This Week in Anime
How Does Kuroko's Basketball Keep it Fresh?

by Steve Jones & Jean-Karlo Lemus,

The sports series that sailed a thousand ships has landed at Netflix with a brand-new dub. Steve and Jean-Karlo suit up for the court to see how many points they score against the beautiful boys of Kuroko's Basketball.

These series are streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Hey Steve, wouldn't it be crazy if we practiced basketball so much we started dating hahaha unless....?
Sorry, kiddo, there's only one bball-related thing we do over here at TWIA HQ, and that's dunking (on bad anime).

Tho I suppose it was only a matter of time before we covered a show that does the dunks itself.
Netflix has recently started airing Kuroko's Basketball, complete with an English dub. Today, Steve and I will be going over the first seven episodes of this shonen sports series. And I gotta say, for someone who doesn't give a rip about sports at large, Kuroko's Basketball is pretty good at selling the game as a fun time!
I've never interacted with the series before this, but I think you'd have to be hiding under a rock to not be aware of it. By reputation alone, Kuroko's Basketball is one of the manga/anime that comes to mind whenever I think of sports anime. So it's pretty neat that it's now easily available on Netflix for more people to stumble upon. And I have to confess that, all this time, I had thought that the titular Kuroko was this huge red-haired guy I'd see on the manga covers.
Which is kind of hilariously appropriate given the major conceit of the series that I now know about.
So, here's the rundown: Taiga—that's the big redhead up there—joins Seiren High School's basketball club after having studied in America for a few years. He's automatically one of the most gifted students in the team thanks to his height, strength, and seemingly limitless potential for growth. But in joining the team, he meets the meek and unimpressive Kuroko. It turns out, Kuroko was the ghost member of a Middle-school Dream Team: the Generation of Miracles, a legendary team of middle school players who have gone on to major acclaim in youth basketball.

Kuroko is, at first glance, pretty unimpressive at basketball. He's not very fast or strong, and has horrible aim. But he excels at support play, using clever misdirection to keep the ball out of the opposing team's hands—and once he gets the ball, it's a snap to put it into Taiga's capable hands...

It's just so funny that their first interaction involves Taiga being brought nearly to tears by how bad this dude's game is.

But yeah, Kuroko's whole thing is that he is a shadow (the true self). He's so unremarkable a presence that it allows him to flit up and down the court ninja-style and redirect the ball right under the noses of everyone, including those of his teammates. It's completely ridiculous, and I'm here for it.

Like, only in anime would the sole blue-haired guy be considered effectively invisible.
Watching Kuroko's Basketball made me think of FFXIV, particularly since I've picked it up a few weeks ago--shout out to my Cream guildies in Cactuar! See, FFXIV suffers from a pretty terrible lack of Healers. Everyone wants to play the cool DPS characters, but good healers like me are rare as gold. And sure, the reasoning why is simple: playing a healer solo is dull, and being DPS is fun and flashy. But every team needs a support. Kuroko helps illustrate that: it's not that Kuroko's team is necessarily garbage without Kuroko, but once he gets onto the floor he makes good plays better, and makes great teammates like Taiga greater.
I understand FFXIV even less than I understand basketball, but I follow you.
The resulting dynamic is fascinating, particularly since it helps Kuroko's Basketball stand out from that other classic Shonen Jump basketball manga, Slam Dunk. There, the powerful Sakuragi had to learn to swallow his ego and practice the basics; all the raw dunking ability was worthless if he couldn't even do a layup, because the opposing team wasn't just gonna let him dunk. Here, the emphasis is emphatically the opposite: it's not Taiga's keen eye that wins the day, nor is it Kuroko being the ultimate support player. It's the dynamic between both themselves as individuals and as teammates, plus the rest of the team having their back, that makes them such a powerful team.
I think basketball makes for a very interesting setting in that regard, because it is both a team sport and a sport where particularly excellent players can make a name and following for themselves independent of that team. Kuroko's Basketball starts dealing with that tension almost immediately, which I think is smart.

Kuroko's own motivations, for instance, are a reaction to the celebrity-defined superteam of his middle school.

Which is doubly smart in that it sets up a group of souped-up friend-turned-enemy b-ball artisans he'll have to take down a peg along his journey, like any good sports narrative.

It also helps that he's backed by Taiga, who's a very refreshing shonen protagonist. He won my heart early on with his outlook on playing with tougher opponents--it's impossible to psyche Taiga out with the threat of losing a game, because he openly invites it as a learning experience. He's gung-ho about basketball, but confident enough in his ability that he can accept a loss and learn from it. IRL adults lack that kind of insight!
Yeah, he totally doesn't care if he loses. And that's not blood in his mouth, it's victory wine. But seriously, I agree, and I also quickly warmed up to my large hamburger-dumpster son.

