I love anime that are based on american sports. You can always count on some ridiculous special abilities, some liberties with rules and concepts of the game, and some over the top dramatic reactions to…well, anything. Kuroko No Basuke or “The Basketball Kuroko Plays” (or even KuroBasu) is easily the best sports anime I’ve seen in a while. It keeps a lot of the standard anime flair while, so far, managing to actually stay somewhat genuine to the sport it’s portraying.
Kuroko no Basuke is focused on Kuroko, a first year high school student at Seirin. When he was at Teiko middle school, Kuroko was part of a team who’s regular players became known as the “Generation of Miracles” widely regarded as the best up-and-coming basketball players in the country. Each Teiko player posseses one or more special abilities or techniques as basketball players aside from just being good at the game itself. After middle school each member split and went to a different high school. Kuroko and the Seirin team’s goal is to win nationals this year, which means that they have to defeat not only the existing basketball powers but the members of the Generation of Miracles. Kuroko himself is not a very remarkable player. His physical skills are average at best, but he has a unique style of play that allows him to assist his teammates. He uses his lack of presence and the concepts of misdirection to basically make himself invisible on the court. At skill set that has earned him the moniker of the “Phantom Sixth Man”.
Seirin’s team already has its own formidable players. There’s the team’s captain and high-pressure sharpshooter, Hyuga. The team’s point guard and user of the visualization technique called the “Eagle Eye”, Izuki. The quiet but reliable inside player, Mitobe and his energetic counterpart, Koganei. There’s also a mysterious former ace player named Kiyoshi who isn’t currently playing on the team. There’s also several other players that round out the remainder of the team along with their coach, who is a female 2nd year student, Riko. However, those players alone weren’t enough to get the job done in their previous year. While Kuroko is a welcome addition, the team is made complete with the addition of another first year player, Kagami. Kagami had been playing basketball over in America until recently. Kagami has a good amount of skill but, more than that he has a wild competitiveness and an untapped potential that could put him at the same level as one of the Generation of Miracles.
This first season is about the team trying to come together and learning to play as a group. In order to get to their goal of the National championships, they have to win the Inter High tournament. Before they can do that, there’s lots of practices and practice games. Along with that, they have to learn each other as people and players. Of course, the really fun part is watching them do that while playing in games against other teams.
If you’re coming in to a basketball anime you’re probably thinking, “So it’s going to be like Slam Dunk, right?” In some ways, you’d be right. Sports anime, no matter what sport they’re based on, are going to share certain similarities. One of the things that KuroBasu does well in comparison to other anime, is animating the movements in such a way that you feel like you’re actually watching legitimate basketball action instead of an adaption of stills like some sports anime tend to use. I really started to notice this in the sequences when Aomine goes into his “street ball” movements. Now that doesn’t mean those still shots are completely removed, believe me there’s still plenty there, but they feel a lot less like a “cop-out” when they’re paired with some quality animation. That being said, I wish they would get the sweating under control. There’s no way a human being should be able to sweat as much as these kids do during a game.
At this point I’m also enjoying the characters. Probably the best thing they’ve done is to make a show that’s labeled as being about Kuroko really feel like it’s about a team and a situation more than an individual. This is in large part because of the decision to make Kuroko’s character incredibly unassuming. Now it’s not new to have a mild mannered protagonist, but I can’t remember seeing a character like Kuroko who’s abilities and personality can only really be put on display with the aid of other characters. This allows for you to really get more than just a glimpse of the other characters and it truly makes it feel more like an ensemble cast. Conversely, they could’ve just as easily made this show about Kagami, who feels much more like a stereotypical lead character who’s just discovering his abilities and the show would be completely different. It’s an excellent example of taking a new approach to a traditional formula.
The formula of a team trying to win a national championship while making their way through a forest of teams that seem to be much more skilled than them is pretty standard. Now in some shows, like Eyeshield 21, the team’s success is really all on the shoulders of one person, but this is more like Prince of Tennis where the entire team has their own skills and abilities to contribute. In several cases the other players are the ones who actually win the day. That allows for the main character to be able to grow in strength and experience along the way without being the cure-all to everything. It’s also got the added element of introducing the mysterious “Generation of Miracles” players and discovering their abilities and how they interact with each other and Kuroko. By the end of the season we’ve only really been introduced to 3 of the other Teiko players, Kise, Aomine and Midorima. All 3 of them have their own abilities and quirks and I can’t wait to see what the last two are right.
At the end of the day, this show is pretty straight forward that it’s point is the games and which team will win. In a sports anime, there’s no way of getting around that. The one gripe I have with the story is that you don’t really know the full parameters of what’s going on so some story elements can feel like a bit of a bail out. For instance, when the team enters their first tournament you don’t realize that there’s more than one way for them to get to Nationals, so it’s actually not a huge deal if they lose this tournament. That kind of thing starts to feel like it’s a bit manipulative even though it does allow for the show to actually let the good guys lose without completely boxing themselves into a corner.
If you’ve liked Slam Dunk, Eyeshield 21, Prince of Tennis or anything like that, I’d definitely say give this show a try. It’s got above average animation that’s great at certain points. There’s a refreshing take on the casting and an ensemble focus instead of a singular one. Finally, it’s actually entertaining and exciting. One thing I’d caution about though, is that the the show does like its cliffhangers so make sure you watch in blocks so you don’t have to wait from week to week.