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The First Slam Dunk - Everything You Need To Know

The combination of anime and sports has often produced some of the more memorable and noteworthy projects. For instance, the volleyball-centered "Haikyuu!!" has won over many fans with a redemption-focused story on an underdog team. New entries, like "Blue Lock," aim to change the game by deconstructing the concept of a star player in a dystopian setting that feels more like "The Hunger Games." But before 'Haikyuu!!" and "Blue Lock," one basketball-inspired manga arguably set the bar on sports anime. In 1990, author Takehiko Inoue debuted his manga "Slam Dunk," a work that follows the grind of a Japanese high school basketball team.

An anime series soon followed, increasing the series' immense popularity and influence with fans. Per CNN, "Slam Dunk" is credited as making the sport of basketball beloved by a generation of fans and having Inoue recognized by the Japanese Basketball Association. Inoue could have easily sat back on the laurels of "Slam Dunk" alone. Instead, the creator continued to push his craft to new heights with other acclaimed manga such as the Musashi Miyamoto-led "Vagabond," and "Real," another heartfelt basketball story that focuses on wheelchair-bound athletes. Still, it looks like Inoue is returning this year to his breakthrough series through an upcoming film. Titled, "The First Slam Dunk," the movie is set to premiere this year. So lace up those sneakers as we delve into everything we know so far about "The First Slam Dunk."

When will The First Slam Dunk be released?

Although the anime series ended in 1996, "Slam Dunk" fans have still had much to celebrate in recent years. In 2018, the original manga got republished with gorgeous new cover artwork from creator Takehiko Inoue (via Crunchyroll). The reprint arrived roughly on time for the series' 30th anniversary, which took place in 2020. But the following year, fans got another exciting reason to celebrate "Slam Dunk." On Twitter, Inoue announced that a new "Slam Dunk" movie was in production. His tweet only contained an animated GIF of the "Slam Dunk" title sketched in pencil. But it was more than enough to raise the hype.

Details on the project remained scarce until July 2022 when we finally got a title and planned release date. "The First Slam Dunk" had a limited release in Japan on December 3, 2022, and the eagerly anticipated film got a wider release a week later, coming to more cineplexes across the country on December 10. It has dropped in neighboring countries like South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China since then, and the film got its first European release in May 2023, hitting movie theaters in Italy. Further releases in Spain, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Malta are confirmed for summer 2023.

But when is it coming to the United States? Well, in May 2023, it was reported that GKIDS had acquired the North American distribution rights and that the film would arrive in summer 2023. Soon after that, it was revealed that the North American premiere would take place at the 2023 Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The film will be shown in the Main Events Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center at noon on July 3. If you can't make the expo, fear not — the film is set for a theatrical run in the U.S. and Canada, and fans will be able to choose between a dub and a subtitled version. Per the AMC website, "The First Slam Dunk" will begin its run on July 28.

What is the plot of The First Slam Dunk?

The "Slam Dunk" series centers on a redheaded high schooler named Hanamichi Sakuragi, who is more of a delinquent than your typical jock. He begins his first year at Shohoku High, where his plans change once he meets a girl named Haruko Akagi, who has a passion for basketball. Haruko recognizes Sakuragi's athletic ability, and despite his personal aversion to basketball, he winds up joining the school's team. "Slam Dunk" sees Sakuragi and his teammates gel as a formidable unit and grow as players.

Yet, "Slam Dunk" is more than a simple journey about a ragtag basketball team. Through comedy, drama, and thrilling on-court action, "Slam Dunk" tells the type of relatable bonding tale only sports stories could deliver. During an interview with Anime News Network, Takehiko Inoue said, "Well, while 'Slam Dunk' is technically about basketball, I don't think it's essentially a basketball story. It could have been about soccer just as easily. Really, I just wanted to convey the feeling one gets from playing sports in general, and hopefully, anybody can relate to that."

"The First Slam Dunk" focuses on the latter part of Inoue's manga, adapting the thrilling match between Shohoku High and their rivals Sannoh Industry. This move "makes sense from a narrative point of view," writes Geek Culture. "Naturally, that means first-timers are thrown right into the deep, but 'The First Slam Dunk' thankfully provides sufficient context for them to catch up and develop a basic understanding of the overarching plot."

Perhaps the biggest change is that Hanamichi Sakuragi isn't the main protagonist in "The First Slam Dunk." Instead, the story is told more through the eyes of his teammate Ryota Miyagi, which is something that Inoue has wanted to do for a long time. "If I were to make 'Slam Dunk' again, I would write it from another character's perspective," he told The Korea Times. "I have always wanted to add more of a narrative to Ryota's character."

Who is starring in The First Slam Dunk?

