By Khaleel G.
As winter rears its cold head, I’ve found myself returning to manga – Japanese comics – more often. Partly for the comfort it brings this aging nerd, and partly for the way you can read one volume, then pick up another, like eating bunches of caramel popcorn.
But mostly, I return to manga because the stories are always so different. I’d like to recommend two series we have at HCLS that I’ve been reading side by side, one about basketball and one about supernatural cannibals…different, indeed.
Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue is a sports manga published between 1990 and 1996, focusing on a high school boys’ basketball team. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a punk, a loser, and desperate for a girlfriend. After fifty rejections of his declarations of love, he finds himself drawn to Haruko Akagi, the one girl who doesn’t think he’s a total dweeb. And she introduces him to basketball, a sport he previously hated (mostly because his most recent crush turned him down to date a basketball player).
So, he joins the team, acts like a total fool, but along the way Sakuragi discovers his talent for the sport, for aggressive play that impresses his teammates. Like other sports manga, he discovers more about himself and his team, the sport, and what it means to grow up. This all occurs in early 90s Japan, at the height of basketball’s popularity across the globe, so there’s a certain nostalgic glow to the story and art.
Speaking of the art, it’s clean, expressive, and veers between comedic scenes and heart-pounding sports action. Inoue’s skill as an artist shows through, but his ability as a storyteller, bringing us along Sakuragi’s journey of becoming a proper adult and baller, is what keeps me reading. Slam Dunk is 31 volumes, so it can be a bit of a time investment, but I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly, both as a sports story and as a nostalgia piece for the 1990s.
On a completely separate note, Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida takes place in a modern Tokyo, which seems fairly ordinary. Ah, except for the ghouls – supernatural creatures who look exactly like humans but for their need to consume human flesh. Ken Kaneki is a college student who loves literature and coffee, until a first date turns into a fight for survival when his crush reveals herself as a ghoul. The night ends in an accident, and in the hospital her ghoul’s organs are transplanted into Kaneki. He becomes a hybrid ghoul, torn between the human and ghoul worlds, trying to fit into both.
The art is grim, dark, and bloody (this is absolutely a read for mature audiences), and as Kaneki falls deeper into the ghoul world, monstrous cruelties emerge from the shadow beneath Tokyo. However, unlike other horror titles in the genre, Tokyo Ghoul has something more – a heart. Sure, ghouls can be horrifying monsters capable of unthinkable violence, but at the same time, Kaneki discovers that they’re not born that way. Indeed, a ghoul is just another kind of person (who eats human flesh), and the story is full of moments where the reader questions, “Who’s the real monster?”
Of course, there are super-cool fights between the ghouls and the anti-ghoul investigators, drawn expertly. But again, Ishida’s writing doesn’t let this series slip into a fight-of-the-week style, like many other action manga series. Kaneki’s transformation is fraught with moments of questioning: what it means to live, what it means to love, and how does anyone survive in a world like this.
I was surprised at the depth of this series, and while it is violent and action-packed, there’s way more to it than that. The original series is 14 volumes, followed by Tokyo Ghoul: RE, a sequel series – I’ve only read the first half, but can’t wait to dive into the second, which should keep me occupied for a bit more of this long, long winter.
Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.