Real (リアル Riaru?) is a manga series, by Takehiko Inoue, which deals with wheelchair basketball. It has been serialised in Shueisha's Young Jump and to date, 9 volumes have sold in Japan. The first 7 volumes have sold over 9 million copies in Japan alone.
Although not as popular overseas as Slam Dunk has been, Real is a more serious take on basketball, with much character development in a realistic setting. It is also aimed at more mature audiences, being a seinen series serialized in Young Jump.
The story revolves around three teenagers: Nomiya Tomomi, a high school dropout, Togawa Kiyoharu, an ex-sprinter who now plays wheelchair basketball and Takahashi Hisanobu, a popular leader of the high school's basketball team who now finds himself a paraplegic after an accident.
Real features a cast of characters who find themselves being marginalized by society, but are all united by one common feature: a desire to play basketball, with no place to play it in. Nomiya, being a high school dropout, has no future in his life. Togawa, being a difficult personality, finds himself constantly feuding with his own teammates. Takahashi, once a popular team leader, now finds himself being unable to move from the chest down.
Real also deals with the reality of physical disabilities, and the psychological inferiority that the characters struggle against. The characters break through their own psychological barriers bit by bit.
While basketball is a large part of Real, a larger emphasis is placed on character development-- Takehiko Inoue is just as interested in exploring the past of the characters, their inner world, and their attempts to achieve something in life as he is in looking at the sport of wheelchair basketball.
Forced to spend all of his free time after school practicing the piano, Togawa (戸川 清春 Togawa Kiyoharu) was something of an outcast to the rest of his junior high classmates. During the last PE class of the first semester, Togawa agrees to race the 100M dash against the fastest boy in his class and nearly beats him, earning an invitation to the school's track team. Togawa soon dedicates his life to becoming the fastest sprinter in the nation, but just as his goal seems in reach, he is diagnosed with osteosarcoma and loses his right leg below the knee. Togawa spends much of his time after the amputation in isolation, feeling his life is over until meeting Tora, an older man with an identical disability. Tora, a cool jet-setting tattoo artist, serves as a mentor to Togawa and introduces him to the world of wheelchair basketball through his team the Tigers. Togawa is a fiercely competitive player, and once left the team because he felt the other players weren't as serious as he was. Missing the game, Togawa returns to the Tigers, yet provokes a team mutiny early in the series because of his often "unrealistic expectations." Further conflicts arise when Togawa is offered a spot on the Japanese national team and is invited to join the Dream, the Tigers' arch-rivals. Togawa is rated a "4.5" on the wheelchair basketball point scale.
When they first meet, Nomiya Tomomi is so impressed with Togawa's skills that he compares Togawa to NBA star Vince Carter, and often refers to Togawa as "Vince."
After his wife's death, Togawa's father (an unathletic, failed pianist) puts all of his efforts into turning his son into a famous piano player. While upset that Togawa quits the piano to join he track team, Togawa's father eventually comes around to support his son's efforts. After his son's operation, Togawa's father inadvertently helps isolate his son. As of volume six, Togawa's father plays little part in the current present-day storyline.
On the surface, Nomiya (野宮 朋美 Nomiya Tomomi) seems to be the proto-typical delinquent—he wears an afro, has dropped out of high school, and pauses to defecate on the school steps before leaving for good. It soon becomes clear, however, that Nomiya suffers from crushing guilt over a traffic accident he caused which cost a girl (Yamashita Yasumi) the use of her legs. While only an average student, Nomiya was obsessed with basketball, and not being able to play on the school team has left him directionless and without joy. While taking the paraplegic and seemingly catatonic Yasumi for a walk, Nomiya overhears the sounds of Togawa playing basketball. Starved for playing time, Nomiya challenges Togawa to a game and comes away impressed by Togawa's skill and determination. Soon, Nomiya becomes something of a cheerleader/mascot for the Tigers and a friend to Togawa. Even though he rarely gets a chance to actually play basketball, it seems to be enough for Nomiya to be around others that do.
Nomiya spends much of his time in the manga wondering where he went wrong, and trying to fix his life—inspired by the Tigers' spirit, he shaves his head and goes on something of a monk-like quest to change his fate. Against all odds, his desire to change and positive attitude seem to be rubbing off on his co-workers and acquaintances.
At the start of the manga, Takahashi (高橋 久信 Takahashi Hisanobu) is a typical high school alpha male-- captain of the basketball team, popular with girls, effortlessly smart, and a bully to other "inferior" students. In an effort to give his girlfriend a ride home after school, he steals a bicycle, is chased into traffic, and is hit by a garbage truck, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down. Realizing that his popular days are over, Takahashi feels that he has nothing to live for, and that he has dropped from an "A" class person to lower than an "E" class (Takahashi is obsessed with ranking the people around him - in ranks from A to E, with A being the best). Nomiya, a former teammate, is one of the few visitors Takahashi receives, and the visit is initially enough to upset Takahashi and inspire him to rehabilitate. After realizing he will never recover, however, Takahashi gives up and refuses to help himself, even going so far as to tell his mother to die and never come back. The hospital staff calls Takahashi's father, hoping that a visit to the country will help in his recovery, but Takahashi hasn't seen his father in eight years and the visit remains highly uncomfortable. After spending time with his father, Takahashi breaks down and admits that he has a lot of unexplored anger and resentment towards his father for abandoning the family.
