Real 9

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2010 – 10+ volumes

I really can’t recommend this series enough. It’s got some of the widest appeal of anything I cover on here, and is just so touching in every way. Strong characters overcoming difficulties on their own and making themselves better – there’s no way to not make that sound really cheesy, but it’s honestly one of the best series I’m reading right now.

This volume focuses on Takahashi and Nomiya again. I think the two of them go together quite well, story-wise. While Nomiya does have his lows, and when he hits a wall it can be depressing, he’s one of the most positive characters in the series, so I like switching between his outlook and Takahashi, who is still having a lot of trouble coping with the fact he will be wheelchair-bound the rest of his life.

Except… Takahashi is also starting to come out of his horrible, black depression. His story is one of the most depressing I’ve ever read, simply because Inoue does such a good job of showing us just how much Takashi lost, how much it means to him to be “normal,” and why it is that there is nothing on Earth that can cheer him up. In this volume, Takahashi is distracted from himself by a new roommate, a pro wrestler who swears up and down that he’ll be able to walk and wrestle again in about three months, in time for an upcoming tournament. The wrestler looks up to Takahashi, who can do floor exercises with difficulty now, and the two of them form a fast friendship with an otaku-ish man who is also being rehabilitated. Takahashi is far from being happy with his life, but I think the two friends he’s made here are definitely lifting his spirits. There are a lot of light, funny stories between these three at the clinic.

Elsewhere, Nomiya has decided to try out for a professional basketball team. He’s going to be the only high school dropout at tryouts whose team never made it to any sort of tournament, but he doesn’t let this crush his good mood. He simply tells himself he has to be better, good enough for the team, and he makes a goal. He’s got ups and downs too, but he’s been very upbeat since meeting Kiyoharu, and with… “encouragement” from Kiyoharu, lots of practice, and lots of observation, he’s slowly going for it.

A summary is the most justice I can do for it, unfortunately, because the appeal lies in how the story is told, how the characters interact with each other, and how it is they go about getting what they want and succeeding where many would not, in terms of Kiyoharu recovering from the loss of his leg and Takahashi coping with losing the ability to walk. It’s charming, horribly sad, sometimes funny, and always an excellent read. I’m not praising it nearly enough, but take my word for it. Pick it up yourself and you probably won’t be disappointed. It really is that good.


Real 8

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2010 – 9+ volumes

The focus in this volume shifts away from Kiyoharu and the Dreams, who had a pretty epic cliffhanger last volume, and back towards Takahashi and his rehabilitation.  And alongside both, there’s Nomiya, who still can’t find his identity.

Takahashi’s story is most heartbreaking and hard to read.  He’s not a very likable character, even in his condition.  He’s also trying to overcome a very severe handicap and learn to function by himself.  He motivates himself by looking at others he deems “below” him and seeing that they can do things like lifting themselves to and from sitting positions.  This alternately depresses him (“if they can do it, why can’t I?”) and motivates him.  He’s a very… er, real character, I suppose, and he does get a lot of sympathy from me for having to go through all that.  It’s hard to take.  But he’s also a jerk, and I have a feeling that my sympathy is exactly the kind that makes him feel bad.  I’m interested to see where he ends up in a volume or two.  Probably playing basketball for the Dreams, but I’m interested to see how he gets there.  Hopefully he crosses paths with Nomiya again.

Nomiya… his story was also sad.  He has no physical disability to overcome, and yet he just can’t win.  He can’t find a job, and can’t find his place in life.  He stays positive, but man is this section depressing.  He is quite good with people for how intimidating he is, and after consulting an unlikely source, he decides to pick himself up and do the one thing he cares most about.  Of course, he always ends volumes on a positive note, so I’m going to reserve judgment until next time.

