The First Slam Dunk review: Global smash hit is a masterful sports drama

Takehiko Inoue breathes new life into his game-changing sports drama

The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)
The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)
  • 🎞️ When is The First Slam Dunk in cinemas: 30 August, 2023

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 5/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? Shugo Nakamura, Jun Kasama, Shin'ichiro Kamio, Subaru Kimura, Kenta Miyake

  • 👍 What we liked: The animation is flawless, the intensity of the plot, and the way original manga creator Takehiko Inoue skillfully approaches the narrative to breathe new life into it. 

  • 👎 What we didn't: While it adds to our understanding of the basketball team, the film's many flashbacks can detract from the most entertaining part of the story.

  • 📖 What's it about? Ryota Miyagi has always loved basketball thanks to his brother's passion for the sport, and he reflects on his life as he and the Shohoku basketball team face their toughest opponents yet at the National Championships.

In the 1990s Takehiko Inoue changed the face of sports manga with Slam Dunk, a story centred on high school basketball players that was inspired by his own love of the sport, that was released as a hugely popular weekly comic from 1990-1996.

It was then adapted into an anime TV series which aired from 1993-1996, four TV movies and video games followed, and it remains one of the best-selling manga series of all time. Now, decades later, Inoue is returning to the franchise with the feature-length film The First Slam Dunk.

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Ironically, The First Slam Dunk — which is already a global smash hit ahead of its UK release — takes viewers through the intense final match from his iconic work, in which the Shohoku basketball team face the unbeatable Sannoh at the National High School Championships.

Only this time the story is told through the eyes of point guard Ryota Miyagi (Shugo Nakamura), rather than red-headed amateur Hanamichi Sakuragi (Subaru Kimura).

The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)
The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)

Ryota, Sakuragi, and their fellow players Rukawa, Mitsui and Akagi may be the underdogs, but they will stop at nothing to win and the match prompts Ryota to reflect on his life up until that point, including how his passion for basketball stemmed from his late brother Sota's desire to become the best player in Japan.

Inoue makes his directorial debut with The First Slam Dunk but it certainly doesn't feel that way as the film is a thrilling watch from start to finish thanks to its intense pace and compelling characters.

In one moment we will be enjoying a dramatic moment on court and in the next viewers will be drawn into emotional scenes from Ryota's childhood, which delve into his inner turmoil following his brother's death and his struggle to find his place in the world without him.

The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)
The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)

Inoue puts his storytelling skills from decades in the manga industry to good use, tactfully juxtaposing the two narratives to create a thought-provoking yet exhilarating sports drama to the big screen.

It works so well that by the end audiences will be on the edge of their seats as they witness the match count down to its last few seconds.

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The series creator also clearly has a deep understanding of these characters and what makes them tick, and this can be felt through how much thought has been put into each scene of the film to bring each of them to life. Each character is vibrant on and off court, and they also all get given their moment to shine.

The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)
The First Slam Dunk (Toei Animation)

For those new to the Slam Dunk franchise don't feel daunted by the prospect of catching up on the manga or the '90s anime series before the movie: The First Slam Dunk stands well enough on its own.

It does so by explaining the lead up to the match and its characters' backstories so that it will be enjoyable for new and old viewers alike without making them feel alienated.

The First Slam Dunk is a masterful sports drama, let alone a fantastic anime film, and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

The First Slam Dunk will be released in cinemas and IMAX on Wednesday, 30 August.

Watch the trailer for The First Slam Dunk: