The First Slam Dunk marks a momentous addition to the Slam Dunk franchise, continuing the story from where the anime left off almost 30 years ago. It showcases Shohoku's ultimate showdown against Sannoh in the National High School Tournament, a long-awaited grand finale that many fans had given up hope on. Some had turned to the manga, while others were left hanging on a tantalizing cliffhanger. This movie came as a salvation, offering a modern and cinematic update to fans' beloved basketball anime. However, the modernization aspect left viewers with intriguing reflections.
The First Slam Dunk didn't merely attempt to recreate the nostalgia of its 90s anime predecessor. It boldly introduced a new art style, animation style, and soundtrack, while also presenting alterations to the story and characters compared to what they would have been if the anime had continued. Some of these changes proved to be significant improvements over the original, while others were creative liberties taken with the source material, sparking debates among fans. As a long-awaited conclusion to a cherished series with decades of history, the final product had to deliver and bring everything together. To determine whether The First Slam Dunk succeeded on this front, a closer examination of the movie and the material that preceded it is necessary.
Why The First Slam Dunk Looks So Different
One of the most striking deviations that The First Slam Dunk makes from its predecessors is its animation style. Unlike the anime, the movie incorporates a blend of cel-shaded 3D animation with occasional 2D scenes. While the 3D models generally resemble their anime counterparts, the creators have made adjustments to make them more closely resemble their manga versions. For instance, Haruka's hair color has been changed from brown to black, and her bangs now possess a more distinct shape, aligning with Inoue's realistic drawings of the characters.
The movie's 2D segments stand out as a particular showcase of the change in art style. They present a unique style that neither mirrors the anime nor the manga, offering something entirely fresh and distinct. This choice allows The First Slam Dunk to set itself apart from the rest of the franchise. The shift towards a more realistic depiction is closely tied to the movie's overall tone. In both the Slam Dunk anime and manga, Hanamichi and his friends were frequently involved in comedic escapades, depicted in a fittingly cartoonish art style. However, such a style is largely absent in The First Slam Dunk, with only a few exceptions.
The decision to abandon the cartoonish style can be attributed to a couple of factors. Firstly, creating cartoony sequences in 3D animation would demand new models for each character involved, adding complexity to the production. Moreover, The First Slam Dunk aims for a more serious and mature tone throughout the movie. Thus, minimizing the use of such humor aligns with the desired approach. While the removal of this humor may result in a deviation from the source material's identity, there is something admirable about the movie's dignified and earnest portrayal of the Slam Dunk story.
How Else Does The First Slam Dunk Differ from the Anime?
The First Slam Dunk's transformation goes beyond its appearance, extending to its presentation, especially in terms of animation. The 3D animation predominantly portrays the action-packed basketball games, offering more fluid and lifelike movements compared to the original anime's limited and simplistic animation. The movie's music also receives an upgrade, departing from the iconic but time-specific soundtrack of the Slam Dunk anime. While this change may seem unfaithful to the source material, it ensures the movie's relevance to the audience watching it in 2023. However, whether this new soundtrack will stand the test of time and potentially appear dated in another 30 years remains to be seen.
In a notable shift, The First Slam Dunk removes the characters' inner thoughts from much of the final game. Previously, the anime included shots of characters reflecting on the events of a game and their thoughts through inner monologues. Now, the movie relies on the characters' spoken words and body language, trusting the audience to deduce their thoughts based on these cues and the ongoing action. Similarly, explanations for basketball basics were omitted. The Slam Dunk anime used to pause the action to provide relevant basketball rules and trivia for viewers who were unfamiliar with the sport. However, with basketball becoming more widespread in Japan, The First Slam Dunk assumes that general audiences are now familiar with the sport, allowing it to focus more on the narrative.
Another significant alteration introduced by The First Slam Dunk is the addition of Ryota Miyagi's backstory. This new storyline places Ryota as the main character, departing from a complete and faithful adaptation of the Slam Dunk source material. Despite this departure, many fans were simply delighted to finally receive new content after almost 30 years of waiting with hopeful anticipation.
Is The First Slam Dunk Better Than the Anime?
People's enjoyment of this movie compared to the anime will depend on what they hoped to get out of it. Ideally, any adaptation of Slam Dunk following the anime would have to conclude the series where said anime left things off. This would mean showing Shohoko's final game against Sannoh and, hopefully, everything that came after it. As long as these conditions were met, Slam Dunk fans would get the satisfaction they've sought for 30 years.
This desire for a faithful adaptation of Slam Dunk's finale makes centering the movie on Ryota risky. Focusing on his story means cutting back on developing the rest of the story and characters. One could always read the manga to see these scenes, but the point was to wrap up the anime's story. If Ryota's story still needed to be told, it could have been saved for an OVA or some other less integral piece of Slam Dunk-related media.
That said, what The First Slam Dunk delivers it executes superbly. The CG animation may not have been what fans had in mind, but it gave the basketball players' movements a sense of realism. Given the series' transition from zany basketball games to more grounded and conventional ones, this change in presentation made sense.
A similar claim could be made about The First Slam Dunk's characters. Slam Dunk is well-known for characters who can act zany and absurd during comedic moments but who become grounded and believable when things get serious. The First Slam Dunk focuses on the characters' grounded side more than its predecessors did, but there's enough merriment to gratify those hoping for it. If it's a matter of capturing the essence of the source material, Slam Dunk's anime is still the best. However, it's about concluding the story with the enhanced appeal of the modern cinematic experience, The First Slam Dunk is a good watch for any Slam Dunk fan.