I think I like Vagabond more, but Real does give you more to chew on, and it’s easier to relate to the characters and their struggles.  It’s… probably just as meditative as Vagabond is, except the thoughts all go towards other things, like bettering yourself in modern society and whatnot, though it’s more successful than that sentence makes it sound.  In fact, it’s more compelling than it has any right to be.  I mean, I still can’t get over how much I like this manga.  It’s not about wheelchair basketball, that’s just something that comes up every once in awhile.  It’s more about the characters.  This reads a lot like Inoue is taking all the themes he normally uses and making the best use possible of them.  It’s excellent, and full of good characters and good messages.  There’s nothing quite like Real.


Real 7

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2010 – 9+ volumes

The themes of the series are highlighted once again by a new character, who sees a practice and a game with the Tigers and realizes that there isn’t anything handicapped about the characters, and that they go completely against what he thought he would become after he damaged his spinal chord in an accident.  The new character doesn’t play a very big role, or even any basketball, but I liked him since it’s easy to forget what makes this series beyond great when you’re caught up in all the basketball stuff in this volume.

Tomomi also uses Kiyoharu and the Tigers as a kind of ruler for himself.  He knows his life is a mess, and he needs to find the strength to just go on, to hold a job and do what he can, but it’s hard when bad things keep happening to him.  I like Tomomi quite a bit, since he’s such a positive character that has the absolute worst luck in the world.  When he gets down on himself, he’s definitely earned it.

Most of the storyline here is a Tigers practice and then a game with the Dreams.  Kiyoharu takes the game particularly seriously, since he’s made a personal bet with the coach of the Dreams.  There’s a lot of focus on Kiyoharu, but we also see a lot of the other characters and their strengths, too.  We learn why one member above all on the Tigers is irreplacable, and for a silly reason, and there’s lots of drilling and the characters… well, just being regular basketball manga characters.  It’s the new character that keeps the themes of the series in mind as the story progresses here.

The volume ends on a cliffhanger, and I imagine the basketball stuff will take a backseat to personal stuff again next volume.  I’m guessing this will mean another appearance by Hisanobu, who was completely absent from this volume.  I keep hoping that somehow Hisanobu will join the Tigers through Tomomi, because that would be awesome, though a pretty predictable, manga-ish thing to do, something that Real doesn’t make a habit of.

I still love this series, and even as far into Vagabond as I am, I think Real is probably the superior work.  It’s close though, as both are very… quiet series.  They don’t beat you over the head with what they’re trying to say, which strengthens their messages quite a bit.  Both have powerful messages to deliver, but it’s hard not to like Real’s message a little bit more.  Real is easily one of the best series I’ve started this year.  Real and 20th Century Boys.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Real 6

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2009 – 8+ volumes

This volume focuses mostly on Hisanobu rather than Kiyoharu and Nomiya, though the story takes a brief look at both of the latter boys.  Nomiya seems to be spending a lot of time with Kiyoharu and his basketball team, and acts as their loud, semi-unwanted cheerleader who also manages to raise their spirits and give them good advice from the stands.  Kiyoharu seems to be in a good place right now, and Nomiya has found peace with the fact that he should hold down a job and save money until he figures out what he wants to do with his life, since that’s all he can do.  The realization seems to make him happy, as do the basketball games that Kiyoharu’s team are starting to play, so you can see how Hisanobu is the one that needs all the TLC right now.

Last volume, he basically told his poor mother off when she tried to convince him to go back to school.  This doesn’t sit all that well with her, and Nobu’s father shows up to care for him when she falls ill from overwork, malnutrition, alcoholism, and stress.  Caring for Nobu isn’t all that difficult since he refuses to talk, go to his therapy, or even really leave his bed.  The doctors decide that spending time with his estranged father might somehow provide the emotional catalyst Nobu needs in order to find some sort of meaning in life.  We get a long flashback where we learn how much being with his father meant to young Nobu, and… well, nothing really conclusive about his present state happens, just a lot more sad and terrible things.

