What They Say:
Do you have what it takes to win the high school national championships? Kazuhiko Aikawa does, and at 5′ 8″ he can slam dunk that ball like there is no tomorrow. But winning the national championships isn’t enough for Kazuhiko. He soon transfers from his old school at Tendouji HS to his new school at Mizuho HS so he can better his game… except there’s no boys’ basketball team!
A one year suspension was given to the team when Fujiwara, a star player, knocked out the former coach. The team has dwindled to just 4 players, and with Kazuhiko the team can be whole again, but for some reason no one wants to play. Kazuhiko needs to take this team to the next level as he shows off his mad basketball skills as well as be his talkative, charming self!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language in stereo along with the English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The stereo mix for the show is really quite good because they opted to be minimal for a lot of the track in terms of ambient sounds and effects. What they kept in is making things like the noises of shoes and enhancing that, particularly on the basketball court. When the players are in motion the forward soundstage is very active as they’re everywhere. The mixture of the tracks from Avex blend in perfectly and doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue or the action from the show. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing back in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The materials used for the show overall look good and the transfer does an excellent job of bringing over what the creators did visually but it’s not completely free of problems. One of the areas that’s minimal but noticeable is that there’s some bleeding going on with the reds, generally seen on the scoreboards with the team names. There’s some slight aliasing that shows up in a few areas throughout as well where there’s some tight line work on the uniforms but otherwise it’s pretty clean. There’s a lot of visual tricks done with the photography of the show that either soften or sharpen areas of the show and those came across well but could be confused for authoring issues. Overall the show has a good look to it but suffers from some of its style and the discs with the six episodes per volume tend to show a touch more aliasing than the other ones.
While I was very happy to see the single volumes use the original Japanese artwork that had the character shots, the artwork used for this collection release is the best for it as it has the five main members all reaching up high for the ball and emphasizes the team nature of it. The change to the blue background gives it less of an energetic feel than the first single volume but as a collection, it works well with the uniform colors and overall layout. The back cover is pretty full of information as it has a good summary paragraph that covers the initial premise and then provides a breakdown of the episode numbers and titles across the five volumes. The discs features are clear and easy to find though they don’t list the very minor extras available on the first volume. The rest of the cover is rounded out with the standard basic technical information and production information. No insert is included in this release and the collection, being in a brick, is rather well done as the disc holder hinges inside held the discs together very securely..
The menu layout is a nice static piece that sets the tone for the show with a cast shot of the five leads in their team uniforms set against an action shot from one of the games. It’s all done with a lot of blue line work that gives it an interesting feel and isn’t a color or style you’d normally associate with basketball, or at least I don’t. The menu looks good overall and navigation is quick and easy. The disc unfortunately only read one of our players presets properly as the full English subtitle track is the second listed English subtitle track. Access times are nice and fast and everything loaded just as it should otherwise.
The extras are pretty slim for the series and all we get is what’s on the first volume, clean sequences for the opening and ending.
Hoop Days, aka Dear Boys in its original title, is one of a small group of sports titles that came out in the last couple of years that managed to fail and fail spectacularly. Other sports titles aren’t exactly big winners but there’s the general hope that they’re at least breaking even. Basketball seemed cursed at the time this was originally released as after the disappearance of Toei and their Slam Dunk release and Hoop Days, which had two volumes come out and then was put on hold, eventually to have the remainder of releases done in this collection. This collection takes the two released volumes and the solicited and completed third volume as they originally were, in a 5/5/4 format that Bandai uses a lot, and then opted to finish out the remaining three volumes in two, doing them as 6/6 in order to cut down costs and just get it out the door.
For finishing it and trying to do it all as a collection (which may have been a better plan to do from the start), I am very thankful. They could have simply dropped it outright and just let it be and really little could be said because of the way things are as of this writing. While the release doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles and there’s some slight aliasing issues that can be found on the slightly more packed six episode discs, the price and complete nature of the collection makes it a fantastic deal and one that lets those few fans like myself actually get to see it to its end.
Due to the animation style and heavy use of music, I don’t think I would have been able to enjoy this series at all if I hadn’t been watching Initial D for the past couple of years. It’s cliché, but whenever Avex is heavily involved in a show it’s tempting to call it “Initial D for Basketball” or whatever it is they’re doing. But it’s more than that. Initial D gave me a show with great music, a highly addictive storyline, horrible CG vehicles and truly ugly character designs. What Hoop Days brings to the plate is some great music though more rap oriented, a very engaging and fun storyline, some layered animation that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t work against the CG court and balls, and some designs that don’t always look like they’ve got any sense of depth to them. If I had seen this prior to Initial D, I’m pretty sure I’d be cringing at a lot of what’s done here. Instead, I’m intrigued by it and enjoy picking out the moments.
The plot is really very simple but that makes it all the more accessible. We’re introduced to an ace basketball player named Aikawa. He’s just left Tendoji high school where things were so heavily focused on the sport that the fun of the game had been completely eliminated and it was akin to military service with how the coaches dealt with the players. Aikawa has transferred over to Mizuho and now lives on his own and is looking to join the basketball team there so that he can get back to enjoying the game and having fun. Mizuho’s got a great basketball team he learns when he gets there but it’s the girls team. They’ve gone to the regionals the last six times and they’re gearing up to go to the nationals this year. The boys team it turns out doesn’t even truly exist. Of course, he learns this through some difficult encounters on his first day but it’d happen regardless due to his happy outgoing attitude.