As of volume six, Takahashi's story hasn't intersected much with the main plotline.
Takahashi's girlfriend is one of the few people who visit him in the hospital after his accident (perhaps because she feels somewhat responsible for what happened). Takahashi doesn't think very highly of her (ranking her a "C" at best), but is somewhat surprised to find that she still considers them a couple despite his condition. She tells Takahashi how her dog, Angelina, will also have to use a wheelchair-like device, and that just because someone is "damaged" doesn't mean their life is over.
During Takahashi's childhood, his father was a typical salaryman who worked long hours and drove an expensive car. He also introduced his son to the world of basketball, hand-crafting a backboard and teaching him several techniques. Takahashi lived for playing basketball with his father, and was devastated when his father abandoned the family 8 years before the start of the manga. Fed up with the salary man lifestyle, Takahashi's father moved to the country and is currently living a much simpler life making and selling pottery. After Takahashi's accident, his father has become responsible for his son's care, refusing to give in to Takahashi's outbursts and cynicism.
A childhood friend and possible love interest of Togawa, Azumi helps out as the manager for the Tigers. Azumi and Nomiya also meet at driving school, where Azumi reveals she is working hard to get her license so that she can drive Togawa to games and practices. Yama later embarrasses both Azumi and Togawa by saying they make a nice couple, and asking if they were engaged—further increasing the awkwardness between the two. Nomiya appears to have a crush on her, but Togawa never expresses (in word or thought) any romantic feelings for her; so far, Inoue hasn't spent much time on any romance in the story.
A former player for the Tigers, Yama suffers from what appears to be Duchenne muscular dystrophy (though the actual condition is never specified within the story), forcing him to leave the team. According to his diagnosis, Yama will most likely not live beyond 20. Togawa meets Yama almost two years after Togawa loses his leg, and finds inspiration in Yama's positive attitude and "carpe diem" philosophy. As the disease progresses, Togawa is distressed to find that the once positive Yama is now negative and bitter. In order to help his friend, Togawa lets him know just how much he appreciates Yama, referring to him as a "hero."
A huge 190 cm tall wheelchair basketball player who originally schools Nomiya and Togawa when they try to hustle money on the basketball court. Since Togawa has never lost a game to another wheelchair basketball player before, he is inspired to rejoin the Tigers in order to get revenge on Nagano. Though Japanese, Nagano attends New South Wales University in Australia and calls everyone "mate." Impressed by Togawa's skills, Nagano eventually joins the post-mutiny Tigers. He is rated a 3.0 in the point scale. It is to be noticed that, even though having the same name, this character is unrelated to the one appearing in Slam Dunk, who plays for Shoyo HS.
- Yonezawa Kazuyoshi: rated a 1.0 on the point scale; often complains about arm cramps and worries about basketball interfering with his day job. Despite this, he sticks with the team after the mutiny.
- Kaneko Kenichi: rated a 3.5 on the point scale; Togawa accuses Kaneko of slacking on the court and not being serious, nearly causing a brawl. Despite Togawa's strenuous objections, Kaneko is elected team captain of the post-mutiny Tigers. Immediately after the election, Kaneko enrages the other team members by announcing he has scheduled his wedding on the day of the upcoming tournament final-- which upsets the team, but the scheduled wedding was later on "canceled," and the teammates find out Kaneko had been dumped.
- Kakiuchi Daijiro: rated a 2.0 on the point scale.
- Meguro Tomoaki: rated a 2.0 on the point scale.
Inoue's other works that deal with basketball are Slam Dunk and Buzzer Beater.
The Japanese movie Winning Pass (2003) starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama deals with wheelchair basketball.
A review at The Comics Reporter noted that "all of the skills that Inoue displayed in Slam Dunk have evolved for the better in Real", going on to conclude that "the emotional content is presented with a poise and certainty that's really nothing short of breathtaking." The series has been praised for its "realism", and how it "breaks away from conventional portrayals of the disabled as innocent people who are weak in every way." Kazuyuki Kyoya, a wheelchair basketball player, has also expressed his approval of the series: "The manga calls for understanding of people not only in wheelchair basketball but also with various other disabilities. I’m impressed that the scenes in which Takahashi undergoes rehab are elaborately expressed." The series received an Excellence Prize for manga at the 2001 Japan Media Arts Festival. Citing the reason for the award: "Takehiko Inoue is well-known for Slam Dunk, a serial comic on the subject of basketball. "Real" is another sports comic, but one whose story revolves around the novel theme of tough guys and wheelchair basketball. All of the Adjudication Committee members could hardly wait to read the next installments and had to content themselves with awarding Real the Excellence Prize. It would have been no surprise if Inoue had followed his success with Vagabond by winning the Grand Prize for the second year in a row with this terrific manga." About.com's Deb Aoki lists Real as the best new manga of 2008.
- "Flipped!: David Welsh On Takehiko Inoue's Basketball Comics Real And Slam Dunk". The Comics Reporter. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- "Inoue keeps it Real". The Star Online. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- "Excellence Prize: Real". Japan Media Arts Plaza. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- Aoki, Deb. "2008 Best New Manga". About.com. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
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