Published by VIZ
224 pages B&W illustration, 16 pages color
If you've ever seen Murderball
, the 2005 documentary about wheelchair rugby players during the run-up to the 2004 Paralympic Games, then you'll understand the inherent folly of looking down on chair-bound atheletes—don't mess with these guys if you're not prepared for a pair of skid marks down your back. Indeed, in the face of such apparent danger and naked violence non-handicapped meat puppets stand little chance against these chariot-riding demons. It's the thrill of this type of environment that Takehiko Inoue builds on and draws readers into with his newest manga series about high school wheelchair basketball players in Real
The plot of Real
revolves around the converging stories of Tomomi Nomiya and Kiyoharu Togawa, two high school-aged basketball lovers with very different histories. Our first glimpse of Nomiya is as the stereotypical school delinquent; recently expelled from school, this afro-sporting goliath only returns to say his farewells to classmates and take a defiant dump on the campus gate. Nomiya, on the other hand, is a former up-and-coming track star whose leg had to be amputated after a bout with bone cancer and takes on wheelchair basketball as a way to vent. They join forces after a chance meeting on the court and, after realizing each other's dedication, start their partnership from there.
Inoue's art style is and has always been a feast for the eyes, but what I really enjoy in this story is the initial characterization. Nomiya and Togawa have much more depth than their cookie-cutter “bad boy meets overachiever” pairing might imply. Both teens have serious issues to deal with, particularly Nomiya, who we discover early on has the death of a girl he accidentally killed while she rode passenger on his motorcycle sitting heavy on his shoulders. These monsters from their respective pasts pop up frequently and directly affect the narrative flow, taking it in some compelling directions.
Inoue's previous manga, Vagabond
and Slam Dunk
, were genuine mega-hits and it's difficult to examine Real
in a vacuum without comparing this title to those and wondering if he'll hit it out of the ballpark both critically and financially once more. Honestly, considering the subject material, the primary cast of characters' heartwrenching back stories, and Inoue's soulful art style that captures emotion so well, this story has all the elements of a hit regardless of the artist's history. Even linking it with Inoue's previous titles, Real
is a culmination of techniques mastered: the depiction of frenetic wheelchair-on-human and wheelchair-on-wheelchair violence is pure Vagabond, while the basketball action is the logical extension of Slam Dunk
. In the end, Real
can stand on its own (no pun intended, really) without any extra promotional push it gets from Inoue's star power, and I'll be following its saga unfold over the coming years. Until the next volume, see you on the court.