On one hand, you could look at it as if the character isn’t progressing and the pace of the story is slow.  But the truth is, I am extremely touched by the treatment of Hisanobu since suddenly being rendered disabled like that isn’t something anyone would take well, let alone someone who thought as much of himself as Hisanobu.  There just isn’t anything I can think of that would make Hisanobu want to go on living, quite frankly, which sounds a bit worse than what I actually mean (he’s not contemplating suicide, but his thoughts are always negative and never really move towards just how he’s going to live the rest of his life, only how others will see him in the present).  I’m sure it will be a long time before Hisanobu can begin to come to terms with what happened to him, which is more realism than I would credit any comic with.  I wonder if we’ll ever really see him happy, but I’m curious to see the catalyst that will bring him back to his therapy.

The other interesting thing about Hisanobu’s situation is that triggers that would inspire characters in other series only serve to bring him down.  Notably, at the beginning of the volume, his girlfriend shows up in tears complaining of how he didn’t tell her he was transferring hospitals.  He doesn’t really consider her his girlfriend, and seemed surprised to see her since he’d told her off rather harshly last time she’d visited.  She says some nice things, and then reveals that she’s working a lot of hours in order to afford a surgery for her dog that would require it to have its back legs amputated and replaced with wheels.  She complains that the vets wanted to have the dog put down, but she couldn’t see why not using its legs meant it wasn’t allowed to live.

Rather than taking that to heart, Nobu asks himself if he should really be allowed to live.  It’s rather disturbing.

And that’s why everyone should be reading Real.  It’s not at all about basketball, but about these wonderful characters dealing with difficult things in their lives more realistically than you will see in any other manga series.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Real 5

Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2009 – 8+ volumes

We recently did a Midterm Report Card at Manga Recon, where we talked about our favorite series so far this year.  I had a hard time paring my list down since several were “apples and oranges” situations.  Real was the hardest to shave off my list, because Real and We Were There are my two favorites from this year that took me by complete surprise.  On the other hand, I am shallow and Detroit Metal City is very funny.  Real is the better series, though.

This book was a little less intense than the other ones have been, but only because everyone seems to be getting better in it.  The focus is mostly on Nomiya in this volume, with some peeks into Hisanobu’s therapy to see how that’s going.  Nomiya is a great character, and it’s easy to like him and sympathize with everything that’s happening to him right now.  He has a hard time living with himself because the girl in his accident was paralyzed and nothing at all happened to him, so in this volume we see him doing absolutely everything he can so that he no longer has to have that accident sitting between the two of them.  Of course, the girl doesn’t want to see him, but that doesn’t stop him from showing up and talking to her anyway.  They get into several arguments where both bring up excellent points.  Their conversations are good ones, and I think the girl finally relents a bit on her hatred for him since he doesn’t try to give her silent sympathy or pity, but rather gets into shouting matches with her (over rather serious topics) and just simply admits that he can’t since he can walk and he doesn’t know what it’s like to not be able to.  Despite his horrible situation, Nomiya has a really amazing way of looking at life and trying to do everything he can to fix it.  Going to see that girl and putting everything right is a good example, and hopefully his fortunes will be turned around after this.  He also just has a really great way of dealing with people, and it always seems like Nomiya acts as  kind of inspiration for the others in the series.  In his way.  He’s an excellent piece of the puzzle among all the characters.

I can’t bring myself to like Hisanobu, since he’s still an arrogant jerk, but it’s good to see that arrogance being applied to his therapy, saying things like this are easy for “people like him.”  His high school teacher visits and starts campaigning to have his high school converted for accessibility (there are lots of nice details I wouldn’t have thought of, like the fact the bathrooms would lack a “western-style” toilet that Hisanobu could use).  Hisanobu doesn’t really want to go back to his old high school, and I can’t say that I blame him.  For being an arrogant jerk, it would be hard to return to the place he’d been so popular and be literally at the bottom of the social ladder and have to deal with the stares of people who knew what happened for a year.

