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Slam Dunk: The jewel of my childhood



So you wanna know about the centerpiece of my collection? Buy me a drink and I’ll tell ya all about it.


MY EARLY HISTORY WITH IT ‘N STUFF:


You know, I love cartoons with a passion that cannot be described. I have been in love with the things since I was only four and a cable company here decided to be a pioneer by installing a signal 100% aimed at kids (such things took us all by surprise, since cable was a fairly new thing and most operators were using it for news and sports). These guys somehow really knew what they were doing and had the wits to gather some of the best cartoons I have ever seen in one schedule. It was really good.


In the course of 1994 we went from having nothing to witnessing some of the best cartoons of all-time being shown right in our faces. It was really a trip and it was so hypnotic and there was so much quality inserted there that it wasn’t rare to spend a whole night glued to the TV, watching things like «Kimba the White Lion» and «Kissyfur». They went through a lot of trouble to license the best they could get and no expenses were spared to delivered them. Yet there was one catch... I don’t know exactly why but, aside from some Warner Bros’ cartoons like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs!, the whole grid was filled with British and Japanese toons... it is not a bad thing, considering that they were able to license Detective Conan, Ranma 1/2, BT’X, Pokémon and Sailor Moon (to name a few) in the same time period, but it was really weird. And that was an ongoing policy too... not even at the end of their days did they include very many American Cartoons in the signal.


By the end of the year, their first signal «The Big Channel» was a massive success... every kid that had access to cable spent uncountable hours watching the channel with its toy commercials and great cartoons (with Samurai Pizza Cats being the flagship of the whole thing). The Big Channel was a phenomenon and really took us all by surprise, but the guys that were running it did something that I haven’t been able to understand since... they basically sabotaged their own efforts by creating yet another, larger signal: Magic Kids.



The TBC logo as we all saw it. Those were the days.


This new channel was The Big Channel on steroids and easily topped everything the other channel had done so far. They really went out of their way with this one and only top-quality content was provided for this one, letting the other one scavenge the scraps for what was left. The Big Channel had been always known for giving most cartoons a chance, but Magic only «hired» the best of the best... its schedule was a mess of top cartoons fighting each other for a place on the grid. You had Saint Seiya sharing places with Dragon Ball in one hand, and Detective Conan being shown in rapid succession with Ranma 1/2 and Captain Tsubasa... there were SO many good cartoons that the newer ones were even scheduled at midnight (yes, midnight!) in a segment called «El Club del Animé» that basically showcased some of the cartoons that couldn’t make it to the regular grid. After that (yes there were programs running that late at night) you had something like Rude Dog and the Dweebs and Dog City. It was truly a golden era that no other network could ever mimic.


All this had, however, a really sad consequence: years of misleading and only being «fed» scraps and cartoons that couldn’t make it to the Magic Kid’s schedule had mortally wounded The Big Channel... the thing was barely standing on its feet and most long-time viewers -myself included- had stopped watching a long time ago. To make it worse, the advertising company that brought us all those magnificent toy commercials went out of business, leaving the whole signal looking like an empty shell that finally sunk in 2000, going down on a very low note. They deserved better.




Magic Kids was the true "monster" of our generation. Even in its weakest times, people would still prefer it over Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.


The death of the TBC somehow had a positive side though... it allowed the people in charge of the whole thing to go crazy with expenses and get some of the most expensive cartoons out there on the air. That’s how Slam Dunk and I finally met.


Sadly, it was never meant to last. With only 24 episodes shown, PRAMER (the company that owned both TBC and Magic Kids) had to take it off the air due to economic reasons (there was a gigantic economic crisis going on at the time and it mortally wounded the signal), and I honestly felt betrayed by their decision (even when it wasn't their fault). I really cared about these characters, and I wanted to see how their stories unfolded... Was Captain Akagi going to win the championship on his last chance? Was Hanamichi going to date Haruko at last? Was Rukawa going to the USA after all? So many questions remained unanswered, and it wasn't till much later (as in 2014) that I was actually able to find the answers to all those questions... and it was glorious. Being able to pick it up exactly where I left off was something amazing, and I haven’t felt this good towards a cartoon before nor after the fact. It was THAT good.


