Real Volume 13

Real Volume 13
Written and Drawn by Takehiko Inoue
Published by Viz Media

I don't know if there are many cartoonists who can capture the energy and emotion of live sports events but book after book Takehiko Inoue places you right in the middle of physically intense action. In Slam Dunk and Real, his two basketball manga series, Inoue expresses grace, speed, power, victory and defeat as real and authentically as any art can ever do. And in Real, it's so much more amazing because he's generating that excitement for wheelchair basketball. Real Volume 13 shifts its focus from basketball to wrestling and Inoue doesn’t miss capturing any of the raw power or thrilling action with the change of venues. The basketball court gives way to the wrestling ring and Inoue makes the ring the center of a drama that’s physically and emotionally honest and brutal.

The amazing thing throughout this series to watch Inoue do is create high paced and rapid energy with static drawings. His drawings don't actually move but there is so much quick and precise movement on an Inoue page that you forget these are just pen and ink drawings. It's exhilarating to watch the wresting in this volume, to see the majesty and power of a well executed body slam or of the league champion's signature and forceful move, Go To Hell. Inoue has always been able to place you right in the middle of the action of a basketball game and here he puts you right inside the wrestling ring; you've practically got the referee's unique viewpoint of two powerhouse wrestlers going at it. One may be the hero and one may be the heel- heck it all may be just some elaborate act- but Inoue gives these athletic figures a majestic grace of warriors in the middle of a rugged battle. Through wrestling (and basketball in other volumes of this series,) his characters find a purpose and a peace in combat that doesn't exist for them in their real lives.

For such a rough and tumble sport like wrestling, Inoue's figures need to have real weight and presence. This volume focuses on Shiratori, a one time professional wrestler who has lost the use of his legs. He craves the wrestling ring so much that he convinces his old league, The MWP Pro Wrestling league, to put him on a tag-team ticket against his one time partner and now rival Matsuzaka. Before his accident, Shiratori was the villain of the league while Matsuzaka was its bright, shining star. Matsuzaka has only continued to rise in power and popularity while Shiratori spends his days in rehab, trying to get some strength back in his legs. Like any good professional wrestling, you believe these characters are delivering massive blows against one another when they fight. Whether it's all real or an act, wrestling only works when you get so lost into it that you believe the story that they're telling. As with the best wrestling, Inoue's artwork is so forceful and bone shattering that you root for and yell at these characters.

In Real, Inoue always uses the action to reveal character. The series has been about disabled people and basketball but in this latest volume, Inoue's use of wrestling reveals so much about Shiratori, a supporting character whose purpose has been questionable up to now. Going through rehab with one of Real's trio of leading characters Takahashi, Shiratori has been part foil, part role model, part mirror and part heel in Takahashi's story. Longing for one last bout in the ring, Shiratori gets to experience the spotlight. It's everything he has wanted, or so we thought. Cut in throughout the breakneck tag-team match, Inoue tells us Shiratori's story from young hero to professional heel. Without full use of his legs, it's easy to see Shiratori's story as pride and self centeredness but Inoue gives us a story of redemption and friendship.

While giving a supporting character the limelight for a volume, Inoue uses that to grow Takahashi's story. Here is a boy, a high school student, who was the star of the school's basketball team until an accident paralyzed his legs. For the reader, he's been the most frustrating character because he has let his disability cripple him emotionally even more than it has physically. He basically shut down his life because the thinks he's less of a human being than he was before. In Takahashi, Inoue shows us the weaknesses of the human spirit, more wrapped up in what we cannot do than in what we can be. Takahashi's self-pitying and Shiratori's self-centeredness are two possible reactions to the injuries that both men have suffered.

Of course, there are always other options. Shiratori entered the wrestling ring to prove to himself that he was still the man he thought he was while Takahashi sat in the seats, watching his friend put himself and every other disabled person on display, ready for the world to laugh at them. The wrestling becomes an act of discovery for both of them. Inoue has been using basketball to show people growing beyond what may seem like obvious limitations and now he uses wrestling that way. That's what Real has always been about. Everyone has real and physical limitations that they are dealing with everyday, some more extreme than others. It's never about what you don't or can't do with those limitations but about what you can do wtih them. Inoue's story is about excelling with and in spite of the the roadblocks in your life.

The wrestling leads us to see so much more about Shiratori. Inoue shows us so much more about the man, his life and troubles. He's so much more than a wrestler or a cripple and that's what he realizes in the ring. Through that, Takahashi sees a man who is a lot like him, proud and injured, who is able to be the man Takahashi wants to be even with physical roadblocks in his way. For a basketball story that takes a diversion into wrestling, Real Volume 13 leaves you breathless as you get so caught up in the wrestling match that is all about building up the characters more than any incredible physical feats, even though there are a number of those in this book as well.