Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
One year at one school, the stars aligned and brought together five of the most talented basketball players ever seen. Known as the “Miracle Generation,” these five players were the darlings of the middle school basketball world, highly sought after by prestigious high schools where their careers were watched intently. Still, there were rumors of a mysterious sixth man, a player who enhanced the skills of the other five unseen. Now, at a school so new it doesn't even have any third-year students, that sixth man is about to reappear. Will Kuroko help give rise to a new basketball legend?
If you pick up one new shonen sports title this year, it should probably be Haikyu, but if you're in the mood for more than one, Kuroko's Basketball is definitely worth a look. That's not an entirely fair comparison, of course – the two are drastically different in both pacing and artwork – but Kuroko takes a little while to really get into, making it slightly less likely to grab the attention of readers who aren't already fans from the anime. That said, once you get into this two-volume omnibus, it's difficult to stop reading.
Unusually, the hero of this tale is not a loud, brash young man desperate to be king of the basketball courts. Tetsuya Kuroko is so unassuming that he blends into the background, the kind of guy you suddenly notice one day only to find out he's been in your class all year. So no one is impressed when he signs up for the basketball team—until they realize that he went to the same middle school as the so-called “Miracle Generation.” That's a group of five ludicrously talented basketball players who all just happened to attend the same school, rocketing their team to stardom. The coach of Kuroko's new team quickly realizes that he could be the rumored “sixth man,” a player no one remembers seeing who was able to enhance the skills of the other five. Despite his lack of presence and seemingly lackluster build and skills, Kuroko is indeed the "sixth man," and when he teams up with another new first-year on the team, Taiga Kagami, more miracles seem likely.
Kagami is the loud, brash young man desperate to be king of the basketball court that you'd expect the main character to be. In fact, he's arguably another main character in terms of actions and page time, but Kuroko's the one who tempers him and turns the story into something more than just another typical shonen tale. Kagami spent time in the US playing basketball, so he's coming in with not only a slightly different playstyle, but also with an attitude that better suits American sports than Japanese, so he needs Kuroko to bring out the best in him. By relying on his new teammate, Kagami is able to refine his playing – Kuroko himself phrases it as being the shadow to his light, since we know the two cannot exist without each other. Of course, it's also a great opportunity for fujoshi to start shipping, although more fodder for those ships can be found in Kuroko's relationships with his former teammates, the Miracle Generation.
All five members of that group have ended up at different high schools, making them now rivals instead of teammates, which definitely establishes a lot of tension for future tournaments. We meet two of them in this book – relatively easygoing Kise and highly superstitious Midorima. Both of them have very mixed feelings about Kuroko's new school – rather than seeing it as an opportunity for him, they're aghast that he's chosen such a nothing place, but at least Kise also sees it as a chance for him to woo Kuroko back to his team. It seems clear that both boys feel somewhat resentful that Kuroko abandoned the Miracle Generation to play with someone else, and Kagami's abrasiveness is just salt in the wound. That's because Kuroko's “hiding” abilities can really enhance another player's game – as the volume goes on, we have to wonder if the Miracle Generation would have been so great without him, particularly as we see Kagami's own skills grow over the course of these two books. Losing his aid in a game must come as a real blow to his former teammates – both in terms of gameplay and ego.
Although there are several basketball games over the course of the volume, things aren't quite as action-packed or tense as they could be. This is in part due to Kuroko's personality – even his intense moments are more laid-back than other characters' – but also because the stakes are still relatively low. While it's true that they play against Kise's school in a practice match and start the qualifiers for the inter-high tournament, these are still early days, and losing would pretty much stop the series in its tracks. This isn't to say that the games aren't exciting, particularly the one against Kise and their first qualifier, which pits Kagami against a Senegalese exchange student even taller than he is. This is where Tadatoshi Fujimaki really deserves props in his artwork – the exchange student, nicknamed “Daddy” because his name contains the sound “papa,” looks much more like someone of Senegalese descent than the usual racially insensitive portrayals seen in some manga. This is one of the strongest points in favor of Fujimaki's art, which is still clearly a bit unformed. He shows improvement over the course of these two volumes, and I suspect that we'll see art with a better grasp of movement and more refined features in later volumes; right now, the perspective can be off without a great sense of how the characters move through space, which is an issue for the actual basketball games.
It doesn't have the most engaging start, but once you get into this first volume, the story really does take hold. Kuroko himself is an interesting protagonist simply by virtue of being so different from other shonen heroes (and some of the author's comments make me wonder if it isn't a bit of introvert wish-fulfillment as well), and the story makes some of its odder points (such as the fact that a second-year female student is the coach) work without having to explain too much. It may not pack a lot of punch, but this series seems like it will just keep getting better as it goes on.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Kuroko's an interesting shonen hero, characters are unique with interesting relationships, story picks up the pace and gets more engaging as it goes
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