The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 169 – Kuroko’s Basketball

Kuroko's Basketball 1

Continuing to look at sports anime, this week’s series is arguably the first that started the trend in which fans of yaoi – male homoerotica aimed at women – embraced such shows and turned them into something else. However, there is more to it than this. There is both the actual sport itself, but also the much more disturbing story about how the series author and fans where the victims of crime.

Kuroko’s Basketball, also known as The Basketball Which Kuroko Plays, began as a manga that was released in the biggest manga comic book, Weekly Shonen Jump. It was created by Tadatoshi Fujimaki and ran between 2008 and 2014. The series was adapted into three anime series between 2012 and 2015, running across 75 episodes, which itself has been adapted into a series of compilation films. The series features exciting sporting thrills – plus what is supposedly the most unnoticeable person in the world.

Prior to the story, there was the Teiko Middle School basketball team. They were so good they were dubbed the “Generation of Miracles” because no-one could stop them. These players were the captain Seijuro Akashi, who is seemingly capable of making opposing players crumble before him just by looking at them; the team ace Daiki Aomine, known for his fluid “streetball” style of playing; junk food-eating giant Atsushi Murasakibara, who is so big he makes the perfect defensive player without needing to put in the effort; superstitious Shintaro Midorima, who can score threes from just about anywhere with incredible accuracy; and handsome Ryota Kise, who can copy the moves of just about any player. They then all split up and are now playing for different high schools. However, there was also rumours of a supposed sixth member of the generation who never scored once, but was still a great player. This was Tetsuya Kuroko, and this is his story.

Kuroko joins Seirin High School and their basketball team, where he meets another new member of the team, Taiga Kagami. Taiga had previously being living in the USA and was disappointed by the level of Japanese basketball compared to that in America, but now he wants to take on and beat the Generation of Miracles. However, Kuroko does have some problems when it comes to interacting with people, the main one being that somehow no-one notices him. To everyone around him, it is as if Kuroko doesn’t exist, so he has to try hard to make himself known to his teammates. He seems to be completely deadpan in all situations. Also, Kuroko is short, slow, and hopeless at shooting the ball into the hoop.

However, Kuroko does have one big advantage. Because no-one notices him on the court, Kuroko is able to intercept the ball and make astonishing passes that baffle the other teams. He is  master of misdirection, tricking the opposition into looking the wrong way at the critical moment. He decides to use his skills to help Kagami: to be the shadow to Kagami’s light. Thus the duo work together with the rest of the team in order to take on the Generation of Miracles and prove they can beat even the strongest players by working as a team rather than apart.

Kuroko’s Basketball works as a sports anime because it does what all the great sports series do, which is it makes you get behind the team at the heart of the story. You might not even be a fan of the sport, but you want to cheer them on. It is safe to say that it is a series that fits into the “plucky underdog” mould. There are several times in which Kuroko and his friends have to battle stronger teams, including all five other members of the Generation of Miracles, and you can probably figure out how it will end most of the time. However, despite knowing this, when you watch it you still want to back them and you are worried about how the characters will get on.

If the plot of the show has one obvious flaw it would be this: how come a player like Kuroko is totally unnoticeable to everyone, despite the fact he has blue hair? You can’t help but feel that this would make him stick out the most on court. Another problem is the use of some of the language. Aomine, who has dark skin, at one point called “ganguro” by another of the main characters, Satsuki Momoi, a girl who was manager of the Generation of Miracles team and of Aomine’s team now, as well as being in love with Kuroko. “Ganguro” means “black face”, so this could be seen as racist. It should also be mentioned that in Japan, “ganguro” is also the name of a form of fashion which involves girls getting big fake tans and white make-up around the eyes and mouth (think of an Oompa Loompa minstrel).

When the series was on, one of things that came out of it was a large amount of fan-works, or “dojinshi” in Japan, much of it being gay yaoi fiction. While many anime are turned into such works, Kuroko’s Basketball was one of the first sports anime to be subject to this in a big way, and thus came from it all the other similar works and the fans that followed them.

However, the series was also the victim of bizarre attacks. After the anime version of the series began airing, several events where Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi were being sold, or were in some way connected to author Tadatoshi Fujimaki, were targeted by a poisoner. Fujimaki received death threats, including some containing powdered and liquid substances. The university where Fujimaki studied was targeted. Several dojinshi events, including the largest of them all, Comiket, barred Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi for fear of being targeted. Several shops stopped stocking Kuroko’s Basketball merchandise, worrying the too would be attacked. In December 2013 the perpetrator, 36-year-old man Hirofumi Watanabe, was arrested. He admitted to the crime, saying he did it out of jealously, and was given four-and-a-half years in prison. Now series stock is being sold again, and even a special Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi event was organised.

Kuroko’s Basketball might be remembered for harassment surrounded it, but it should be remembered for being a fun entertaining series whose fan base withstood all kinds of pressure.

Kuroko’s Basketball is streamed on Crunchyroll.