Released in Japan on December 3, 2022, The First Slam Dunk is the formal conclusion to the 90’s anime and manga hit Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue who returns to write and direct this film. The First Slam Dunk is now internationally screening in cinemas at select regions. The First Slam Dunk is not streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime or any international stream website as of the publishing of this review.
WARNING! This review contains major spoilers.
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… and now on to our review of the The First Slam Dunk.
The First Slam Dunk Review
This review will go thru the story beat for beat so its key to mention how Inoue presents his story and many manga readers will be familiar with the events of The First Slam Dunk as it mostly plays the same way. The biggest difference here is how the film shifts its focus on individual character drama and shifts them all to one person: Ryota Miyagi.
The 2nd-year point guard Ryota Miyagi (#7/PG) of Shohoku High School is the central focus of the film and much of the emotional weight that carries the film thru is shouldered by this very personal narrative specially created for this movie.
The film opens up with Ryota in his childhood playing 1-on-1 basketball with his brother, Souta “Sou” Miyagi. Following their father’s death, Souta steps up to be the “captain” of their family and shoulder the burden of being the man of the house but is quickly revealed that he was lost at sea. Characters in the film believe he is dead but the film does not confirm if Souta is actually dead nor hints at the contrary.
Regardless, Sou’s absensce fuels Ryota’s drive to excel at basketball but despite his passion, his lacklustre performance during his childhood comapred to his brother leaves scouts and critics doubtful of his future in basketball. This drives his mother to become distant. The thought of basketball just makes her long for Souta even more and this drives Ryota to become rebellious.
The Reigning, Defending, Undisputed National Champions: Sannoh High
But what is The First Slam Dunk movie all about? Well, interpersed with Miyagi’s story is Shohoku’s match with Sannoh High: the defending national high school champion as well as being undefeated for the last 3 years. They have stopped Shohoku district-mate Kainan’s success in the finals many times despite they themselves have been the 17-year Kanagawa district champions.
Sannoh High’s big 5 includes two of the strongest national players in Japan: #7 center Masashi Kawata and #9 Small Forward Eiji Sawakita with Sawakita being hailed as the best high school player in all of Japan.
Much of the match plays out just like the manga play-by-play and even non-manga readers will appreciate how Inoue wraps this single match-up in its own self-contained story with no requisite knowledge of the manga or anime needed to appreciate the film.
The film speeds thru the first half of the match. Slam Dunk’s basketball game format follows 40-minute games with two 20-minute halves with the shot clock running 30 seconds. No backstory for Sannoh High is given with only a quick flashback of Sawakita praying in a shrine for the gods to give him “experience”. This will ultimately come at the hands of Shohoku as a fired-up Miyagi and Mitsui (#14 SF) ignites the first half leaving the game at 36-34 in favor of Shohoku in the first half.
The main meat of The First Slam Dunk starts at the second half with Sannoh High putting on the pressure as they perform a backcourt double team to restrict their Miyagi’s movement after the ball is inbound. If you watch the NBA, you will usually this play in the last minutes of the game. Sannoh High’s arrogant strategy is to use it in the first half, blowing up their score and also destroying their opponent’s morale in the process. This strategy continues until Shohoku changed their play to counter Sannoh High’s defensive pressure.
Shohoku: The Underdog Story
As the second half commences, the rest of the team gets involved and we now circle back to Miyagi’s story but now with bits of the team now piecing together. We now see how Ryota served as the problem child to Shohoku’s senior players with Akagi as his upcoming captain in their freshman and junior years respectively. As the game goes on, we will see this mature into a clear nod at how the roles are transitioning.
Back to the ball game, Shohoku is cornered into turning over the ball over and over again with the clock winding down to 10 minutes and Shohoku still down 38-60. Rukawa finally makes his presence felt bringing much of the next 5-minutes a showdown between him and Sawakita. The mental game between Akagi and Kawata also gets the spotlight but both Sakuragi and Akagi struggle against the versatile Kawata Masashi.
It is worth noting the film doesn’t put emphasis on Kawata’s brother, Mikio who Sakuragi refers to as a round gorilla, as well as the entire Sannoh High bench. Fukatsu, their point guard gets a mention but their shooting guard and their PF, who is taller than Masashi Kawata, barely gets lines.
Comeback is Real
The clock winds down to the last minute which pushes more flashbacks to us featuring how Mitsui and Ryota met then to brief flashes of the beginning of the Inter High tournament with Rukawa sharing his burning intent to beat Sawakita as well as Akagi and Ryota’s younger years on Shohoku.
This is all told while Shohoku climbs back from a 20-pt deficit bring a 43-63 game to a 70-76 point game by the last minute. This is all thanks to Sakuragi bringing spirits up which brings out Ryota, Akagi and Rukawa’s game while Mitsui at the brink of collapsing, maintains laser focused on making his 3s.
The most pivotal moment of the match happens when Sakuragi makes a dive to save the ball and crashes into the scorer’s table. He gets up but a creak on his back starts bothering him and continues to intensify until he gives into the pain and nearly passes out. Kogure subs in for Sakuragi but a few seconds later Sakuragi demands he subs in. Coach Anzai intervenes with Ayako already suggesting that it may cost Sakuragi his career, a reality that Coach Anzai admits will be one of his greatest failures should he get injured further.
