by Lauren Orsini,
This week's Kuroko's Basketball gave screentime to characters we saw last week and characters we haven't seen in years. They had heartfelt exchanges with family, friends, and rivals as they psyched themselves up for the tournament. This episode was the long, slow wind-up to the ultimate game of the Winter Cup, but there was also something more than that. This is the final showdown of Kuroko's Basketball—the last game before the anime's story concludes.
With that information in mind, every moment in this episode was a hint at something much larger than itself. This episode's pacing is careful and slow as it attempts to pack meaning into every exchange. Hyuga and Riko's conversation is about more than just cutting hair. Teppei showing up at Izuki's house for breakfast is as much about establishing character as it is about lightening the mood. Himuro and Kagami aren't just practicing before the game, but also wrapping up their entire character arc. For a more overt example, there's Kuroko's rapid fire flashback. Memories spanning from the very beginning of the anime are at the front of his mind in this decisive moment. “I'm really glad... that I played basketball. Tonight I will hit you with all of those feelings, Akashi-kun,” he says. It's a little overt, but it sums up this episode's air of finality.
Also marking this final chapter is a new opening (and ending) theme, the third time it has changed in Season Three. The introduction serves to parallel Akashi and Kuroko as similar but opposing forces. I'm still developing a theory about Akashi and Kuroko, who look very similar (save for reverse hair and eye colors), yet have opposite personalities. Akashi will do anything to win, even if it means psychologically destroying his middle school team. Meanwhile, Kuroko is his team's moral center. Though they are far from evenly matched when it comes to basketball prowess, I suspect that everything will come down to a clash between these two, as hinted by the opening.
As the characters file into the stadium for the Seirin-Rakuzan showdown, it's winter twilight. From Aomine's emotional outburst in the rain to Akashi's haunting intimidation in a moonlit office, the weather and time of day are major clues in Kuroko's Basketball. As the sun sets in the sky and the year concludes, the anime is ending, as are the high school basketball careers of many seniors. If we want to keep stretching this metaphor, it's also indicative of the many conflicts being put to rest as the Generation of Miracles appear side by side to watch the games, and even the most hostile of former opponents show up to cheer. “We just saw each other at opening ceremonies but it feels like forever,” Aomine says to Murasakibara. He's not wrong—that was about 40 episodes and one season ago.
Likewise, the game that everyone is here to see gets a slow start. The momentum is drawn out because every decision results in the camera returning to the audience for reactions. The music is cautious and slow in tempo. A surprising twist at the end comes too little too late. Until I learned that this was Kuroko's Basketball's final arc, I was disappointed in its slow pace and too-tidy tying of strings. Its new significance, however, makes me want to take advantage of its snail's pace to look for meaning in every corner.
Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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