THE SHOW ITSELF:


Slam Dunk is an Animé from the early nineties that was based on an excellent Manga by Takehiko Inoue. This guy was a hardcore basketball enthusiast and he really made sure that his creation would actually resemble the thing with all fairness and without going crazy in terms of realism... his Manga always kept a nice, realistic tone that would only be perturbed for comedic purposes. The result? Slam Dunk became a mass phenomenon and was the best selling Manga in the world for a long time... it really deserved it, seeing how the author managed to create a lot of deep and interesting characters and was able to successfully make an engaging story out of them.


*** This next part contains a few spoilers used to explain the Animé and its characters in a deeper way. Read it at your own risk! ***


This Animé tells the story of Hanamichi Sakuragi, a freshman at the Shohoku high school that is best known for his strong red head and bad luck with the ladies. Hanamichi is short on temper and, thus, feared by most of his classmates. He only has a few friends and they really enjoy making fun of him whenever he fails at getting a girlfriend. His first day at Shohoku high had him reaching the infamous number of 50 rejections, the last one by a girl that was in love with a member of the Basketball team. I don’t know if it is was because of the number of rejections being this high, or just that he was really angered, but this really got our hero mad... and what comes next is one of the best displays of physical humor that I have ever witnessed.



Hanamichi was kind of a goofball, but a great protagonist nonetheless.


While our hero is sitting on his desk, licking his wounds, he overhears some conversations and his mind tricks him into believing that they are talking about Basketball -even when they are clearly not-... it doesn’t matter if the poor guys were discussing a movie or just making some last-minute corrections to their math homework, if their vocabulary resembled the name of that sport, they would be hit. This goes on for a while and it is a truly, sincerely hilarious moment. Just a little taste of what this show had to offer.


Later that day, our good Hanamichi laid eyes on a pretty girl he just saw walking down the school halls and tries to approach her while talking nicely and stuff, but it just so happens that this girl also has a crush on another member of the Basketball team. But she is so nice to him that he still wants to befriend the lady, and they develop some sort of fast paced friendship. Still, this day is far from being perfect for our main protagonists, because while he was escorting the aforementioned girl thru the halls, he picked a fight with a bunch of senior students, who challenge him to fight on the roof later that day. Hanamichi heads to the covenanted place, but finds that the thugs had already been defeated by another guy named Rukawa (who is the love-interest of Haruko, the girl who befriended Hanamichi earlier). Rukawa had some wounds from the fight but rudely refuses Haruko’s medical assistance, which leads Hanamichi to try and beat him (not without being punched himself a bit). Haruko cannot stand that kind of behavior and insults our hero before leaving the place.


It’s been only a day since Hanamichi joined Shohoku High and he's already had it with that place. But it just so happens that, while trying to leave, he is hit in the head with, lo and behold, a basketball. That’s way beyond his limits and he starts to rant about how much he hates that sport and such... just to be heard by Captain Akagi, a really tall, smart and strong guy who had dedicated his entire life to that game and would not tolerate that kind of disrespectful attitude toward it. So, he challenges Hanamichi to a 1 vs 1 game in which Akagi has to score 10 points to win and have Hanamichi retract everything he has said, but if he somehow manages to score one point, he would win. When the match starts, everybody learns that Hanamichi doesn't know the rules of Basketball, going as far as to forget to bounce the ball or even use his feet... everything seems so desperate for him (especially since this match has attracted the attention of all the school and a large part of the students are witnessing the game) but he somehow manages to win the game with a really good strategy that surprises everyone. He then makes peace with both Haruko and Akagi... just to find out that they are actually brother and sister. So he now wants to join the team to impress the girl.