It's not his fault, he was raised in America.
A lot of readers warmed up to Taiga as well. Taiga/Kuroko became a titanic ship for a reason!
Oh yeah, we really can't talk about Kuroko's Basketball without talking about the gargantuan waves it made in the doujinshi sphere.
Girls love them some sweaty, sweaty boys, even if they don't have any nipples.
At the end of the day, basketball is about a bunch of tall, toned, sweaty dudes wearing minimal clothing and juggling balls against adversaries who get close enough to feel the body heat of the opposing team. So yeah, I guess you could say there's a humble well of homoeroticism you can drink from. And by well I mean an entire ocean.

Of course, it takes more than a bunch of hot dudes to instigate a phenomenon, and Kuroko's Basketball backs up those aesthetics with broad but effective strokes as it paints compelling relationship dynamics early on.

Like, yes, duh, of course you gotta draw these guys smooching after hearing that.
I also appreciate that the team's coach, Riko, isn't blatantly thirsty like Gou was in Free!. Not that there's anything wrong with thirst, it just feels a little too much like a piss take when your show is laying on the hunks so hard. Here, Riko just really likes cultivating talent; her father helped perfect training regimens, so she likes min-maxing her teammates.
Sure, she makes the entire team strip first thing, but that's just so she can see their stat sheets better. It's totally wholesome you guys.

Just gotta analyze all those dude numbers.

It's hard work but somebody's gotta do it. For the hoops.
Our first seven episodes lets us see two games: the first against one of Kuroko's ex-teammates, Ryota Kise. It covers the Shonen archetype of "the guy that totally underestimates the newbie and has to eat humble pie through a straw".
Couldn't have happened to a more punchable face.

Kise makes for a good first adversary, though. He's cocky and even freely admits that he's the worst of the 5 Miracle Generation players, but we have to start somewhere if we're going to reach the top. If Kuroko survives that long, that is.
That first game does a lot to establish important things. For starters, we learn Kuroko can only really keep up his misdirection for less than 40 minutes—he can't keep his shtick up for a whole game. For another, the non-Kuroko/non-Taiga players aren't slouches, and they can hold their own if one or the other are indisposed.
Helps reinforce the whole teamwork theme the story (presumably) will want to develop as it continues. I might not remember of the names of these non-color-coded characters after only 7 episodes, but my favorite is this guy whose defining talent is just being pretty good at everything.

And quite frankly, we need these normal people to counter-balance this beautiful bullshit.

This, truly, is basketball.
It gets reinforced even further in their second game, where they go up against a team with a foreign player from Senegal. And, sure, Papa Mbaye Siki is huge, but the show takes time to illustrate that without a team that rises up to meet him he's just one big guy on the floor, and Kuroko can make his team dance circles around him.
Being tall ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Granted, I'm not even close to 2 meters tall, but I still remember feeling this. And so far that seems to be the framework Kuroko's Basketball is using. An enemy team will have one exceptional player, and it'll be up to Kuroko and Taiga to figure out a strategy that counters their gimmick. Not the most innovative structure, but it's tried and true. In fact, generally speaking, that's my impression of Kuroko's Basketball so far (based on the first 7 episodes). Nothing really out of the ordinary yet, but the fundamentals are strong.
The most important bit is having characters you want to root for that don't feel like they've been done to death—we have that immediately with Kuroko and Taiga. Theirs is a refreshing, entertaining dynamic and it'll be fun to see them grow together as friends and teammates as the series goes on.

The remaining Generation of Miracles teammates are also a delight to look forward to, if only because it'll be nice to see what their more off-kilter shticks will be, or what their defining traits are as players. So yeah, Kuroko's Basketball is a great sports anime; don't let the subject matter push you away.
Yeah, I think there are definitely lots of promising prospects for the story in the future. Any good athlete will concede that success is built on solid fundamentals, and Kuroko and his pals definitely have a good, likable base to build upon. I guess, though, when I think of "anime basketball," my mind drifts more towards unhinged ridiculousness like the the incredible Troy State vs. Devry 253-141 game documented here:

Tho Kuroko's Basketball doesn't seem all that far off from achieving this kind of score, now that I look at my screencaps.
It's just the sports anime equivalent of dudes in Fist of the North Star having several gallons of blood in just their pinkies. We'll be seeing scores way higher than that come the championship!
Awesome! To circle back to the beginning of this convo, if there's one thing we love here at TWIA, it's dunks. Lots and lots of dunks.

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