黒子のバスケ (Kuroko no Basuke)
Shounen – Sports
15 Omnibuses (complete)
For the past three years, one middle school has dominated the championships. But now its members — known as the Miracle Generation — have all gone to different schools. One student from this team joins Seirin High, but surely someone as unnoticeable as this guy could have only been a benchwarmer…?
Note: all characters are referred to by their family name to avoid confusion. In addition, be aware that some online stores list the series by omnibus number (Kuroko’s Basketball Volume 1, Kuroko’s Basketball Volume 2, etc.) while others list by volumes included. (Kuroko’s Basketball Volume 1 & 2, Kuroko’s Basketball 3 & 4, etc.). It can be a little confusing if you’re shopping at various times or buying for a friend.
Sports manga tend to have very passionate fanbases. At the same time, compared to other genres, what the current leader or superstar is changes on a regular basis. Part of that is all the cross-promotion: most sports series that make the jump to anime get plenty of CD singles and other merchandise produced. But sports themselves have rises and falls depending on how local teams do. Plus sports manga, rather than putting completely new spins on the format, tend to improve on the previous hits with even more high tension games, friendship, good looking males, BL-worthy moments, a healthy dose of comedy, and more.
Nothing wrong with that, as sometimes it’s better to just change up the wheel rather than reinventing it.
That being said, Kuroko’s Basketball does just that: it includes a few change-ups to make this an entertaining read.
Let’s start with the titular character. Kuroko is not a miracle rookie like the protagonist of Yowamushi Pedal, and he’s not a cocky, elite player like the lead of The Prince of Tennis. (The deuteragonist, however, falls into the secondary category, but more on him later.) Kuroko, as we quickly learn, is not great at shooting or defending. Even his personality is rather chill for a main character. In fact, he’s so quiet, normal, and unassuming that people barely notice him. So why would anybody want him on their team?
But what he is good at is passing. And when he sees the passion for the game in his new teammate Kagami, the guy I referred to earlier, Kuroko decides to help Kagami and the rest of his new teammates become the #1 team in Japan.
So while the first cover makes Kuroko look creepy, I liked him as the protagonist from the start. He wants to win (and clearly says so), but he also wants to win as a team. Plus, while his passing skills are amazing, he isn’t some god-tier player that can guarantee victory. At times, he’s actually dead weight because his repertoire is rather limited. Kuroko’s “I’m right here” gag where even his friends miss him can get a bit stale at points, but Kuroko himself takes it in strides. He’s one of those quietly passionate types, which is a rarity in a genre featuring loud shouts of effort that bring players to utter exhaustion. Characters like Kuroko aren’t often the stars of manga, and that helps the series carve its own spot in the popular sports genre.
As for his teammates, we have the hot-blooded ace Kagami, the captain who becomes bossier and haughtier in tough situations, the silent defender, the jack-of-all-trades and punmaster, a big brother type, and a couple others that basically just round out the team. I was a little disappointed in this aspect. The manga just focuses so much on the Kuroko-Kagami dynamic and a pair of upperclassmen that their teammates are pushed to the side. By the time the manga starts implementing Seirin’s supporting cast very late in the series, I was so invested in the starters and the Miracle Generation that I was almost annoyed. Partially because they took attention away from Kuroko et al, and partially because they could have been given development earlier. Lots of manga rush the ending, but in this case, I felt like it was so heavily weighted in the last two games because suddenly all the second-string (and even first-string 5th players/main backups) had moments. The manga should have spread their flashbacks or awakenings out more.
That being said, I like Kagami as the deuteragonist. With Kagami being given and taking on much of the load during games, he’s more like what you’d expect of a shounen sports protagonist. I though Kagami be all like, “I’m so good, so why don’t I just play all the positions for the whole game?” for quite a while before learning the value of teamwork, a trait fairly typical of a sports hero’s best teammate and rival. But in fact, Kuroko gains the wild and talented Kagami’s respect in the first chapter. Kagami even later apologizes for looking down on the club and Japanese basketball as a whole, a moment which made me smile. Although as a returnee from the States, he also gets the role of dumb, clueless foreigner. Fortunately, his ignorance of Japanese culture isn’t as much of a repeating gag as Kuroko’s invisibility.
In addition, it was a good change of pace to have the main female character to not be the team manager — she’s the coach! Aida is a student just like everyone else, and while she’s very dedicated to leading the team, her personality is a bit traditional: tsundere, violent sports girl who can’t cook. But surprisingly, the manga doesn’t try to pair her up with (or hint at feelings for) Kuroko or even Kagami. I could go on about the characters, but it’s hard not to root for Seirin’s team, and even the rivals like the Miracle Generation will surely have their fans, like Midorima’s hilarious obsession with bringing his lucky item of the day everywhere.