A quick foul by Rukawa and Sakuragi subs in again with our red-haired hero emphatically asking Coach Anzai when was his peak, implying this game is Sakuragi’s peak and he’ll take the risk of a career-ending injury just to see it thru.
With a broken Sakuragi willing his way thru pain, Mitsui makes a 3-point and gets fouled in the act of shooting. Mitsui makes free throw bringing Shohoku to 1 point behind Sannoh at 75-76. Rukawa attempts to score again but is blocked by the younger Kawata Mikio. Sakuragi jets for another save and passes to Rukawa for another 2-point attempt and Rukawa makes it giving Shohoku the lead at 77-76 with only 20 seconds left in the game. Sawakita shows them why he’s the ace and sprints to the basket and deliver a fadeaway to bring Sannoh up again by 1 (77-78).
Realizing they only have 9 seconds left, Sakuragi runs to the other end of the court as Akagi inbounds. With no entry pass to Sakuragi, Akagi passes to Rukawa who carries the ball to the down the court at lightning speed but drives to a defending Kawata and Sawakita blocking his attempt at the basket.
With no way to make the shot, Rukawa is forced to make a pass with the only teammate at his side. Waiting at the wing is Sakuragi from midrange. Many fans of the anime and manga will know how much of a noobie Sakuragi is but will also know that he trained to make 20,000 jump shots for these moments.
And with the clock winding down to zero, Sakuragi makes a 2-point jump shot. Thus closing the greatest game in Shohoku’s history and ending the streak of what is known as the strongest high school team in Japan.
Sakuragi, the main character of Slam Dunk, wins the game at the buzzer with a 2-pt. mid-range jump shot to bring Shohoku up 79-78.
Shohoku wins against Sannoh High.
The First Slam Dunk closes with Ryota finding his mom staring at the beach after the Inter High tournament, telling his mom that Sannoh was scary when asked about Sannoh, not realizing his mom was present by the end of the game to witness it. Ryota’s mother cozies up to his son, and Ryota gives his mother Souta’s wristband which Ryota wore throughout all his games.
Like a true basketball game, the excitement of The First Slam Dunk is from the game itself. The emotional weight though is anchored on the characters with the majority of the emotions centered on Ryota Miyagi. His story is originally crafted for this movie and is not in the manga and as such, is a completely new component of the movie. The manga and anime makes it a point to not have any parental figure in the story to the extent that Sakuragi’s own father’s demise as a consequence of Sakuragi’s earlier altercations, while leaving him very emotionally scarred, is only touched upon. The Akagi household only shows Haruko and Takanori by themselves as well. So having Ryota’s mother, brother and sister in The First Slam Dunk is a big departure to previously established tropes in the manga and anime.
With Ryota’s story, much of the comedic chops of the anime has been dropped but the movie still manages to bring some light-hearted moments such as Ryota and Sakuragi’s cue up for an impossible alley-oop with only their comic faces signaling each other.
But at its core, The First Slam Dunk is a self-contained film, focusing on the maturation of Ryota Miyagi from team point guard into his eventual role as team captain, something that is hinted at in the last team huddle in the final seconds of the game. Miyagi’s burdens from his father, his mother, his brother, his teammates, his love interest and most of all, his own adoration of the game and to win put him on the spotlight for us, the viewers, as we get to witness the greatest comeback in sports anime history.
With nearly 30 years apart from its original anime run which concluded with Shohoku moving on to receive the second spot in their district in the Inter High National tournament and the anime closing out to an all-star pickup game between Shohoku and a loaded Shoyo-Ryonan team.
Many have been anticipating this movie to tell the entire Inter High run of Shohoku and also bring back some fan favorites as inserts but Inoue went against that removed all other teams from the narrative and any flashbacks which may require requisite knowledge.
While this ensures that new audiences can enjoy The First Slam Dunk, it does leave a lot of fans dissatisfied and while The First Slam Dunk is a decent movie wire-to-wire, as a fan it will definitely leave you wanting more especially if you feel that there’s more story to be told. This leaves me personally at an impasse because for the past decades that we’re left hungering for a Slam Dunk finale, many headcanons have formed and with the Youtube creator era, there have been fan adaptations of what can be during Shohoku’s run and it is with Shohoku’s greatest win that we also want to see how they treat that peak as a team.
The manga shows us that Shohoku goes on to lose in the Inter High as Sakuragi Hanamichi is sidelined following the match with Sannoh due to an injury. The manga does not detail much of the rest of the tournament, only suggesting that Kainan managed to reach the finals but ultimately lose and only end up second place.
The film dismisses the rest of the Inter High altogether, not even mentioning any other team. The film also does not bother to introduce us to our players with only Ryota, Mitsui, Akagi, Sakuragi and for a small bit, Rukawa getting some story time. Sannoh’s Sawakita is never shown to be a heel of sorts and Kawata, although arrogant in-game, has no reason for us to hate them besides being Shohoku’s opponents.