These thoughts sort of sour his drive to finish his physical therapy, and he has given up by the end of the volume.  It’s sad, but it’s also good and more real that the typical character who would just excel and blow through it all with a happy outlook on life.  As much as I do not like Hisanobu, I can see and understand exactly how hard all that he’s going through really is, and I appreciate that he has more downs than ups.  It would be too hard to realistically expect someone to go through all that with a smile on his face.  I do hope that he pulls through in the end.  And although I do hate him, I also hope that he comes out on the other side with at least some of his arrogance intact.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Real 4

This volume was all Kiyoharu.  While we did get his backstory in volume two, this is the rest of it.  Basically, volume two was everything that happened before he lost his leg, and this was everything that happened afterwards.

Because I had commented in volume two that Takahashi seems like the saddest case since his accident is recent, this volume proceeds to take Kiyoharu, my favorite character, and show just how badly he felt and how long it took him to recover from his amputation.  It’s… quite sad and very difficult. One scene in particular, where he has a nightmare about his leg ripping off during a race, was pretty powerful stuff, especially seeing his reaction after he woke up.  It conveyed absolutely everything you needed to know about what happened and what his mental state was.

Seeing him pick himself up after what he perceived to be an event that ended his life, and seeing what it was that helped him change his outlook (and what kept his outlook negative for so long), makes his incredibly positive attitude even more amazing.

Also, I kind of laughed when I saw his day job.  It came out of left field.

I am starting to worry about Nomiya, though.  He’s still directionless, and he’s still a pretty strong guy that wants to make something of himself.  His failure in this volume was as a result of something he believed in… and come to think of it, most of the time he seems to lose out for standing up for what he thinks is right. But at this point, he has literally nothing going for him.  Let’s hope that nice things are in store.

What an amazing series.  I was left fully satisfied by everything that was offered in this volume.  Plot, characters, messages, artwork… all of it is good.  You just can’t fault Real on anything.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Real 2

There’s a few things going on in this volume, but Kiyohiko’s backstory was of the most interest to me.  Knowing how the sad story would turn out had a rather depressing effect on the whole thing, especially when it took him so long to figure out that he loved running and was naturally gifted at it.  Seeing him play in the wheelchair basketball game and getting the other players fired up about it while the one teammate was trying to drag him down was a nice bit of story too, and it explains some of what was going on in the early parts of volume 3.

The other big part of this volume was watching the playoff game for Takahashi and Nomiya’s old high school team.  Nomiya is there to see it, and he’s quite emotional since he sees what the team has become without him, and seems to wish more than anything that he could be down on the floor helping them out.  Their loss in the playoffs seems to take a toll on him.  This scene also informs another in volume three, where Nomiya goes to see Takahashi and talks to him about what would have happened if they had been playing, and it also lets you know the difference between how much Takahashi tried at the things he saw as important and how much Nomiya tried at them (Nomiya practiced way more than anyone else on the team, judging by the flashbacks in this volume).  Nomiya’s putdown next volume thus makes a lot more sense.

But yes, obviously this is not a series you can read out of order.  I liked what I read of volume three, but it was a much better read after the first two.  The story is quite dense, and the three characters lives are now sort of woven together, so that the events lead in and out over time.  It’s quite amazingly crafted.

And that’s not to mention the art, or how well these editions are put together.  Everything about Real is superior.  I love it.


Real 1

This series is amazing.  Hands down.  The third volume was sort of a bad place to start, because it seems like the best thing that it has going for it is the friendship between Nomiya and Kiyoharu.  Both are just guys that like basketball, and I loved that first chapter where Nomiya joins Kiyoharu for a pickup game and realizes that Kiyoharu is the equal of any of the rather mean-spirited guys he used to play with on the basketball team at his school, even in a wheelchair.  Seeing the two of them work together to win two-on-two tournaments, sometimes for money, sometimes to take guys down a couple pegs, was one of the coolest things ever.

The best scene, though, was when some of their opponents were complaining that Kiyoharu was impossible to guard because of his wheelchair, and Nomiya told them that the wheelchair was just as much an asset as the various skills pro NBA players had, and then said that the game would really only be fair if they were all in wheelchairs too, since Kiyoharu was only half as tall as them.  The balance between what was and wasn’t said was absolutely perfect, and it pretty much seems to sum up the series in the way it does and does not address (or rather, does not address directly) disability.

