by Lauren Orsini,
In Kuroko's Basketball, many of the players' abilities border on magical. If games took place in a vacuum, it'd be obvious that the guy who can predict the future or shoot three-pointers from the opposite basket (or do a Perfect Copy of both abilities at will) would always win. However, there's a lot more at play than just talent, including team solidarity, injuries, emotional state, and the audience gaze. This episode of Kuroko's Basketball focused on how those last two elements factor into the game.
It's a good thing that this episode was about mentality, because the physical animation of the players suffered noticeably this week. Zoom transitions that were little more than a panel of blurred colors stood in for fast movement. In lieu of animation, an extended still montage represented the progression of the game during part of the second half, and as always, character height and build were often ignored in exchange for animation ease.
The MVP of this episode was undoubtedly the audience. The spectators' cheers and jeers are what influenced the action on the court. The audience's happy faces and tapping feet take on a hostile turn when Seirin realizes that the audience only jumps for joy inversely to their successes. Himuro notes Seirin's predicament to Murasakibara: “Every time the gap closes, they'll cheer. Mistakes are met with joy and landing shots with silence.”
It was reminiscent of the chorus in a Greek play, where one group comments on the dramatic events of the day. Kagami made the metaphor literal with his midpoint statement: “The only times we could be fated to lose are in fictional stories. This is is our drama. We decide what the plot will be.” Kagami at once acknowledges and rejects the idea of a pre-written theater script, regardless of what the chorus opines. When you think about it that way, it's a pretty deep remark that's steeped in clarity, but the show turns it into a lighthearted moment where everyone chides Kagami for being so corny. There's a moment like this in every episode, where the colors go pastel and everyone relaxes, and it changes the momentum of the game. As unlikely as it is, the audience notices Seirin's shift. “Seirin, don't lose either!” screams a spectator who clearly has no idea how basketball works.
It's amazing how much these outside factors influence the teams' collective mental states. Kaijo, which has the audience on its side for the majority of the episode, is quiet and calm. "The team morale is quiet but high,” the coach observes. “Miracles happen in times like these.” Meanwhile, Seirin is in a negative spiral, overthinking and making stupid mistakes. Seirin's goal at this point isn't physically stopping Kise. It's mentally breaking Kaijo. It's sinister and smart; Seirin's bad mood actually made the team play poorly. If Kaijo believes they will lose, they'll do Seirin's work of defeating themselves. This mental game seems more like a tactic the “bad guys” would take because of its harshness, but here we're supposed to cheer on its cleverness because Seirin is implementing it, I guess.
By the end of the episode, the onus is on Kuroko to...stare really hard at Kise, I guess? Until he notices a weakness? It's not the unbelievability of the task that makes it absurd, since the show's strongest point is depicting unrealistic basketball in an exciting way. It's just that it's not a very interesting goal to begin with. I look forward to an episode where Kuroko does more than simply observe, and where the players are more than whatever the audience believes they are. If this team is the hero of its own drama, I want to see it.
Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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