Kuroko's Basketball
Episodes 22-23

by Lauren Orsini,

If Kuroko's Basketball were a videogame, Akashi Seijuro would be the final boss. The captain of the Generation of Miracles, he's the toughest of the bunch thanks to his extreme mental manipulation and mind games on top of his physical prowess. However, in episodes 72 and 73, we are beginning to learn that those abilities come at an extremely high cost—Akashi's disassociation of self. These episodes take us on a psychological journey into the mind of the show's most troubled and disturbing player. Be prepared to be terrified, chilled, and—most surprisingly of all—sympathetic.

Even when Akashi is absent, this arc of the show is chiefly about him. While secondary characters from Seirin and Rakuzan go up against one another, Akashi is always at the back of their minds. For Seirin, how will they possibly be able to face him if they can't call themselves the equals of his teammates? For Rakuzan, what will he do to them if they fail? At the beginning of episode 72, there are 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but we know the final battle is just beginning. Prepared by chibi Riko's firm slap on the back, Hyuga is ready to face his antagonist, Mibuchi, while Teppei has decided he's willing to sacrifice anything to win against Nebuya. (Even his knee, which might never recover after this game. I think this is something unique to sports anime—the willingness to totally sacrifice one's own physical well-being in order to achieve a temporary victory. Tezuka did it in Prince of Tennis, and Sosuke did it in Free! Eternal Summer.) As things are looking up for Seirin, Akashi decides to make his next move.

We know from Aomine that in the Zone, there are zones upon zones upon zones. You enter the Zone, then you fall into the water, and then you enter the next Zone. It doesn't make sense, but it's extremely cool to watch. Kagami is practically a Lightning Elemental here, mostly mute and extremely powerful. For Kagami, the Zone is a positive thing that he can enter by tapping into his emotional urge to support his team. For Akashi, it's the complete opposite. Akashi's Zone, as he discovers on one black night in a darkened basketball court, is used for crushing his teammates, three at a time. Akashi's Zone is a “warning.” Complete disgust for his teammates is what triggers him to enter the Zone. “It is when I abandon you.” Akashi is getting ready to play every position on the court—and he almost succeeds. Even with emotions running high, the fluid motions of Akashi and Kagami in the Zone were gorgeously animated this episode. We haven't seen animation so fast and smooth since the Tōō battle.

It's funny when Seirin decides to just nonchalantly trust Kagami to go one-on-one with Akashi. It's a light moment of self-awareness. When the going gets tough against the Generation of Miracles, they've always relied on Kagami to save the day, but Kagami's Zone appears inferior to Akashi's Zone at first. Akashi plays offense and defense, knocking everyone to their knees with his psychokinetic abilities. That's when Kuroko offers his own modest proposal: “Why don't we give up for now?”

When I saw that title of the same name: “Why don't we just give up?” to episode 73, I was expecting Seirin to fall even further into the depths of despair. I've suggested before that Tadatoshi Fujimaki is a sadist to his characters, because he likes to have Seirin beaten within an inch of its life before they save the day. But as usual, Kuroko's advice is enigmatic. He actually wants to give up relying on Kagami and work to share his burden instead. After all, basketball is a team sport. Who do you think is going to win: the guy who belittles his teammates with phrases like “If you cannot do even that, I will do it myself too,” or the double team of Kagami and Kuroko, sharing their immense trust for one another with their teammates? We've seen this happen so many times. Aomine, Murasakibara, Midorima, even Kise, were their team's aces and too big for their britches. After facing Seirin they realized that basketball is a sport where people need to work together. Kuroko has a cleansing effect on his opponents, making them better people than they were before. This is echoed in close-ups on each of the Generation of Miracles' spit-takes at the moment Akashi is beaten. It's like they're each remembering the time Kagami and Kuroko bested them.

With Akashi, that doesn't immediately seem clear. When Akashi loses a play to Kagami and Kuroko, he's shattered. He falls out of the Zone and majorly tilts. His teammates, hurt and lashing out, tell him he's playing basketball like an elementary schooler. There we see the double-sided coin of Akashi's authority. Once he loses his physical ability, he loses his mental control over the rest of the team. I can hardly be happy about it because he's taking it so hard—it's a plus of Kuroko's Basketball that it can always make us sympathize with the antagonist. Just then, when the coach is chiding Akashi along with his teammates, Akashi regresses deep into his psyche and we see he has some serious Mommy issues. I could write an essay on Akashi's psychological fragmentation here, the way he became one self to please his father and rejected the other more natural self he was with his mother. He's having an argument with himself that I don't think anybody but Akashi fully understands. “On seeking victory, abandoning everything else, I forgot why I wanted to stay strong,” one Akashi tells the other. “You're about to make that same mistake.”

The “true” Akashi metaphorically and physically steps into the light, and his eyes reflect the internal change. Just like in middle school, the people around him question if it's really him because his entire demeanor appears to have changed. This is why people love Akashi so much even after all the crap he's pulled—with two earnest, magenta eyes, he looks like a color-shifted Kuroko. This is the cleansing effect that Kuroko has on his antagonists. He has changed Akashi for the better by facing him, and it just might make him that much stronger, spelling Seirin's final downfall.

Just kidding. It's called Kuroko's Basketball, not Akashi's Basketball. Stay tuned next week to see how Kuroko crushes Akashi 2.0. That's the beauty of this show. Even when we know Seirin can't possibly lose—and we'd be angry if they did—we still want the antagonist to reach some kind of closure.

Rating: A

Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Daisuki.

Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.

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