The main focus of the third volume was Takahashi, and his story sort of gets going at the end of the volume here.  He was the captain of the basketball team at the school Nomiya quit, and yeah, he was a pretty big jerk.  It seems like Takahashi, Nomiya, and Kiyoharu are the main characters, but Takahashi is the one that’s going through the hardest time right now.  The series starts after Nomiya’s accident, which was briefly explained in the volume I read, so while he’s still dealing with the emotional fallout from that, it’s not fresh.  And Kiyoharu has had time since his leg amputation to become the Vince Carter of Wheelchair Basketball, so his trauma is not fresh either.

It’s interesting to me that Nomiya’s life is so depressing despite the fact he has an eerie gift for dealing with people.  He quit school and his extremely important basketball team after he was in a motorcycle accident that cost the random girl he had picked up the use of her legs.  Even though he didn’t know her, he goes to see her regularly, but she doesn’t respond to anything he says or does.  Eventually, she and her family leave without telling him, so he’s left saving money at his crappy job to go to Nagano in order to visit her.  Even though she probably doesn’t want to see him and won’t talk to him.  He also gets robbed after he saves up enough money for driving classes and the trip.

But I honestly can’t convey to you how well the characters are portrayed, how amazing these scenes are where so much is going on without a lot said aloud, and again, how disability does and does not affect the lives of these various people.  It is just good in a way that very few series can be.  After getting a taste of Slam Dunk and reading a good bit of Vagabond, it’s like he took all the good stuff from both and combined them into one truly amazing super-series.  I have no interest in basketball, or wheelchair basketball, and thought the idea for this was kind of weird, but… it’s just good.  There you go.  A perfect example of a series that reaches outside its target audience.


Real 3

I’ve been avoiding both this and Slam Dunk, because I’m sure I would love them both and I really just don’t need to be reading another (in the case of Slam Dunk) 31-volume series.  But I’m a sucker for a good manga, and I really just can’t turn Real down.  I need to go out and buy the first two volumes, though things were surprisingly easy to follow starting with volume 3.

There was very little basketball being played in this volume, something that surprised me a lot.  There was really only one game at the beginning, where one of the players gets worked up when a coach suggests he sit out, because winning or losing the game doesn’t matter since nobody cares.  It was a really great scene.

The focus seemed to be on two characters.  One of them is a relatively healthy-looking guy who paralyzed a girl for life when he got into a motorcycle accident with her on the back.  After secretly watching her recovery efforts, he resolves to be a better person so he can see her without it weighing on his conscience.

The other character was a boy who was also in an auto accident, except his left him paralyzed from the waist down.  This boy was apparently a basketball star, and the type who sat on top of the world.  A lot of the volume focuses on him and his efforts to deal with his situation.  His accident robbed him of everything in his life, and he really… feels nothing.  He seems to reject anyone who tries to cheer him up, and also dislikes his therapy since it makes him confront the permanence of his situation.  He is truly a powerful character since… well, I didn’t really know how he should feel, or how he personally could recover since I hadn’t read the first two volumes.  I don’t know how he’s going to deal with his new condition, how he’s going to resume his life, and… well, a lot of things were really dark for him.  But there were a few things that seemed to affect him towards the end of the volume, and I really want to see where the story takes him.

The two boys meet towards the end of the volume, apparently they know each other.  I’d like to think the first boy lit a fire under the hospitalized one, but that remains to be seen.  I do know I’d like to see the two of them together more.

I’m sure wheelchair basketball figures heavily in things later.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  I’m actually more interested in the characters, and I hope that the focus stays on them for at least a little while longer.  I actually went around to a few different stores this weekend looking for the first two volumes of this series with no luck.  I hope that means that people are buying it and not that the stores aren’t stocking it, because it would be a real shame if this fell through the cracks.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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