Back to the overall story. Kuroko’s Basketball is on the short side compared to other sports manga. That means less time focused on random fillers or vacations and more time on the tournaments. That’s not to say every page is about Seirin playing a basketball game, but the series doesn’t go wandering like how The Prince of Tennis becomes The Prince of Bowling, etc. At times, the manga switches to a narration-style to fast forward through less important quarters (or entire games), which I didn’t like. I can understand skipping ahead at points, but I think characters and/or strategic panel placement can do a better job.
Speaking of the games, a sports manga generally means that the hero’s team has to be undefeated. After all, kicked out of tournaments = no more games = not a sports manga. But the journey here isn’t as smooth as I expected. Seirin suffers some setbacks. Still, of course Kuroko’s team can lose too often, especially when the story gets into why winning the championship this year is so important. Plus, the manga establishes the rivals that need to be knocked down in the very first chapter: the five members of the Miracle Generation and their respective high schools. Just as so many genres can be boiled down to a particular formula, so does Kuroko’s Basketball.
Again, though, that is necessarily a bad thing. Having the main threats set from the start keeps the story from having an overload of “but wait, there’s more!” moments in regards to other teams and players. With Kuroko having personal relationships with various aces also means they can be weaved into the story before and after matches, which leads to more character development. And that’s where Kagami’s accepting of his team helps contrast him from most of the Miracle Generation, who often just barely tolerate their seniors on the team. The Miracle Generation members all have their quirks (including some rather jerky behavior), but they are all amazing players. They aren’t all introduced at once, but it isn’t like each player’s talents are a complete surprise in the games, but the manga has plenty of heart-pounding photo finishes.
They’re usually photo finishes too, with games often ending with just 1 or 2 points ahead. That’s because there are typically two types of action series that are set in the real world: either very realistic or almost magical; Kuroko’s Basketball falls into the second category. The Miracle Generation and several other players like Kagami are basically Michael Jordon, Shaq, Charles Barkley, and every other elite basketball players in one. Dunks from a distance, the ability to copy other moves, super passes, a heightened, special state of intense play — this manga is about as realistic as Mario Tennis. Heck, even one player’s talent of grabbing rebounds with his big hands is given a named ability. Managing to close the gap and then win in the last quarter — often the last two minutes or so — may happen occasionally, but not like the way they happen in Kuroko’s Basketball. The author tries to use real-world logic to explain the players’ abilities, but that all stretches the imagination. Also compared to other sports, it’s a very high-scoring game, so plenty of extreme talents are on display to get the score into the 70s+. If you find the idea of shots going practically stadium high or instant reflexes too ridiculous, then this manga isn’t for you.
Like many long-running series, it takes a bit for Fujimaki to settle into the art. Fortunately, the initial awkardness — particularly creepazoid Kuroko — vanishes fairly quickly. Even the first volumes aren’t bad, so if you ever go back and reread Kuroko’s Basketball, you won’t feel like it doesn’t match the final volumes. Fujimaki also doesn’t go all wild with character designs, but this is helped by the fact that a) he almost assuredly had the general series outlined from the beginning, including how the Miracle Generation members looked and b) basketball has rather few players and the author doesn’t put a lot of attention on all five members of each team.
Honorifics are used. Kise’s habit of using “chi” (“Kuroki-chi”) along with less common honorifics like “Riko-tan” is kept. Nii/Nee and the like are changed to Big Bro/Sis. Aida’s dad calls his old friend “Mabo” (Ma-bo”), which is “Little Ma” here. Midorima’s ending of “nano da yo” becomes “naturally”. The player with the Eagle Eye ability’s last name is written as “Izuki”, the common romanization. It’s seen on some merchandise as “Iduki” because of the different romaji systems.
I think it’s kind of explained in various volumes, but just to be clear, the Miracle Generation are all named after colors: Kuroko (black), Midorima (green), Kise (yellow), Aomine (blue), Murasakibara (purple), Akashi (red), and it’s only Kuroko whose hair doesn’t match his name.
The adaptation differs in places from the Crunchyroll subs. The six powerful members (キセキの世代, Kiseki no Sedai) are called the “Miracle Generation” while Crunchyroll uses the “Generation of Miracles”. Viz calls the other five talented players (無冠の五将, Mukan no Goshou) “Uncrowned Generals” while Crunchyroll names them “Uncrowned Kings”. Romanizations also differ like Viz using “To-ho” versus Crunchyroll’s “Touhou”. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Finally, the English portions are in < >, and some of the original Japanese English was rewritten for this adaptation, like in Chapter 229. And Kagami’s nickname of “Bakagami” (a portmanteau of baka + Kagami) is “Kadummy” for Viz’s adaptation.
Kuroko’s Basketball features some solid characters, particularly its protagonist, although the cast is rather small considering. The basketball games are fun but rather ridiculous. But if you don’t mind those flaws, this is a very likable sports manga.