though would place him just behind Maki of Kainan and Fujima of Shoyo. He is Sakuragi’s best friend on the team. Though not the tallest playmaker, his incredible court vision allows him to see and read plays before they happen. Matched up against much taller foes like Maki and Sendoh, he rises to the challenge.
Kiminobu Kogure (forward). The four-eyed sixth man provides much-needed shooting and firepower off the Shohoku bench. He is the ultimate team player and reminds me of Lamar Odom, who spent time with the Lakers. His role may vary, and he may not even start, but he will always be there for his team. For instance, after Shohoku’s loss to Ryonan in the practice match, he comforts Sakuragi and tells him that there will be more contests to decide. He also supports Sakuragi’s claims of being a genius. Moreover, he likewise hit a crucial three which sealed the game against Ryonan.
Akira Sendoh #7 (Ryonan forward/guard). Rukawa’s main nemesis in the series. He could be fierce on the court but is playful off of it. He is often cited for being tardy, but he lets his game do the talking. In many ways, he is a better version of Rukawa and has played in bigger contests. He is also a year older. He often plays as a small forward but could also be utilised as a point guard. Towards the end of the programme, he teams up with Fukuda as the passer of alley-oops. His charm and grace as a ball player, together with his mad skills, make him a crowd favourite.
Jun Uozomi #4 (Ryonan centre). The tallest character in the series, who is even bigger than Akagi. He captains the Ryonan squad but is nowhere near as effective as Akagi. At first, he is just all height and no skills. Coach Taoka brings him in after seeing much potential in the teen. At the start, he has trouble catching up with the rest of Ryonan during drills, but eventually transforms into a monster down low. He, Sendoh, and Fukuda form the team’s core. After Shohoku eliminates Ryonan, he is seen working at his father’s ramen shop.
Kicchou Fukuda (Ryonan forward). As per above, Fukuda has a rivalry with Sakuragi. He is noted for his curly hair; thus, Sakuragi calls him ‘Fukulot’. He is a quick learner but favours praise over criticism. He is moved to tears after the crowd chants his name in the Kainan game. He is a perimeter player who has an accurate jump shot, and he can score in bunches. However, he is also a defensive liability.
Nobunaga Kyota. (#10, forward). A fellow rookie for the Kings of Kanagawa, he likes to think that he is a better player than Rukawa. Though unimposing, he can dunk and block shots over taller cagers regularly. He is also farther along in his development than Sakuragi, although his immaturity mimics the latter. Regardless, he is the only first-year man in Kainan’s starting lineup. That certainly stands for something, given the rigorous winnowing of hopefuls in the team. His block off Mitsui’s game-winning attempt secured the game against Shohoku. Pre-match against Ryonan, he also tried to throw the ball off the glass for a one-man alley-oop but comically ended up making the shot. Kyota is one of the series’s most entertaining characters.
Of course, I could name more roles, expand it into Maki and Jin of Kainan, Hanagata and Fujima of Shoyo. I could even get started on the coaches. I’ve watched this series in three versions: Filipino, English, and Japanese. Without a doubt, this is a kids’ show. I was already a basketball fan when I started watching SD. However, viewing SD does not make you more of a kid or less of a real b-ball aficionado. With Dennis Rodman’s antics during the Chicago Bull’s title runs, the series may even be sort of prophetic. In the end, you could learn a thing or two from the king of rebounds. You don’t have to be a genius to put that together