Manga-ka: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: July 2008
Synopsis: “A motorcycle accident, bone cancer, a speeding truck crashing into a boy on a stolen bicycle – tragic life-changing events turn the worlds of three young men upside-down. These three very different personalities have only one thing in common – their passion for basketball. Drama, tragedy and fast breaks… on wheels. Life goes on… Get Real!”
A motorcycle accident leaves Nomiya apart from the sport of basketball, his one true passion in life. But, as fate would have it, a chance encounter with another young man, whose skill at the game surpasses what Nomiya has seen before, sparks his drive back into place and sets him up for a challenge of the game unlike any he’s faced before.
Character development plays a big role in the story, especially here in the introductory world of volume one, and readers are given ample time to warm up to the leading characters. The most page-time note worthy of whom is Nomiya, a young man who quits school, and more importantly to him quits his basketball team, after a motorcycle accident he was involved in causes a girl to lose the use of her legs. Despite the girl’s family wishing otherwise, and the girl herself offering little reaction, Nomiya keeps visiting the girl out of a sense of obligation.
Alongside his heart-felt love for basketball and guilt tying him to the accident, Nomiya is still a very realistically flawed human being, from the gruffness of his personality to the special gift he tried to leave his school on his final day. Everything about him makes him a character that you may feel reluctant to like right away, but who isn’t without his admirable qualities and it proves to create a fairly balanced, if not thus more true-to-life, individual.
Story-wise, one thing leads to another and Nomiya meets with Kiyoharu, another young man with a passion for basketball, and though he must live the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he doesn’t let that stop him. Fast and intense, he plays basketball like a pro from the physical confines of his chair and the skill and determination of someone in his position affects Nomiya in a way that guarantees Kiyoharu is going to be stuck with him for a while yet. While not having as much follow-time as Nomiya, there’s still enough material to warrant interest in him, as well as his driving-impaired sister who means well but needs some more time to prove her worth past female toss-in.
But even some fairly strong characters weren’t enough to win me over when too many predominant-aspects of the story left me admittedly bored and restless. The pacing of the story felt very uneven due to abrupt scene changes between characters, ripping the reader from the story before allowing them to attach themselves too much to any one part. This also tied in to my lacklustre response to the introduction of another character in the book. A reckless action on his part lands him in the hospital and, surprise, surprise, there go the use of his legs. Convenient for the story, isn’t it? If the character himself hadn’t already been connected to Nomiya, I could’ve easily accepted this event as an important tie-in with later relevance, but everything fell far too neatly into place and felt more convenient for the plot than poignant for the reader.
The scenes of basketball games didn’t impress me nearly as much as I believe was intended either, to no offence of basketball, wheelchairs or the impressive combination. The concept may not be of much interest to me but you’ll never hear me say it isn’t an interesting choice for a story focus. That said however, here in a book where the story can occasionally feel very slow and lethargic at times, the pressure put on the game scenes comes off as far too over-zealous, throwing in speed-lines after speed-line to amp up something that turns a humanly impressive feat into more of a short-lived, super-powered sideshow for two to three pages. I just couldn’t take it seriously (or at least not as seriously as the artist wanted me to anyway).
Some parts of the book did have some fantastic imagery despite my lacking overall impression of the book however. A scene where a young man wakes to his disability, with the pain and constriction of his legs portrayed as being wrapped in barbed wire, was easily one of these moments, and though less dramatic in scope, my favourite scene of the book was hands-down one in which Nomiya visits the home of a friend and speaks with his caregivers.
Viz’s treatment of the book is certainly a treat regardless of one’s impression of the story itself, with an attractive cover design that sports the larger cut size in usual accompaniment of their Viz Signature imprint. I’m a fan of the faux-cover slip, which is used to nice effect here and encompasses a book with smooth writing and tidy lettering.
Ultimately I wouldn’t call Real a bad read though it certainly earned a decidedly ‘meh’ response: some nice parts but generally lacking as a whole. An interesting concept with some potentially engaging characters, but with a lack of any real hook or consistent substance here in volume one, I’m left with little interest in following it up with future instalments.