Thus, the main dynamic that plays us to root for Shohoku is because Sannoh is just so strong and Shohoku is an unknown team trying to beat this beast of a team. Internally, to drive us into further loving Shohoku, much depth is given to one character and the rest shown to us as flawed: Akagi struggling to keep up with Kawata Masashi, Rukawa struggling to keep up with Sawakita Eiji, Sakuragi trying to prove himself and Mitsui trying to finish the game despite tiring out. We are presented with the ultimate underdog against a team we have no reason not to support but yet still we root for Shohoku because the movie convinces us to.
And it is with this narrative that The First Slam Dunk convinces us to care for Shohoku and this works exceptionally well for new fans coming in along for the ride. For longtime fans, it is the final moments that would culminate in that satisfiying feeling that even though you already know Shohoku will end up winning, the film leaves you with that warm, fuzzy feeling that you know Shohoku won, but now you know how they earned it in brilliant 3DCG action.
If you’re a fan of the anime and manga, there’s no other way to take it. It may be “just 1 game” but as Sakuragi puts it, what is your peak? And this is his peak. Witness their glory.
For new viewers asking if they ***need*** to watch the anime before watching the movie, the answer is a NO. But Slam Dunk is one of the greatest anime of the 1990s and YOU SHOULD definitely watch it. The First Slam Dunk though is a self-contained movie and only references quick shots of Sakuragi’s past as throwaway scenes to put his back injury in context.
With not much flashback to show, fans are also not forced to watch scenes which have been redrawn in 3DCG except Ryota’s altercations with Mitsui in the gym by the start of the anime as well as the anime’s opening with Sakuragi meeting Haruko, Akagi and the rest of the team with his old hairstyle.
Despite the wonky look of 3DCG, The First Slam Dunk is well-animated and doesn’t have the stiff motions that some other 3DCG animes are notorious for. Mocap is definitely used effectively in this film with moves perfectly captured frame by frame for the smoothest effect. The film also sparingly uses 3D pans to slightly give the sense of movement during moves but it doesn’t go full rotation to still give that 2D feel. All of the 3DCG is then brought to the forefront as the final seconds of the movie sends the animation to overdrive showing a brushed-up effect signifying the intense pace that game is going in and is definitely a surprise despite initial negative reception for the 3D art style.
And I gotta give props to the shoes in this movie. I went to see this film with my almost 10-yr old Jordan 6 Slam Dunk pair all yellowed up and the sole starting to crust but gotta give love to Slam Dunk.
On-screen, Sakuragi’s Jordan 1 Breds gets the legend treatment fully rendered with so much details, you can make out the Jordan Wings logo’s text. The film doesn’t do well with colors and Sakuragi’s Jordan 1 Breds look more orange even in IMAX but you know what it is. Truth be told, even Sakuragi’s hair is near more red than red-orange, which is the anime-accurate color of his hair.
Rukawa’s Jordan V Fire Red also gets the remaster treatment as it now finally receives the Nike Air logo at the heel and the Jumpan logo on the tounge peeking in some scenes thru the laces.
Based in the late 80s, Akagi, and Ryota both wear Converse Conquests, a popular silhouette during those times. Finally we have Mitsui who plays in ASICS 707.
This movies extreme lack of the original anime’s OST its main downside for me. While licensure is sure to be the primary issue, it is quite disheartening that Inoue or Toei didn’t bring back any of the songs. It may be downplayed by the satisfaction of their ultimate win but if there’s anything that Toei could’ve have done to really treat fans to a true nostalgia trip, even the instrumental of Kimi Ga Suki Datto Sakebitai (the anime’s first opening) would’ve been a sweet gift.
Alas, we receive two rock anthems for The First Slam Dunk, both not leaving and emotional attachment to the film but serving nothing more as just a background sound to the opening and ending credit of the film.
The First Slam Dunk is much needed closure for many who did not read the manga of Slam Dunk and serves as a formal bookend to the almost 30-year wait to see Shohoku’s journey to the top of high school basketball. Just like Frieza and Goku’s team-up at the end of the Tournament of Power in Dragon Ball Super, Rukawa and Sakuragi closing The First Slam Dunk’s game is the finale’ we all wanted to see.
Get over the hate for 3DCG because by the end of the movie, you’ll realize this is one of the best execution of 3DCG in recent anime history. And just like me, you probably will dislike the lack of music but at the end of the day, even if you don’t give a hoot about Ryota’s burdens, its always nice to see a good game of basketball and The First Slam Dunk’s Shohoku vs Sannoh is definitely a good game of basketball.
Sannoh High vs Shohoku Box Score
The anime shows us that Rukawa foregoes his wish to leave for America. This film does not reference that. What the film shows us is that Ryota Miyagi ends of up leaving Japan for the US, a collegiate team which logo resembles the Cleveland Cavaliers. Can someone confirm if its the Westmont Cougars or Westmont was Sawakita’s team who also flies to the US for a collegiate team. It is not shown how Ryota played as the captain of Shohoku in his senior year.