Kuroko's Basketball
Episode 20

by Lauren Orsini,

We are seventy episodes into Kuroko's Basketball, and there are no new characters to welcome. There are, perhaps, no new killer basketball moves to be introduced, given this episode's adherence to revisiting fan favorites. There's nothing left to create anew but a feeling, some kind of emotion that overwhelms the show, affecting every actor and action and convincing the audience that victory is inevitable or defeat is certain. This episode of Kuroko's Basketball is very much about establishing a mood of uncertainty that revitalizes old characters and old moves through refreshed reactions to a new environment.

The curtain opens on Seirin's utter misery. Backed by almost Medieval latin chanting, the extremely powerful opposing team has to ask themselves, “Why are they not in despair now?” It's the third quarter, there's a huge score gap, a key player is benched, and even the members of the Generation of Miracles, all observing from the sidelines, think it's hopeless. “As long as you don't give up, the probability of victory will never fall to 0 percent,” Okamura says to to a doubtful Murasakibara. That said, Aomine doesn't think Seirin even has 1 percent of a chance. It's hard to say if the Generation of Miracles' fatalistic approach is flattering, or the opposite of that, to their former captain, Akashi. They see that he's going to win, but nobody is very happy about it. It could be that Akashi is a literal psychopath armed with scissors, or it could be that everybody loves to root for an underdog.

To emphasize the patheticness of the situation, Seirin is metaphorically visualized as a tiny flickering light in a sea of black, growing dimmer as the situation grows grimmer. (What's interesting, and possibly confusing, is that this light is later used to represent Kuroko, which I interpret as drawing a parallel to him as the heart and soul of Seirin.) In the darkest moment, it's the team's shadow that turns the mood around. Perhaps it's because Kuroko has lost his misdirection, but all eyes are on him as the center of attention. It's fitting that Kuroko's speech is an emotional appeal to the team to win, rather than a logical one. The logic is clearly on Rakuzan's side. All Seirin has left is an irrational desire to win.

Regardless, Kuroko's impassioned speech moves the team to try again in the eleventh hour. As the players become more optimistic, the blocking of the show's animation changes, too. When Seirin was in despair, there were a lot of freeze shots that underlined the players' helplessness—without motion, there was no way to fight back. During the second, more inspired half of the episode, however, there's a lot more motion. The soundtrack even borrows from the upbeat opening theme—a sure sign that all hope is not lost.

Kuroko's plan to try again starts with putting an end to Mayuzumi, Akashi's Kuroko replacement. I get that Kuroko is the protagonist but I never want to get on his bad side. He can be as ruthless as Akashi when he wants to win, implementing a strategy that is sure to destroy Mayuzumi's style of basketball. Of course, he couldn't do it without Mayuzumi's willing participation. What we learn is that Mayuzumi really does want to shine, and dedication to being a “phantom 6th man” means sacrificing everything for the team, something only somebody as single-minded as Kuroko is prepared to do.

Rapidly barreling toward the conclusion of this long-running show, it's yet another strong episode for Kuroko's Basketball that renders its highs and lows with a devoted synchronicity between both the characters and the cinematography. We're ending on a high note here, but watch out—the Kuroko emotional rollercoaster is primed to lurch at a moment's notice.

Rating: A

Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.

Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.

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