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branchandroot: butterfly on a desk with a world in a bottle (butterfly glass desk)
[personal profile] branchandroot
One of the things that fascinates me about Kuroko no Basuke is the way it messes with its own genre.

Shounen sports manga or anime generally center around an underdog or unknown team who, by determination and effort, by the talents of a few older players and the heretofore unrevealed talents of one or two younger players, struggle through the gauntlet of local tournaments to play at the national tournament for their age group. It's a genre that focuses on the value of teamwork and grit and entices the audience with the figure of the often unprepossessing and average young hero who discovers his special talent and value thanks to entering this sport. He even finds himself supplied with a new set of intense personal relationships, usually in the person of his rival(s) but sometimes also in his team. For a relatively recent and very well executed, example of the genre, I recommend Eyeshield 21 (at least up until the end of Nationals, at which point the way the authors play with cliche dives over the shark into disturbing national stereotypes).

The thing is, the focus is on the hero's growth. He starts out inexperienced or undisciplined and has to strengthen himself to meet every new level as the team claws its way up the charts. This is where the plot tension comes from. The team almost invariably suffers a loss somewhere in the first half of the story, one that sets them back but does not completely wash them out, and which spurs them to new heights of determination and growth. In the end, the team, and the hero, realize their true strength and overcome.

Kuroko no Basuke starts where most series end.

KnB has a classic hero figure: Kagami Taiga. He has vast potential, but must struggle to develop it enough to win against the rivals he finds at the tournaments. But he's only a co-hero. The other hero, and the one the series is actually named for, is a very different figure. Kuroko was a member of the "Generation of Miracles", the regulars of Teikou, the team who has already clawed their way up the charts to win Nationals three times in a row. Before the series even opens, he has already been part of what is normally either a classic hero team at the end of the story, or else a classic rival team, the one with already established power which must be overcome. And here he is established as a hero character.

But not a classic hero character, which interests me greatly.

The classic hero from Teikou was Aomine, and a significant part of the series is trying to answer the question: what happens after the hero makes it? In Aomine's case, he advanced so far that he has no rivals any more. Without rivals, with only opponents who lose the will to fight as soon as he starts to push himself, basketball has no meaning for him any more. Indeed, because Teikou was composed of players who all reached that pinnacle of skill, they're barely a team at all any more. None of them practice or value teamwork. None of them have significant rivals or the close relationships that being rivals entails. The answer seems to be that the classic hero team will destroy itself, if it keeps progressing.

The only one who's different is Kuroko. His talent was not (or perhaps was not let to be) in direct scoring; he was a pass specialist, a supporter. He does value teamwork, and the trust of his teammates, and his game was nearly broken by losing those things. At the start of the series, he has great ambition and determination: he wants to see his former teammates defeated. He wants them to have rivals again; to require teamwork and learn its value; to, in the final analysis, value him and the way he plays.

And yet, that isn't the whole story.

Just as Kuroko's new team, Seirin, relies on his experience, and Kagami especially relies on Kuroko's cool head, they also push Kuroko to be more than he was. Reflected in Kuroko, we see how Teikou limited its players by focusing on individual talents so tightly. Kuroko needs to move beyond those skills he was groomed for, to play more directly, to make his game something that it didn't used to be. Just as his ex-teammates need to learn how to play as part of a unit, Kuroko needs to learn to play as an individual. His initial ambition to show his old team the value of teamwork was too narrow, and it takes his new team and new partner to show him that. It's a wonderfully subtle reinforcement of what real teamwork and inter-reliance involve by focusing on the need for individual development. Contemplate that balance, for a moment.

Balance, I think, is the hallmark of this story.

So here we have three heroes running parallel, Kagami developing in the classic mode, Aomine developing in a post-classic mode, and Kuroko in what I can only call reverse-post-classic mode. The complexity of it delights my heart, and that doesn't even take into account the individual journeys of the other Teikou members as they spread out into new teams, or the other Seirin members as they assimilate Kagami and Kuroko without being overwhelmed by them.

"Kuroko's Basketball" is the game a hero who already developed his special talent and value, only to find it insufficient; it returns to and relies for its growth on the skills that only develop from determination in the absence of special talent. That's a twist I find fascinating.
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