Real, Volume 1

Real, Volume 1Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421519890
Released: July 2008
Original release: 2001
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award

When I first began reading Takehiko Inoue’s manga series Real it was simply because it was the only work of his that my local library had at the time. I was already familiar with and loved Inoue’s fantastic artwork but I hadn’t actually yet read any of his manga. The series that I really wanted to read was Vagabond, but it happened to be Real that was more readily available. Little did I know that Real would not only end up being my favorite series by Inoue, it would become one of my favorite manga period. I honestly believe that Real is one of the best comics currently being released in English. The first volume of Real was published in Japan in 2001, the same year that Inoue won a Japan Media Arts Award for the series. Viz Media released the English-language edition of Real, Volume 1 in 2008 under its Signature imprint.

Ever since he quit the Nishi High School basketball team, nothing seems to be going right for Tomomi Nomiya. His life is changed forever when he is involved in a motorcycle accident. Nomiya comes through it relatively unharmed, at least physically, but Natsumi Yamashita, the young woman who was riding with him, is no longer able to walk. While visiting her at the hospital Nomiya meets Kiyoharu Togawa, another young man who, like him, has a passion for basketball. He’s incredibly talented, but with only one leg it’s wheelchair basketball that has become his outlet. Thus begins a somewhat antagonistic friendship between Togawa and Nomiya. And then there is Hisanobu Takahashi, one of Nomiya’s former classmates and the current captain of Nishi High’s basketball team. He may have the skills on the court, but he has an extremely arrogant attitude and delights in making Nomiya and his friends miserable. But soon he’ll have some serious challenges to face in his own life as well.

In general, Inoue’s artwork in tends to be very realistic, with a particular focus on characters and their designs. This is certainly true for Real, and his style suits a story that emphasizes real-life issues as the source of its drama incredibly well. The characters’ personalities and attitudes can easily be determined by their actions and how they are drawn. When Nomiya is first introduced, he seems to be nothing more than a delinquent. And to some extent he is a delinquent, frequently getting into fights and finding ways to scam rich kids out of their money. But he is also exceptionally kindhearted and accepting of others. Nomiya’s facial expressions and body language range from pure anger to utter delight. Togawa, on the other hand, more often than not has a smirk or sneer on his face and barely manages to suppress his extreme irritation. He has absolutely no patience for people who can’t take themselves or what they are doing seriously and it shows. At times Nomiya and Togawa’s respective intensity can be both frightening and exhilarating.

At its heart Real is very much a manga about its characters and how they deal with the challenges and setbacks in their lives. Basketball is simply a part of that because the game is important to the characters as individuals. The first volume of Real does an excellent job of introducing the main players of the series—Nomiya, Togawa, and Takahashi. In one way or another, each one of them is searching for some direction in their lives. It is their passion for basketball that provides some of that needed purpose. Nomiya struggles a great deal with the guilt he feels over the incident that cost Natsumi the use of her legs; his love of basketball is the only thing that really remains from before the accident. Togawa holds onto a tremendous amount of anger that playing basketball helps to keep under control. As for Takahashi, his talent for basketball was one of the few things that secured his popularity. But even considering the important role that basketball plays in Real, it is not at all necessary to be a fan of the game to be able to appreciate the manga.

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