The duel with Akagi was the first truly exciting moment of the show. Everybody remembers this one.

.

But that’s not an easy task for him, as Akagi doesn’t want him on the team (despite the advice he is given by the other members, who considered Hanamichi to be a great addition to the team). So, annoyed and frustrated, Hanamichi breaks into the storage room just to «steal» a uniform and try to join the training... just to have Akagi totally ignore him. The next day he tries to clean the storage room (after breaking in once more), and does a great job there... just to have Akagi give credit to other people. So, incredibly angry and just about to give up, Hanamichi has his friends join him on the monumental task of waxing the stadium’s floor, and he falls asleep while doing so. Surprisingly, Akagi finally does recognize his hard work and allows him to join the team. He is now teammates with Rukawa (who is not exactly his biggest fan after the «incident» on the roof). And that’s something that really impressed me as a viewer: throughout the course of the series these two NEVER put aside their differences. It would have been so easy for the creators to just portray them to be close friends after a while, but no, they didn't do it; Slam Dunk doesn't care about what's typical, and that is precisely what it makes it worthwhile.


As the series progresses, Hanamichi gets more and more involved with Basketball, learning the ways of that sport he used to hate, and doing some extreme training. Not just because of Haruko anymore, but also because he is slowly falling in love with the game. But it would be silly for me to just end there, as -even when I’m giving away a considerable amount of spoilers- this animé really knows how to entertain you, and it always does it when you are not expecting it anymore (or at all). During the second half of the series run we see some really harsh and touching moments that no one would have expected by then... just think about it: we spent a big part of the series getting to know these characters, having breathtaking laughs with them, and regarding them as funny characters, only to have the cartoon expose us to some heavy scenes which would reveal some really dark moments about these guys' pasts and presents, some stories would be crossed with others, and some scenarios we thought were unlikely would become true within episodes. There was an extremely VIOLENT scene that came out of nowhere and lasted for an stunning five episodes... that thing was a bloodbath on it’s own, but it also was surprisingly touching, and ended up with a really warm message that I truly appreciate.



The «DR T» segments were small cartoons placed in the middle of the regular episodes. They were used to teach the rules of the game to the viewers. It is a really nice effort and it solved quite a few of my personal doubts. It’s little stuff like this that makes the show stand out.


*** The spoilers end here ***.

.

TECHNICAL SPECS:


Now, let’s talk about technical specs for a bit, shall we? Visually, Slam Dunk is a masterpiece.


Maybe it’s because I’m too used to the exaggerated movements and overly cartoony looks and feels of the other cartoons and Animés of the time, but everybody in Slam Dunk really does look and feel actually alive. It is obvious at first glance that a lot of love and care went into the building of this «world» and you would be surprised at the level of detail present in every part of it. This show was made in 1993 (the same year in which Animaniacs! was still struggling to look consistent) and you can have a good time just observing the details (that you might miss the first time around). There are three levels of visual detail in this world.

There’s the «basic» one that is used during most of the episodes and includes most characters and locations. It is definitely not bad, but maybe a little «blurry» in terms of shine.




Look at this painting. Just look at it... it is bursting with detail. I’m not a big fan of that strange glare that the show seemed eager to paste into every single shot, but the rest is gold.


Then there’s the «medium» one. This one is used when the guys are playing a match and is a detail booster like you have never seen before. In this one you can have a closer look at the characters and locations, enjoying more and more details (heck, you can almost see those little bumps on the ball’s surface) and the characters are given a lot more freedom to move, react and talk. This is definitely the highlight of the show and adds to the -already strong- desire to witness a match.


And then there’s the «highest» level. This one is just ridiculously good and puts the other two to shame. Sadly, this one is only used in the opening and ending sequences and throws a large variety of artistic styles into the mix to make you realize how good the whole program is. There’s a few really strong drawings, there’s a handful of watercolors and a lot of superb animation going on at the same time. The show has had two openings and four endings and every single one of them looks fantastic due to this. Heck, I still watch them on a daily basis.



