Many anime fall into obscurity after their first airing, but Slam Dunk is one of the rare series still beloved and talked about 25 years since its finale. This was evidenced by the recent announcement of a new Slam Dunk anime film, which sent fans into a frenzy of excitement -- an impressive feat for such an old series.
Slam Dunk started life as a manga written and illustrated by manga legend Takehiko Inoue, the man behind popular samurai manga Vagabond. The series was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1993 to 1996, spawning a 101-episode anime from Toei Animation, four animated films and a load of video games for both consoles and arcades. The manga sold over 121 million copies by 2014. For a while, Volumes 21-23 held the record for the largest initial print runs for any manga with 2.5 million copies each (One Piece Volume 24 broke that record in 2002).
The series follows Hanamichi Sakuragi, a young, unlucky-in-love delinquent gang leader. When he joins a new high school, he meets the girl of his dreams, Haruko Akagi. Haruko introduces Sakuragi to the school's basketball team, thinking that it would be a good fit for him. Sakuragi disagrees at first but is convinced to attend practice a few times and displays a natural aptitude for the sport. This leads to Sakuragi and his team of misfits competing in tournaments all around Japan.
The series has been praised for capturing the passion and artistry of basketball while still being realistic. Unlike series like Captain Tsubasa that give their players over-the-top mega-moves, the plays in Slam Dunk are always grounded in reality; pretty much everything seen in Slam Dunk could be pulled off on a real court. The level of detail in the basketball games is mind-blowing, with small movements and positioning details faithfully captured. On top of this, Sakuragi isn't some mythical talent who just waltzes onto the court and starts dunking balls like the love child of Shaq and LeBron. While he displays a natural aptitude for the sport, he is shown training hard and putting in a lot of work to get where he is, making his story uniquely human in a genre stuffed to the brim with supermen.
Takehiko Inoue is a fan of basketball and played the sport when he was younger. Much like Sakuragi, Inoue started playing to impress girls but found himself falling in love with the sport. The love and passion radiate off the page, and you can't help but be carried away by Inoue's enthusiasm. This passion also helps make the series even more realistic. Inoue understands the small details of the game and the sheer amount of work it takes to be a good basketball player.
Slam Dunk has also affected the real world. Since 2006, the Slam Dunk Scholarship has been giving out athletic scholarships to Japanese teens. The series also massively boosted the popularity of basketball in Japan. Due to this, Inoue was given a special award by the Japan Basketball Association for helping to popularize the sport. The series is so popular that when COVID-19 prevented the basketball season from starting, the Taiwanese sports network ELTA TV decided to replace its usual basketball coverage with reruns of Slam Dunk.
Slam Dunk isn't just a basketball anime -- it is the basketball anime. Nothing else has come close to capturing the drama and feel of this classic. It's easy to understand why fans are excited for more, even after all these years. Hopefully, the new film lives up to the hype and successfully introduces new fans to the original classic.