by Lauren Orsini,
After nearly 70 episodes, the basketball games of Kuroko's Basketball can start to blur together. As longtime fans know, what makes this show shine isn't the basketball itself, but characters that can lead a story when the plot gives them the time and space to do so. These characters and their impossible superhuman moves were showcased to great effect in episode 68, “Isn't It the Best?” This episode put the flow of the basketball game second while pushing three of the series' most dynamic characters to the foreground.
The first is Kagami, who began the Rakuzan game in an unprecedented state by almost instantly entering the Zone, this show's Final Fantasy-style limit break for basketball prowess. Now, Kagami is unstoppable and it's interesting to see how Riko chooses to run with it instead of her original coaching plan. It underlines the fact that Kagami is a force of nature who cannot be governed; both sides can only work around his awesome power and wait for it to blow over. This feeling of power spiraling out of control is very reminiscent of the previous Teiko Arc, in which the Generation of Miracles had powers neither they nor the people around them could control or understand. What's different here is that Riko has created a structured environment for him to wreak havoc in, and his teammates are taking support roles. It's just the latest metaphor to show that Kagami, which means “mirror,” is a reflection of the Generation of Miracles, perhaps just powerful enough to stand against them all.
Not if Akashi has anything to say about it. The second character highlighted in this episode is Rakuzan's mastermind, a character who continues to be unsettling and unpredictable even after a handful of episodes focused mainly on him. The question of the day is whether Kagami's Zone can defeat Akashi's Emperor Eye. That will be tricky, not because Emperor Eye can't be duplicated or defeated, but because Akashi is a terrifying antagonist. From the sidelines, Shoichi Imayoshi from Aomine's team sums it up: "Akashi isn't invincible because he has Emperor Eye. It's because somebody like Akashi is the one with Emperor Eye." Just like Akashi allowed his team at Teiko to do whatever they want to get his intended results, he's targeting Seirin's minds first. If Akashi can break down their spirits, their bodies are nothing. The duel against Rakuzan is a battle of morale. If Seirin feels like they can't win, then they can't. In other words, Akashi has made it so they don't battle against him, but themselves.
The real star of the episode is Kuroko, and that's a problem. After that buzzer beater at semifinals, Kuroko has become a contender. The crowd loves him. The opponents are wary of him. For anyone else, this would be great, but for Kuroko, it's devastating. Akashi may be cold and calculating, but he knew what he was doing with Kuroko's ability. He knew that Kuroko would lose his lack of presence if he acquired “such flashy moves.” “By learning how to shine halfheartedly, you can no longer become the shadow,” Akashi tells him disdainfully. “You are already not worth as much as a typical player.” Akashi has not only cut down Kuroko with his words, but straight-up replaced him, indicating that he can mold any unnoticeable player into a phantom sixth man. Addressing Kuroko's metamorphosis into a decent player has been long overdue and makes for an interesting twist in the typical sports anime storyline. Usually, we expect the main character to get more and more powerful as time goes on, but for Kuroko, whose ability has been his very unremarkability, this creates a problem.
When I think about Kuroko's Basketball, I don't discern the basketball games by the opponents or the timeline, but by “that one time Kuroko did a Phantom Shot” or “the first time Kagami entered the Zone.” The characters and their abilities are what truly matters here, and this episode did well by putting them on center stage.
Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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