By Accessible Japan reader, M. G.
What is real, and what is not? You can engage in eternal debates concerning that question, but you yourself know best what is real to you, and what is not. This seems to be what the protagonists of Takehiko Inoue’s manga REAL discover. Their realities unfold before the reader plain through a sport; basketball. The manga is serialized in Weekly Young Jump, and as far as I now it is on a hiatus, after 14 volumes and 84 chapters.
The plot is about three figures, their engagement with basketball, and their quite messy lives. They are young men, who in one way or another play (wheelchair) basketball. I cannot say much more, as spoilers will show up, but their lives have their ups and downs, as do those of the people around them. The manga contains pretty realistic situations, coming from high school years, workplace, personal life etc., and it deals with quite a few social issues and phenomena, physical disability being one of them. It also draws on the nostalgia it brings about in the reader, through simple scenes in the story line, and through the passion the protagonists often demonstrate.
As for the artistic aspects of it, I could not in any way claim that I am a manga or art specialist. Therefore, as far as I can say, the art is really good and realistic. It is easy to read and get the feeling of the scenes. The characters are also well made (at least the majority of them). There are cases where small details render the figures familiar to the reader. The feelings are often transmitted through adequately expressed images, and you can easily sympathize with the characters.
In REAL, as a sports youth manga, it does not really matter if it is wheelchair basketball or just basketball. If it is on the court or outside. If you are playing it, used to play it or dream to play it. What matters in the end is what is “real”, and the author does not try to conceal it. Reality is presented as it is, and practical real issues, often hard to discuss, are not avoided. The manga contains everyday life scenes, which seem based on good information, including situations a physical disabled person may encounter. It is clear that some effort has been put into it, with the research about individuals’ personal lives and conditions, disabled or not.
And as far as disability is concerned, it is not only the usual stuff about a disabled person changing the life perspective of others, but the inverse happens here as well. People are influencing other people, sometimes for the best sometimes not. Disabled are not portrayed here as angelic innocent figures. They are simply human beings. In some lines you can find yourself spotting some minor clichés about disabled or general issues, however they are not so eye-catching or annoying.
Let me thus ask you: have you ever watched live a basketball game? How about wheelchair basketball game? I do both, and while I find the sport of basketball a little bit boring, I found wheelchair basketball quite entertaining. It is fast, intense and passionate (like Basketball should be in general), but also harsh and stressful to watch! The players would clash their wheelchairs and often fall down on the court with them. But they would get back up and continue the game. Because they love basketball, they are passionate about it. Because in any other way, they would just had given up before they even try. This reality (along with all the background stories and periphery) is what the manga REAL trying to present. And it does it well.