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Kuroko’s Basketball Vol. #01 Manga Review

6 min read

kurokos-basketball-volume-1-coverA shadow of something interesting hidden under a good bit of generic

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Tadatoshi Fujimaki
Translation: Caleb Cook

What They Say
Kuroko Tetsuya doesn’t stand out much. In fact, he’s so plain that people hardly ever notice when he’s around. Though he’s just as unremarkable on the basketball court, that’s where his plainness gives him an unexpected edge-one that lets him execute awesome moves without others noticing! And now that he’s a high school student, he’s on a mission to defeat each member of his legendary middle school team, known as the Miracle Generation, with the help of a new transfer student fresh from the U.S.-Taiga Kagami!

When incoming first-year Taiga Kagami joins the Seirin High basketball team, he meets Tetsuya Kuroko, a mysterious boy who’s plain beyond words. But Kagami’s in for the shock of his life when he learns that the practically invisible Kuroko was once a member of the “Miracle Generation”—the undefeated, legendary team!

Technical:
The front cover here is okay, but a little on the bland side. It’s pretty much just a group shot, though the action feels a little on the light side, and Kuroko himself looks a bit awkward, and not just in a fitting way. Also, it’s all over a super bland light blue gradient, and… it’s decent, but really doesn’t do much to sell the book. The back cover ironically has a nicer looking image packed in a smaller space, inside a basketball sort of thing. This one’s not bad, though it’s also not a super top tier cover either, sadly. In terms of extras, we get some amusing little “bloopers,” as well as an extra short story. Paper quality feels solid, text reads smoothly, honorifics aren’t used, and sound effects are translated in stylized text.

Much as what shows on the cover, the art is just okay. Like, the character designs are distinctive enough, and we do get some nice expressions and action shots now and again. But even though the action scenes exceed the normal art of the book, even then they don’t come close to matching the heights seen in countless other sports series. The biggest reason this all falls apart to some degree is that in the end, the proportions in the characters just plain don’t look right. Like, in the more static shots, things largely hold together. But when things heat up, they often just crumble and the characters just look wrong. It’s not irreconcilable, and you may still be impressed by the better shots in the end, but I sadly just can’t call this a good looking book at the end of the day. And yet it’s not so far off that it can’t be salvaged, so hopefully the art will tighten up as the artist’s skills continue to polish while drawing the series. Oh, and backgrounds appear at an average enough amount and look decent.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
For our basic setup, we learn that there was a truly legendary team at Teiko Middle School made of five players called “The Miracle Generation”, who were true prodigies in the game of basketball. On top of that, though, there was a “Phantom Sixth Man” on the team, and it turns out that’s our main character Kuroko. Before we get to him, though, we’re introduced to Taiga Kagami, a cocky kid with serious talent who just came back to Japan from America. And both of them end up joining the Seirin High basketball team, led by the female coach, Riko Aida. As it turns out, she can… see people’s stats by vision due to reasons, so this leads to everyone on the team taking their shirts off. It’s some silly fanservice for the ladies combined with a cheap but quick way to say that Taiga’s in great physical shape, while Kuroko doesn’t seem to be anything special, despite being on that crazy team. Once things finally get rolling we get a practice match between the first and second years, and this is when Kuroko shows his skills, which turn out to focus on his lack of presence and crazy passing skills. And if nothing else, the book deserves some definite props for the focus on how invisible the main character is in a sports series, as it’s incredibly unique and works well, even if it’s kind of odd.

After all that’s out of the way, we get one final piece of the puzzle when we learn that Taiga’s goal is to beat every member of the Miracle Generation, and Kuroko aims to support him as the shadow to his light. Following after is some silliness and a bit of action, until we hit a practice game against Kaijo High, and in turn Ryota Kise, one of the Miracle Generation. He shows up and predictably creams Taiga before the match to show how cool he is, utilizing his main talent to copy the skills of others easily and perfectly. And in a fun little twist, it seems that he actually really still wants to be pals with Kuroko, which is somewhat unexpected and makes for some nice gags. The game starts, and our team unsurprisingly gets disrespected, and is forced to show off in order to use the whole court and face Ryota himself. For what it’s worth, this does lead to quite a good game, with a need to utilize Kuroko’s skills to his fullest, and also in turn poke a hole in Ryota’s flashiness.

As the volume wraps down, our team is thrust into a tournament, which will inevitably lead to them facing down another of the Miracle Generation. We also get ye olde awkward match in which the team is faced with a case of “oh my god, it’s a black person, that’s gonna be trouble!” And yeah… it’s not quite right, though it’s fortunately nowhere near as racist as it could’ve ended up. Instead, he’s swept aside easily as a bit character, after which we get the setup for the next of the Miracle Generation. Will our heroes be able to take down this quirky character, or will his predictions indeed lead to their defeat?

In Summary
Though this first volume double packs itself by pulling in the content of the initial two Japanese books, it sadly doesn’t end up packing in the excitement quite as much. Which is to say, this book does well enough and does occasionally succeed, but in the end it’s a pretty by-the-numbers start. The goal of beating a cast of legendary and assuredly quirky characters seems simple enough, and for the most part it’s played straight, with Taiga polishing his skills and teamwork to push his way through the obstacles in his way. The book, though, does have one noticeable quirk to it, and that’s the main character of Kuroko. He’s an interesting one, as his whole gimmick is how little he stands out, and that makes for a really unique trait amongst sports manga protagonists. And better still, it’s used to solid effect in the games, which is certainly nice to see. Add to this his rather neat oddball nature in general, and you really do have an amusing main character with a lot of charm. And if nothing else, the rest of the cast does already have some nice and quirky characters as well, including the “Miracle Generation”, who are fortunately played quite well. So all in all, it does have some stuff to help it shine, and there’s a real chance for the series to come into its own in the future, especially when it polishes up some of the fundamentals, like its art. And those high points really are enough to make it an enjoyable read, but they only just barely act to counteract a lot of the generic and somewhat uninteresting bits also sprinkled throughout. So for now, much like its main character, it sadly has a bit of a hard time excelling enough to stand out from the crowd as something truly special.

Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
MSRP: $16.99

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