In November 2022, Toei Animation revealed who would be voicing the members of the Shohoku High School basketball team (via Anime News Network). According to the company, Ryota Miyagi will be voiced by Shugo Nakamura, Hisashi Mitsui will be played by Jun Kasama, and Kaede Rukawa will be performed by Shin'ichirō Kamio. Takenori Akagi will be voiced by Kenta Miyake, and as for the manga's main character Hanamichi Sakuragi, he'll be played by Subaru Kimura. The Leipzig-born, German-Japanese actor was born in the same year that "Slam Dunk" was first released, as he noted in an interview on the official website of "The First Slam Dunk."

"At that time, I actually hadn't even read it, and I wasn't in the real-time generation, so I didn't watch it when I was a child," he said. "After I became an adult, I read the manga and watched the TV anime series on stream, and I fell in love with it all at once." Kimura went on to reveal that he felt an intense pressure after he won the role, and how he turned to Takehiko Inoue for advice. "He told me a lot about how he felt at the time, his thoughts on making the movie from scratch, and why he chose me," he said. "So I was able to take on the challenge by absorbing the will and thoughts of Director Inoue with my whole body."

Who is directing The First Slam Dunk?

"The First Slam Dunk" definitely has the appropriate title for at least a few reasons. Besides its debut in 3DCG animation, it will also serve as the directorial debut for series creator Takehiko Inoue. Via the official movie site, Inoue is the director, writer, and character designer for "The First Slam Dunk." News of Inoue's significant involvement with the project should quell some fan concerns over the quality of the animation in "The First Slam Dunk." Inoue is a manga artist celebrated for his care and exceptional attention to detail in his work.

Given how much the "Slam Dunk" series has meant to the creator, it also makes sense to see him take the helm for the film. When drawing the artwork for "Slam Dunk," Inoue believed that fans could see his enjoyment in combining his love for manga and basketball. He told CNN: "I think about what the readers would see first when they open the next page: What would jump into his or her eyes first?"

The love should translate into the film with Inoue leading. But to ensure everything is done right, he's receiving some seasoned help from the studio Dandelion Animation. Dandelion has some production work for films such as "Lupin III The First" and "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" (via Anime News Network). They've even got some experience doing 3DCGI on another sports anime because of their work on "Haikyuu!!"

While existing fans will be familiar with the iconic match that the film will focus on (Shohoku High against Sannoh Industry), Inoue has approached it from a new perspective. "There are viewpoints that I couldn't see 30 years ago, and there are viewpoints that existed during the serialization but couldn't be drawn at that time," he explained in a blog post.

Is there a trailer for The First Slam Dunk?

In November 2022, Toei Animation released a teaser trailer that might be brief but already reveals so much. It opens with two kids playing basketball on an outside court before cutting to Haruko Akagi sitting on the beach, deep in thought. It then quickly cuts to the star members of the Shohoku High School basketball team in the middle of the crucial game. The teaser shows off characters such as Hanamichi Sakuragi, Kaede Rukawa, and Takenori Akagi, who fans should quickly recognize even though they appear in 3DCG animation.

This is the first time the series has leaped to 3DCG animation, as the classic series and previous anime films stuck to traditional hand-drawn animation. If anything, the new look aims to blend its iconic style with 3DCG, much like the recent "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Movie." And that should serve as little surprise, seeing as Toei is involved in both projects. Sakuragi and his teammates are bursting with detail, especially with their faces.

How did The First Slam Dunk do at the Japanese box office?

"The First Slam Dunk" dropped in Japanese cineplexes on December 3, 2022. According to Anime News Network, there were 40 IMAX screenings across the country, as well as 34 Dolby Atmos screenings. 847,000 tickets were sold, and the anime made a total of $9,647,895 in its opening weekend, per Box Office Mojo. "The First Slam Dunk" got a Dolby Cinema release on December 10, bringing the movie to a wider audience. In the month following its wide release, the film raked in almost $73 million across Japan.

By the end of May 2023, "The First Slam Dunk" had surpassed Makoto Shinkai's smash hit "Weathering With You" in terms of lifetime gross, a huge achievement for the basketball franchise. At the time of this writing, it has made 14.33 billion yen (about $102 million) at the box office, making it the ninth-highest earning anime film in Japan's history and the 15th-highest earning film in the country overall. But what about international releases?

While "The First Slam Dunk" is yet to drop in the United States, it has been released in some Asian and European territories. The film has been particularly popular in South Korea, where it has made almost $37 million, and basketball-loving China, where it broke box office records. The film made $55.2 million in its first four days, which is "the biggest opening for any foreign animation title on IMAX and for any Japanese film on IMAX in China," confirmed Variety. According to Comscore, "The First Slam Dunk" has already made over $211 million worldwide before reaching a single North American theater.

How are critics and audiences responding to The First Slam Dunk?