The boys team has been in disarray for pretty much a season now. As it gets explained to Aikawa, the previous coach had a very specific method of coaching and treated his players like pawns and expected them to simply do what he told them to. This upset one of the players named Fujiawara and he went and belted the coach. Unfortunately, some reporters were there at the time and caught it on film. The incident was used to show how violent things were getting and the team was forced to sit out the remainder of that season. To make matters worse, the coach then quit at that point and left everyone hanging. At the end of the season, the seniors graduated and moved on but the juniors just left, leaving Fujiwara and three of his friends all that was left of the team. With only four players instead of the minimum of five and nobody interested in joining, the club gets together in the room but they don’t practice or truly meet. And with the girls team being so hot right now, they didn’t even want to get involved.
With the new transfer student there though, he brings a new energy into things. Aikawa’s an interesting character to be the technical lead of the show. He’s an ace player but lacks that arrogance or superior confidence of his skills. He’s not wishy washy and he’s not trying to continually better himself to prove it to someone or to himself. He’s simply a guy who is at his happiest when playing basketball. The other guys tend to ignore him when he gets there so he ends up doing things with the girls team and he’s able to show them up politely enough with his skills that the coach, who is also one of his teachers, is impressed by it and sees him as an asset to at the least help the girls team.
But his playing catches the eye of the other four guys and you know what’ll happen from there. His energy and style causes them to want to show him up and put him in his place and after some pushing back and forth, eventually they all come together to realize that they kick some serious ass together and can actually work well. With Aikawa not wanting to do more than to have fun and enjoy the game, the rivalry piece isn’t there that would otherwise drive the show. Instead, it changes its focus to the group in general trying to overcome what they’ve become, starting with a practice match against the former coach. This brings everything from the past back up to the forefront and challenges each of the prior players to see if they’ve really gotten beyond what they had been dealt before.
A show like this isn’t free from girls since there’s an entire girls team so we get some slow building relationships creeping into that but it’s nicely done. What you would expect in the lead girl would be for her to go for Aikawa but she has a pre-existing relationship with Fujiwara that gets re-awakened here. Her friend Mai who is also on the team is the one that you see being interested in Aikawa and he’s already cute with her, nicknaming her pony(tail)chan. The relationship level is kept fairly low here since the focus is on rebuilding the team but there’s a core level to it that’s being threaded along to help it all surface nicely. It’s a plus to see it as a small part but not a central motivating part to the plot.
Watching this series progress, it does have a lot of the standard team building kind of events going on that we see in a lot of series but as is common in the sports shows that are brought over, the male/female relationship side of the series is well played but kept to a minimum as it is revealed. There are relationship bits that come up during it but it never detracts from the core premise of getting the team as far as they can go, it only complements it and helps to build up the characters more. Thankfully, the characters themselves seem to be free of any real drama in their personal lives as they’re more focused on the Basketball Club part of their lives and the issues there. Outside of the court, we don’t see much but we can tell that they’re not all in ideal situations but they’re normal and healthy kids. All the drama revolves around their court life and their attempts to conquer their own weaknesses and problems. It’s a very welcome change from having their personal lives intrude heavily on events and affecting how they play.
The look and feel of the show is really hard to in down. A lot of times, the character designs are done in such a way that areas of them look really flat. Fujiwara and Aikawa’s hair in particular with the lightly blue and green coloring mixed into it gives them a look that’s very flat instead of layered, especially when placed against a CG background of the ball court. Movement on the court has a similar feel though it’s not a constant thing. What I really liked that helped move things along is that they added a lot of flare and other visual effects to their moves. One thing that’s shown early on is that when Aikawa is completely in his game, he’s glowing all around like the sun. This becomes more and more as the rest of the team gets into the game and it helps to add some feeling of animation to a scene that’s otherwise a carefully constructed pan movement. The old way this would be done would be to change out from the anime to a detailed illustration piece instead, so both work but this one allows for something a little more creative I think.
Hoop Days very much has a feeling of a guilty pleasure, mostly associated with the kind of odd animation/character design style to it. It also starts showing problems later in the series in regards to character designs since a lot of them start to look similar, but all of that falls away as the playoffs progress and we watch the team go through their struggle to play better together and against a strong set of odds. It’s progress at times is very linear and expected but the series also takes a few twists along the way that make you wonder exactly how it will end. This series was a lot of fun and really had me marathoning a lot of it once the collected version came in. The show worked well enough in single form but here, the addictive nature of the sports show shines through again and compels you to watch. Hoop Days is a flawed show at times, but in the larger picture of sports shows in general, it’s a good deal of fun and one that I’m glad I got to see and will be watching again. With its price and complete nature, this is a very easy recommendation for anyone looking to tap into the sports genre to see what some of the basics are like.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Unedited Textless Ending, Original Unedited Textless Opening
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: May 23rd, 2006
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.