sábado, 22 de noviembre de 2014

Slam Dunk!

Okay guys, enough playing around. Time to get serious.

So far we have talked about some great cartoons, some good ones, and some that at least had some redeeming quality whatsoever, but this one I’m about to introduce you with it’s a true masterpiece.

Slam Dunk! is one heck of a cartoon, the kind of stuff that you only need to see once to acknowledge its greatness, and the kind of thing that will never totally leave your head after your first encounter with it. Ironically, that was exactly what happened to me when I first saw it.

I should place everything in context, so here I come: It was the year 2001 and I was only ten years old (a wee lad, if you will). I was already accustomed to all the great content the cable compañy PRAMER was showing around here, so I already had enough great programs to see, but this one was something different, and I could tell that at first sight. This weird cartoon about basketball felt really unique when I first saw it, and that feeling never really wore off while seeing all the episodes... it was funny, smart, touching, totally realistic, and amazingly crude all at once... it definitely was a far cry from all the other shows of the time.

Sadly, it was never meant to last, as with only 24 episodes shown, PRAMER had to take it off the air due to economic reasons (it was too expensive to keep on the air), and I honestly felt betrayed by their decision (even when it wasn't their fault). I really cared about these characters, and I wanted to see how their stories unfold... Was Captain Akagi going to win the championship on his last chance? Was Hanamichi going to date Haruko at last? Was Rukawa going to the USA after all? So many questions remained unanswered, and it wasn't till much later (as in 2014) that I was actually able to find the answers to all that questions... and it was glorious. Being able to pick it up exactly where I left it off was something amazing, and I haven’t felt this good towards a cartoon before nor after the fact. It was THAT good.

So, the first thing that makes this cartoon stand out is it’s protagonist: Hanamichi Sakuragi.

ANYBODY can relate with this guy, and that’s something really good to see as a viewer. Hanamichi is a freshman on the Shohoku High School, he only has a handful of friends and holds a sad record with the ladies, as he has been rejected by fifty of them. His last failed attempt happened at his very first day at his new school, and it was because the girl he had a crush on was already in love with a member of the Basketball team. That information is all we need to being literally thrown in one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in the animated form.

While our hero is sitting down on his desk, licking his wounds, he overhears the conversations of all the people around him, but his mental state is so fragile at that point that he thinks they are all talking about Basketball (even when they are clearly not), and he is so angered with that sport that he... BEATS THE TAR OUT OF EVERYONE, while shutting some nonsensical stuff. His reactions to this and how his mind tricks him into believe things that are not true are simply delightful, and a must-watch to any fan of fisical humor.

Later that day, our good Hanamichi laid eyes on a pretty girl he just saw walking down the school halls and tries to approach her while talking nicely and stuff, but just so happens that this girl also has a crush on another member of the Basketball team, but she is so nice to him that he still wants to befriend the lady, and they develop some sort of fast paced friendship. Still, this day is far from being perfect for our main protagonists, because while he was escorting the aforementioned girl thru the halls, he picked a fight with a bunch of senior students, who challenge him to fight at the roof later that day. Hanamichi heads to the covenanted place, but finds that the thugs had already been defeated by another guy named Rukawa (who is the love-interest of Haruko, the girl who befriended Hanamichi earlier). Rukawa had some wounds from the fight but rudely refuses Haruko’s medical assistance, which leads Hanamichi to try and beat him (not without being punched himself a bit). Haruko cannot stand that kind of behavior and insults our hero before leaving the place.

It’s been only a day since Hanamichi joined the Shohoku High and he already had it with that place. But just so happens that, while trying to leave, he is hit in the head with, lo and behold, a basketball. That’s way beyond his limits and he starts to rant about how much he hates that sport and such... just to be heard by the Captain Akagi, a really tall, smart and strong guy who had dedicated his entire life to that game and would not tolerate that kind of disrespectfulness towards it. So, he challenges Hanamichi to a 1 vs 1 game in which Akagi has to score 10 points to win and have Hanamichi retracting about everything he has said, but if he somehow manages to score one point, he would win. So the match starts, but everybody will only learn that Hanamichi doesn't know the rules of Basketball, going as far as to forget to bounce the ball or even use his feets... everything seems so desperate for him (specially since this match has attracted the attention of all the school and a large part of the students and witnessing the game) but he somehow manages to win the game with a really good strategy that surprised everyone. He then makes peace with both Haruko and Akagi... just to find out that they are actually brother and sister. So he now wants to join the team to impress the girl.

