You’d be suspired at what some of your teachers are capable of. A band instructor of mine in high school was an amazing basketball player and he was only four years from retirement when I first met him.
There are very few sports I thoroughly enjoy watching and basketball is not one of them. However, when it comes to reading or watching a story involving any specific sport, I gain enough interest to want to do a bit of research into it. Yet, when a series is as outlandish as Kuroko’s Basketball (黒子のバスケKuroko no Basuke), I find myself questioning the validity of the premise of the story rather than being wholly entertained by it. I feel as though I need to address this early on: while I may find Kuroko’s Basketball to be a train wreck—I know it’s bad, but I can’t keep my eyes off it—viewers between the age of five and the mid-teens will derive great enjoyment from it. That being said, the series is a horrible amalgamation of the sports and action genre and had very few interesting characters. Further, like many other shonen series, it was aired during the wrong time slot.
I had a discussion with a good friend of mine about the shonen genre of both anime and manga. Though I maintain my overall opinion that the shonen genre isn’t all that good, I agree with his statement that not all young readers or viewers notice or particularly care about the bad aspects of the genre. I, too, was in that age group many years ago, though it’s hard to believe, and I found many series in the genre to be instant classics. So, I understand why a certain demographic finds a series like Kuroko’s Basketball to be very entertaining and to a degree good. I can’t fault younger audiences for this opinion as they may not have a large palette to draw from, but I also feel it’s important to analyze these works with them so they have an understanding of what poor literature is—be it written, televised, or on film. For many young people in the pre-teen to teenage years, it may be difficult to understand exactly why I feel Kuroko’s Basketball is a train wreck, but to them I merely have this to say: just enjoy it for the ride and don’t bother dissecting it until you’re in college. You’ll be much better off.
What’s depressing, though, is Kuroko’s Basketball actually follows the conventions of a Weekly Shonen Jump manga so completely, it fails. As an aside, I am speaking of the first and second seasons of the anime series, simply because I saw them back-to-back, and the same issues prevailed in both seasons. I recognize the need for a mantra like, “friendship, hard work, and victory,” as it streamlines the types of series Weekly Shonen Jump wishes to publish, but there has to be a better method for determining whether or not the genres work. Because Kuroko’s Basketball uses conventions of both the sports genre and action genre, it places many of the games played in a delicate balance between the two, at least in the anime.
Part of what makes a sports story, in this case basketball, work is the protagonists’ team, generally the underdogs, overcoming great odds to achieve victory. Be it creating a team, taking a dysfunctional team and making them work as a well-oiled machine, returning from an upsetting loss, or whatever it may be, this is what makes viewers cheer for the protagonists. Kuroko’s Basketball does use this approach to a certain extent—the Seirin High School’s basketball team is consistently placed in a bracket where they’re matched up against the top-ranked schools—but instead of relying on great teamwork or inspiring words of wisdom from the coach, the focus becomes centered on the players different, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Unfortunately, this constant reliance on the characters’ powers undermines the potentially good storytelling, and made the entire series feel it was going for cheap stabs at emotional content, rather than making earnest attempts at generating exceptional substance.
For example, one of the series’ protagonists, Tetsuya Kuroko, wants to prove to an old friend and former teammate, Daiki Aomine, that playing as team, rather than for his own selfish needs, is much more fun. This isn’t a bad plot point to explore, especially because Daiki is in a different league from all the other basketball players in his age group, but the effect is spoiled for the sole reason Daiki is always performing trick shots, fakes, and other maneuvers and succeeding. I may not be an expert when it comes to basketball, but I at least realize trick shots are very difficult to perform, let alone make, one hundred percent of the time. This may seem like a minor concern I have with Kuroko’s Basketball, but the series is riddled with other examples like this, such as making a shot from anywhere on the court or using a technique called the “mirage shoot”—just writing the name makes me laugh.
And therein lies the problem. I could care less if the characters have what would amount to superpowers that are only useful on the basketball court. But once the superpowers are given names and characters begin to actively reference them, it becomes silly. Granted, this is fiction, so in some respect as viewers we need a point of reference for what the characters are doing, but when spectators at a game are saying things such as how will they deal with this or that power, it made me patently aware I wasn’t watching a basketball game so much as I was watching an action scene from a series like Dragon Ball or Fairy Tale. In that regard, the characters’ powers should have been downplayed so different scenarios and personalities could have been more fully developed.
I guess it’s unfair to say the characters weren’t interesting, but they were very bland, as I would expect from a shonen series. I can’t fault the writers, be it for the anime or the manga, as young audiences need know from the beginning who the heroes are and who the antagonists are. Though I didn’t like having every opponent the Seirin High School basketball team faced depicted as villainous, I have to admit, it did make me want to see those teams lose. However, that doesn’t mean there could have been some character development between games, and this is where I feel Kuroko’s Basketball could have been improved upon. Returning to Kuroko and Daiki, it’s not as though their friendship had been terminated. We get a sense they are still friends, but a more concerted effort to flesh out the dynamics of their friendship without using exposition would have been nice.
There was one character who seemed fully formed, though, and that was Teppei Kiyoshi. Though many of his aspirations are told through exposition, it gives viewers a good sense of the emotions he is feeling while on the basketball court. Despite my dislike of poor exposition, in his case it worked to the advantage of injecting emotions—from near despair to celebration—into the story. In the end, however, it’s disheartening to think that one of the more minor characters received this much attention in terms of developing his background.
Yet, it’s not the overuse of the action genre or almost flavorless characters that Kuroko’s Basketball suffered from the most. Of all things, it was a factor out of the production team’s hands. I am of course speaking about the time the episodes were aired. Outside of cable networks, the earliest time slot the series aired was eleven at night. Why a series whose main audience is between the ages of five to the mid-teens is aired at a time when they won’t be awake is baffling to me. Kuroko’s Basketball is a property that should garner a great deal of attention from children, but yet it was somehow kept away from a time slot that would be available to the appropriate audience. While I don’t think the BPO (Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization) had an active hand in determining the broadcast time of Kuroko’s Basketball, it would not surprise me if broadcast stations were keeping in mind the BPO’s regulations, and that is a great shame.
I’m going to reiterate here that, as a person who is well beyond the target demographic for Kuroko’s Basketball, I found the series to be a train wreck, but those in the target demographic will find the series very entertaining. It’s all a matter of perspective, and I know if I were in my teens I probably would have enjoyed the series. However, since I have a larger pool of literary experience to draw upon, I can discern the flaws and understand how ridiculous the series became at times. I don’t doubt there will be a third season seeing as how the combined first and second ended just before the semi-finals for the “Winter Cup,” and I’ll most likely watch it, just to see how much worse the series can become—and I’ll begrudgingly enjoy every second of it. Kuroko’s Basketball is a perfect series for younger audiences and masochists like myself.