Although I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be a sports fan, I have come to the realization that I really enjoy sports manga. Out of all of the sports manga that I’ve so far read, Takehiko Inoue’s wheelchair basketball series Real is the one that stands out for me the most. (Actually, Real happens to be one of my favorite manga series in general.) But it’s really more than just a sports manga. Yes, basketball is an important part of the series, but to an even greater extent Real is about challenges faced in life and how people deal with them. It’s a mix of human drama, tragedy, and hope that earned Inoue a Japan Media Arts Award Excellence Prize in 2001. The second volume of Real was first published in Japan in 2002 while the English edition was released in 2008 by Viz Media under its Signature imprint. Real, Volume 1 did a fantastic job of introducing the series’ main characters and establishing some of the themes that the manga begins to explore more deeply in the second volume and those that follow.
After his accident, Takahashi no longer has the use of his legs. Confined to a hospital bed and with very few visitors he has had to come to terms with his condition largely on his own. He had good grades and excelled at whatever he applied himself to, becoming the captain of his high school’s basketball team with ease. No longer having the ability to walk is a devastating blow to Takahashi and how he is viewed by others and by himself. It won’t be an easy process to compensate for what he has lost. It’s been five years since Togawa lost one of his legs to bone cancer and that’s something he continues to struggle with. He still has most of his mobility, but having a leg amputated brought his dream of becoming the fastest sprinter in Japan, if not the world, to an abrupt end. An extremely competitive athlete he has redirected his ambitions towards wheelchair basketball, now one of the few things in his life for which he has any enthusiasm. Nomiya has a strong love for basketball as well, but as a high school dropout he currently has no outlet for that passion.
A large portion of Real, Volume 2 is devoted to Togawa and part of his backstory. The series turns to his middle school days as he is discovering his love of running, struggling with his relationship with his father, and developing strong, lasting friendships. Immensely talented, it is crushing to know that Togawa will never achieve his dream even as everything seems to be going his way. Just as Takahashi is now being forced to admit his limitations, Togawa also had to deal with events in his life that were beyond his control. The interplay between their two stories in Real is handled extraordinarily well. The two young men have never met, their only direct connection at this point is that they both know Nomiya, but Inoue draws on the parallels between their experiences to great effect. Takahashi is at the beginning of his recovery while Togawa has made years of progress, but the challenges that they face are very similar. Their personalities and how they handle things are very different, though.
Parallels also exist between Togawa and Nomiya. They are both very focused and intense, taking any and all opportunities that they can to practice and improve their game. Even when Togawa, Nomiya, and Takahashi’s stories don’t directly intersect, they are all still very closely tied together. The second volume of Real is very much about beginnings and endings. After originally leaving his basketball team, Togawa has found new drive and inspiration that brings him back. Nomiya doesn’t have the option of returning to his old team and can only watch from the sidelines as his former teammates play their last game. As for Takahashi, he can’t even do that. His denial is slowly turning into agonizing despair as he comes closer to admitting to himself that his life will never be the same. Inoue captures all three of their struggles in a very realistic way. The story is emotionally intense without being melodramatic and the artwork is fantastic, making Real and incredibly effective series.