But that’s not an easy task for him, as Akagi doesn’t want him on the team (despite the advice he is given by the other members, who considered Hanamichi to be a great addition to the team). So, annoyed and frustrated, Hanamichi breaks into the storage room just to «steal» an uniform and tries to join the trainings... just to have Akagi totally ignoring him. So the next day he tries to clean the storage room (after breaking in once more), and does a great job there... just to have Akagi giving credit to other people. So, incredibly pissed off and just about to give up, Hanamichi has his friends joining him on the monumental task of waxing the stadium’s floor, and he falls asleep while doing so. Surprisingly, Akagi finally does recognizes his hard work and allows him to join the team, where he is teammates with Rukawa (who is not exactly his biggest fan after the «incident» on the roof). And that’s something that really impressed me as a viewer: throughout the course of the series these two NEVER put aside their differences. It would have been so easy for the creators to just portray them as to be close friends after a while, but no, they didn't do it; Slam Dunk! doesn't care about classics, and that is precisely what it makes it worthwhile.

As the series progress, Hanamichi would get more and more involved with Basketball, learning the ways of that sport he used to hate, and doing some extreme training. But not because of Haruko anymore, but also because he is slowly falling in love with the game. But it would be silly for me to just cut there, as -even when I’m giving away a considerable amount of spoilers- this animé really knows how to entertaining you, and it always does it when you are not expecting it anymore (or at all). During the second half of the episodes run we see some really harsh and touching moments that no one would have expected by then... just think about it: we spent a big part of the series getting to know these characters, having breathtaking laughters with them, and regarding them as funny characters, but then the cartoon surrounds us with some heavy scenes which would reveal some really dark moments about these guys pasts and presents, some stories would be crossed with others, and some scenarios we thought were unlikely would become true within episodes. There was an extremely VIOLENT scene that came out of nowhere and lasted for an stunning five episodes... that thing was a bloodbath on it’s own, but it also was surprisingly touching, and ended up with a really warm message that I truly appreciate.

So, we can all conclude that the plot is fantastic but... how does the animation holds up? Well... Basketball fans might be a little disappointed... that the real thing can’t look this good. I mean, look, I know that the guy who created this universe has some serious drawing skills, but this is unbelievable; every plank of wood on the field, every dot on the ball, every twitch and shadow on the uniforms, every movement, every background, and every facial expression is extremely well done, and magnifically serves to the story. Combine that with some selected sound effects, and you have the complete pack. In fact, I feel kinda bad for those who couldn't watch this thing when it was new, because it looks even better by comparison with the things that were available back then.

The music is another winner. Although most of the original songs are in japanese, they are all enjoyable and are played with some good timing. The first opening and ending themes are especially delicious due to some really good animation and static paintings that were played alongside them, and the results are something that you WILL remember till the end of your days (I know I will).

So, that’s Slam Dunk! folks. This is a cartoon I love with passion and I hope you will feel the same about it... not in vain it’s manga counterpart was the best selling in the world until 2004. This is a cartoon worth OWNING (not only watching) and it’s 101 episodes will surely entertain you for a while. But I will have to say that, sadly, the story never resolves in this animated form, as the adaptation stopped a little short... still, you still have the aforementioned manga taking charge of such matters.

The last thing I want to say here is that this is probably the only cartoon that I refuse to watch in another language than spanish. The dubbing crew was the finest I have ever seen, and every character sounds exactly how it should. I know that every dubbing of this thing is a winner, but I will stick with my first language with this one. It truly deserves it.

(Please excuse any error with the grammar, I'm working on it).

First posted here: http://80scartoons.net/forum/viewtop...?p=26721#26721

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