Another strong drawing, this time showcasing Haruko. She got a LOT of attention in this sequence, but never in a naughty way (for which I’m extraordinarily grateful).


The music is another winner. There are six «main» themes (one for sequence) and a handful of small tunes used to highlight scenes on the show. Those six «big ones» are honestly really beautiful compositions and they really set the mood for an episode. There’s nothing like hearing the first notes of the second opening or getting caught up in the magnificence of the first one... all the songs are featured here at RetroDaze, and I’m sure that you will have one heck of a time with them.






The second ending sequence features this long pan showcasing all the rivals that the series has had. In between the deep moments and the lyrics performed by WANDS on their song «Sekai ga Owaru Made Wa» it is impossible not to feel moved. Slam Dunk really does that well.


THE REMARKABLE THING:


Now, here’s something interesting: the Shohoku team ACTUALLY LOSES SOME MATCHES! If you haven’t seen many Animes, then this might not sound too remarkable to you, but trust me when I say that it is a big deal.


In many (MANY) other shows, the «star» team always walks away victorious due to some lucky shot or whatever and honestly, I’m calling BS on that one. Because if your characters always win then... what’s the point of having the matches? You know the result beforehand, so it is not that fun to watch. Slam Dunk, on the other hand, just says «NO!» to all that and keeps you guessing what’s going to happen. I have seen some matches lost at the last second and some others won the same way. It is exciting to watch.


And besides, with characters this complex, the defeat is a reward in itself, because now you are going to see some drama and how they’ll learn from past mistakes. Some of the best entries of the series as a whole have come this way.


PET PEEVES:


Hopefully this one is going to be short (thank God!) because there’s only one thing that Slam Dunk really sucks at, and that’s... having an ending to its story (no, I’m not kidding here). The Animé stops right at the gates of the National Championship and THEY NEVER MADE ANY MORE EPISODES! That’s an incredible letdown. The story continues in the Manga and I heard -I can’t confirm it though, since I haven’t read it- that it gives closure to the whole thing. So there’s that.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Well, that's it guys. I hope that you have had as much fun reading this as I had writing it. But if you really made it this far, you both scare me and fascinate me :P


See ya soon!

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83.0b.et Posted on Mar 01, 2015 at 07:57 AM

Approved!

Silvervix Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 08:05 PM

@jkatz: It left a really great impression on me. At first I wasn't even motivated to track it down, but when I saw episode 1 again, everything became more clear. I was too lucky to even get to see the episodes I saw when I was little, because otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered to watch this.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 07:42 PM

@jkatz: So much of what Batman is to us today was culled from that one series. That's a testament to its impact on fans.

jkatz Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 07:37 PM

Sounds like the show really left an impression on you! I can relate, a few years ago I bought the complete boxed set of Batman: The Animated Series and was finally able to watch full episodes after years and years of relying on vague memories from when I was little of how good it was.

Silvervix Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 04:35 PM

@Vapor: Yeah, I thought the same when I was typing up but, since the show actually uses different styles to portray the matches AND the regular episodes, I took the chance to praise those sequences as well :P

Good tip though!

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 04:25 PM

I forgot to mention that your breakdown of the level of detail put into the intro/outro as compared to the actual show pretty much applies to every show from the 80's and early 90's (with the exception of most Filmation cartoons, which always looked about the same throughout). Look at intros for shows like Pole Position, G.I.Joe, Transformers, TMNT, on down the line... the intros always had way better animation.

Silvervix Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 04:06 PM

Both, my friend :P

I'm glad it made it to the site :)!

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 17, 2015 at 03:50 PM

I was right to say that your passion for the subject matter (whatever it was) would make it worth the read. I've never even heard of this show until now, but your description and praise here makes me interested. Does that scare or fascinate you? LOL

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