Aikawa Kazuhiko was the star captain of Tendouji, one of the greatest high school basketball teams in Japan. In a sudden move, he transferred to Mizuho High School, which had a team that was riddled with problems: Fujiwara Takumi (no relation to the one of Initial D fame), one of the players, had recently assaulted their coach in a heated argument, causing the boys' basketball team to be suspended for a year, dashing their hopes of taking part in the Inter-High championship. What was the reason for Aikawa's decision? How will this change the Mizuho basketball teams? Will they be able to challenge for the Inter-High once again?
To the typical Japanese high school basketball club, the Inter-High represents the pinnacle of school basketball. It is where teams from high schools all over Japan gather to compete, and to win would be the closest anyone could get to stardom, save for playing in the NBA. It's no wonder that an anime based on the sport would involve a team's aspiration for victory in the Inter-High. The last big title that touched on this subject was Slam Dunk, and comparisons between these two titles is not only inevitable, but necessary. Like Slam Dunk, Dear Boys is based on a rather long manga series, which has been adapted to the anime medium, but in this case the focus is on the early part of the story, where we are first introduced to the Mizuho team.
Unlike Slam Dunk's protagonist Hanamichi, Kazuhiko isn't a bumbling self-proclaimed genius, but is actually the best and most experienced player in the team. The club that he joins has a championship-worthy girls' team, but due to the suspension, the boys team is left with only 4 members and they are unable to take part in any games whatsoever. Takumi, the point guard, and the other key member of the team, is saddled with a history of various problems that are dealt with as the story goes on. Most of the characters are varied to start off with (if not rather stereotypical), and in a way represent the usual suspects in any high school basketball team.
Unfortunately, as the anime progresses it becomes evident that most of its potential remains unused, and its weaknesses show in the very places that should be its strengths. The first thing that strikes you in the opening sequence (aside from the wannabe-rap) is the sloppy way in which the faces are drawn and the distinctly dull color palette, as if paying homage to Henry Ford's quote about the Model T - "You can have any color, as long as it's black" (or bland, in this case). Face and body profiles can change significantly from scene to scene, at times dropping to mediocre levels of quality. This remains a problem throughout the length of the series, and for a title in this modern age of big-budget titles and vast international markets, it's a shame.
And speaking of the modern age, Dear Boys is yet another anime that incorporates CG in its scenes, mostly for rendering the basketball and the hoop. If that sounds strange to you, then you're not alone; Its animation isn't top-notch in the first place, but when someone shoots, suddenly we a silky-smooth shot of a basketball falling neatly into the hoop without hitting the rim. Every time. Besides sending statistical probability to its room with no dinner, it's also rather jarring - and the CG doesn't look exceptionally good anyway.
One other thing that people might expect from a sports-action title is, well, action. Here, the basketball games are paced well, and they don't last longer than 2 episodes (as compared to Slam Dunk, which could stretch the last 5 minutes of a game across one whole episode, and regularly did so). However, it fails to show any tactical depth to any of the plays, and you don't get the feeling that people are doing anything other than trying to get the ball into the hoop real fast, period. Slam Dunk had little strategic element in its games, but only because it never intended to, as the focus was mainly on the antics of its protagonist. On the other hand, Dear Boys tries to toss basketball jargon, formations and plays at you, but there's not much difference when you see them in action. This worked rather well in the manga because there was room to explain the strategy, but much was lost in the transition to the anime medium.
For the serious basketball fan or player, there's even less to get excited about. If you've played basketball before, you'll notice that players don't act the way they should in real life - there are glaringly obvious openings and various fallacies (both in individual action and team strategy) that can almost be spotted by casual fans too. Normally I wouldn't be so eager to put an action title under the microscope like this, but when the show assumes that its viewers know terms like "1-2-2 formation", "zone" and "box-out", the viewers in turn expect their level of familiarity with the game to be put to good use. And since there's no comedy to keep people laughing, a bored viewer can get really nitpicky.
I'd like to say good things about this title, since basketball is once of my favorite games, but all Dear Boys can do is foul out. As the source material was a long-running manga series, the story and plot development remain interesting, but it's not enough to keep you hanging on to the hoop all the way, unless you're a big fan of the manga or have some overpowering reason to watch all of it (like writing the review, for example). You'd be better off watching Slam Dunk - even with its share of problems and very, very annoying pacing, it's fun and more suitable for people with little or no experience with basketball.
As for me, I've made it to the end. Can I have that MVP now?
Poor production quality and assumed tactical depth where there is none are big letdowns. People not knowledgeable about basketball will not find this interesting enough, and those who are will stumble upon a myriad of errors. Not recommended, even (or rather, especially) for die-hard basketball fans. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: Mainly for the basketball fan, as there is nothing appealing about tossing a CG ball into a CG hoop for everyone else.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease Fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Dear Boys © 2003 TV Tokyo / Avex Trax / OB Planning
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