Kuroko's Basketball Vol. 1 & 2 - Manga Review

Taiga Kagami joined the Seriin High Basketball team planning to beat Japan’s legendary team the “Miracle Generation”, but he didn’t expect its forgotten member to be there to help him.

The Lowdown

After returning from America, first-year high-schooler Taiga Kagami joins the Seirin High basketball team with the goal of beating the members of Teiko Middle-School’s undefeated legendary team known as the “Miracle Generation”. The five members of the Miracle Generation all went to separate high-schools, making the competition for Taiga and Seirin extra tough if they want to qualify for the National League. However, little does Seirin know that they’ve got the key to their victory right under their noses in Tetsuya Kuroko - another first-year with an eerie ability to go unnoticed by people. It turns out that Kuroko was the forgotten sixth member of the Miracle Generation, and he pledges to use his skills to help Kagami become the best in Japan.

How Was It?

When done right, one of the strongest aspects and most defining aspects of sports manga is the presence of a driving goal for the protagonists that helps to emotionally-centre the story and provide it with a sense of focus. Much to my pleasant surprise, this was captured extremely well in the opening chapters of Kuroko’s Basketball in helping to introduce the Kuroko, Kagami, and the rest of the Seirin basketball team as they begin their journey together. The Miracle Generation provide this driving goal for both Kagami and Kuroko as they strive forward, and I liked how the first chapter of the series was really centred around this idea as the two become inadvertent teammates with the goal of taking the Miracle Generation down. This also provides the spine for this volume - Kuroko and Kagami and the rest of the team practice together before facing the first member of the Miracle Generation, Ryota Kise, in a practice match, and prepare to take on another as they progress through the qualifying stages of the national tournament. This gave this volume a familiar yet interesting structure as the first members of the Miracle Generation are introduced as the challenges Kuroko and Kagami have to overcome, and I liked how this simple premise worked to provide a clear focus for this story.

While the driving goal of beating the Miracle Generation provided a strong start to the series by giving Kuroko and Kagami a compelling end game, I was disappointed that this wasn’t accompanied by strong characterization needed for them to really carry this series as interesting main characters. Kuroko is a bit of an odd main character in that his defining trait is generally going unnoticed by those around him, and somewhat unsurprisingly this did not make for the most interesting character to base the story around. In comparison, Kagami is introduced as a bit of a one-dimensional hot-head, providing some balance when he and Kuroko are put together. We get a fair amount of humour centred around Kuroko randomly popping up on people, and although this was funny the first couple times I was roundly tired of this gag by about half-way through this volume.

The issue with Kuroko and Kagami as the main characters for this story is that they remain largely static throughout the course of this volume, and don’t really display much depth to their characters. Kuroko does show some character development as he interacts with his former teammates from the Miracle Generation, but the moments where he does show interesting fire to him seemingly happen at random without any build up to make them resonate a little bit more. If anything, the strongest character moment for Kuroko and Kagami comes at the end of the first chapter as they make their initial pledge, but the excitement from this was more about their driving goal rather than any emotional sort of swell. Overall, this volume succeeded in giving them a strong defining goal, but it hasn’t create a strong reason to really want either of them to succeed aside from it being the point of the series. The rest of the characters on their team are fairly bland, with only coach Riko Aida’s spunk providing another interesting perspective, and I hope that this series gives us a stronger reason to want to follow them as they try to beat the Miracle Generation.

The overriding goal for Kagami and Kuroko in beating the Miracle Generation remains firmly in sight for the duration of this volume, and unsurprisingly we get our first real game of the series against one of these players a few chapters in as well as another qualifying game for the team later in the second half. My impression from both of these games was that this series doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of interest in actually portraying the game of basketball accurately, and Fujimaki-sensei definitely plays fast and loose with the action to an almost distracting degree. Part of this is the nature of Kuroko’s ability to “disappear” and catch his opponents off-guard, but the main issue I found was that the action isn’t portrayed in a way that actually allows the reader to easily follow along with what is happening on the court.

The action felt disjointed in the sense that panels would jump oddly from one to another without any real flow depicting the play at hand - there were a number of times were a team would rebound the ball, and then in the next panel be down on the other side of the court without any connecting image showing how the players got there. At times, the game felt like a montage of things happening on the court without conveying the sense that there was an actual game going on through the flow of play. Readers unfamiliar with the way that basketball looks in action will probably have an especially difficult time piecing together where things are actually happening on the court, and I found myself wondering multiple times how a particular play developed aside from seeing Kuroko doing a steal or pass and Kagami slamming the ball down for a dunk because of the pure emphasis on these moments themselves without establishing how they fit into the context of the overall game. While there were definitely a number of cooler looking moments when Kuroko and Kagami were able to really connect on a play these were really just that - cool plays, but ones that never really felts like part of a build-up to victory.

The unevenness of this portrayal also made their moments of victory feel less engaging than they would have been because it was difficult to say how the games really progressed towards them winning aside from seeing a couple scenes of Kuroko and Kagami doing their thing. Combined with the fact that it never really felt like Kuroko and Kagami were facing any difficulty in playing these games to create any real emotional stakes, I was really disappointed with the way that these action scenes came through. While the art in the action scenes and the rest of the volume as a whole was perfectly serviceable, Fujimaki-sensei’s inability to compose his panels in a way that conveyed what was actually going on in the games was difficult to make my way through.

Final Thoughts

The first two volumes of Kuroko’s Basketball get off to a great opening by creating a strong goal for its two main characters to struggle towards, but I was generally let down by the lack of a reason to become emotionally invested in the two of them because of their static character development. The two are on the blander side because they don’t really show enough depth to make things interesting, and I felt like I needed more of a reason to become interested in them aside from just wanting to see them beat the Miracle Generation as a self-evident goal. The basketball scenes are also not particularly well-portrayed because of the jumps in the action, and I found myself disappointed that the sense of an actual basketball game going on wasn’t conveyed well aside from a few cool power moves. I’m hesitant to recommend Kuroko’s Basketball at this stage, and I think that there are other sports series (particularly Viz’s Haikyu!!) which have been done a much better job creating an exciting and emotionally interesting struggle compared to what is achieved in this volume.


Kuroko’s Basketball Vol. 1 & 2 was translated by Caleb Cook and published by Viz Media on August 2nd, 2016. Created by Tadatoshi Fujimaki, the series began in 2012 and runs in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. Volume 3 & 4 will be published in English on October 4th, 2016.

Verdict:

C+

Date of Publication: August 4th, 2016

Translator: Caleb Cook

Author: Tadatoshi Fujimaki

Publisher: Viz Media




Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka