Two young men—Nomiya, a high school dropout haunted by an accident he caused, and Kiyoharu, a cancer survivor who lost a leg to the disease—find themselves altered by the sport of wheelchair basketball. Nomiya is just looking to keep playing the game he loves, something made difficult by the lack of teams outside of high school. Kiyoharu wants to find other player who’ll play at his level of dedication and intensity, something he doesn’t see in the local wheelchair team. Together the two form an odd friendship, bound by anger, frustration, and a burning desire for something real.
Inoue, the manga-ka behind Japan’s mega-popular sports manga Slam Dunk, turns his gaze to another type of basketball in this unflinching and engaging title. Real’s power is in the characters. Nomiya is a painfully lost young man, who society in general and his school in particular seem to have turned their backs on. He knows he’s made a gigantic mistake and his bumbling attempts to fix a situation he knows he cannot are honest and endearing. Kiyoharu walks the edge of bitter, trying not to slip too far over and disappoint his childhood friend, Azumi, who’s stuck with him and supported him over the years. Things are rounded out by the side characters, including Azumi, two of Nomiya’s old friends who choose different ways of handling troubles on the basketball team after he leaves school, and Hisanobu, the cocky, big-man-on-campus from Nomiya’s former school, a character who will become more important in later volumes.
Inoue’s art is clear and easy to follow, arranged in large, open panels that flow smoothly. His young men have a solid maleness to them, with a large variety of body types and an accurate look to the athletes. He aptly handles the mental images that come later in the story, easily blending symbolism and realism. Viz has done a stunning job publishing this title. It’s slightly oversized from most of the manga titles on the market, with a very attractive cover and beautifully rendered color inserts throughout. Some strong language, a rather obvious potty joke, and a little bit of nudity (full-frontal, but not sexualized) earn this its older teen rating, but that’s okay as the concepts will speak more to older teens and adults anyway. Overall this is a powerful story, strongly executed, and a must read for comic fans, whether or not they love sports.