At the time of this writing, "The First Slam Dunk" has an impressive score of 8.08 on My Anime List. For context, the critically acclaimed box office hit "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" has a rating of 8.15 on the popular anime website. Users have been raving about the film, praising everything from the storytelling to the animation. "The pacing of the film was really well done and I kept forgetting the time during this film," user WeAllShineOn said, while HaiKaneDesu commended the film for not catering exclusively to basketball fans. "Never read a single chapter of 'Slam Dunk' in my life and absolutely hate basketball because you can't double dribble," they wrote. "Yet this film was 100% worth watching."

Meanwhile, professional critics have been just as impressed with "The First Slam Dunk." The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English language newspaper, called the film a "5-star animated masterpiece" in a glowing review. "Featuring some of the most exhilarating basketball sequences in the history of cinema, 'The First Slam Dunk' is a dazzling tour de force both on and off the court," critic James Marsh writes. "Seamlessly integrating 3D computer graphics, motion capture and traditional hand-drawn animation styles, it is not only an enthralling sports movie but also a compelling character drama."

The film received an equally enthusiastic review on Geek Culture, where reviewer Si Jia said that it "lives up to the legacy that was left behind 26 years ago, showing that it still has the same brand of charm to enchant both old and new audiences." In Japan, the film is already earning awards – it scooped Animation of the Year at the 46th Japan Academy Film Prizes, and producer Toshiyuki Matsui was honored at the Eiga Engeki Bunka Kyōkai's (Film Theater Culture Association) 42nd Fujimoto Awards.

Who performs the music in The First Slam Dunk?

Opening and closing theme songs are a big deal in anime, and that goes for films as well as series. The opening song of "The First Slam Dunk" is performed by the Japanese rock band The Birthday. The music video for the song, entitled "Love Rockets," has been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube. The song suits the opening of the film perfectly, as one viewer noted in the comments section. "If you've seen this, you'll understand, but the tip-off opening from this song, in which the five opponents from Ryota, Mitchie, Gori, Rukawa, and Hanamichi appear, is so damn cool that it's worth paying for the movie alone," they wrote in a comment that has over 15 thousand likes.

"Love Rockets" isn't the only cool song used in "The First Slam Dunk." 10-FEET's "Dai Zero Kan" (the track used in the trailer) is the ending theme, and this high-tempo singalong closes out the film perfectly. It's also used at certain points during the film itself. "The way they use this song in the action sequences is fantastic and it hypes up the audience, like when Ryota breaks through the defense and Mitsui with his 4 point play," one YouTube user said. Takuma Mitamura, the lead vocalist and guitarist in 10-FEET, also composed some music for the film alongside Satoshi Takebe, who is best known for his work on the Studio Ghibli film "From Up on Poppy Hill."

Which animation studios worked on The First Slam Dunk?

"The First Slam Dunk" is a co-production between Toei Animation and Dandelion Animation Studio. Toei has been around since the 1950s and is behind many classic anime, such as "One Piece," "Sailor Moon," and the "Dragon Ball" series. Dandelion is a lot newer, having been founded in 2007. In recent years, Dandelion has been leaning into the 3D market, creating more anime digitally. The studio has used this technology to great effect on the likes of "Miss Hokusai," "The Empire of Corpses," and the volleyball series "Haikyu!!" to name a few. Toei recognized the value of this approach in 2018 when it entered into "a capital business partnership with Dandelion with a goal of strengthening digital anime production," Anime News Network reported.

The success of "The First Slam Dunk" means the partnership between Toei and Dandelion has already proven to be a fruitful one. This is despite a number of people being highly skeptical about the use of 3D animation in anime, including "Slam Dunk" creator Takehiko Inoue. When he first received word that Toei and Dandelion wanted to make a "Slam Dunk" movie using this technology, he wasn't keen. "Honestly, I was concerned about how subtly we can express the characters' movements," Inoue told The Korea Times. "But I realized that the production team learned how to play basketball so as to have a better understanding. Those efforts enabled us to create the nuances you see on the big screen."

Where can you catch up on the Slam Dunk series?

"The First Slam Dunk" could potentially make for a great introduction to the series. However, for those that want to get a head start on "Slam Dunk" before the movie debuts, there are quite a few ways to do so. Japanese fans may already have a leg up again in this regard, as Toei placed the anime series on its Animation Museum Channel on YouTube for free (via Geek Culture). It will be up until November 19, 2022. The catch, however, is unless you're viewing YouTube from Japan, there's no way to take advantage. Perhaps as a western date is revealed, Toei might do the same event for North America. In the meantime, the best way to watch all 101 episodes of the "Slam Dunk" anime is through Crunchyroll as they have the entire series.

Although it's possible to watch some series on the service for free with ads, Crunchyroll requires a subscription for "Slam Dunk." However, new subscribers can try a 14-day trial before paying. That's plenty of time to try out a good chunk of "Slam Dunk" or, for the more dedicated, binge the series before paying. For those looking to go back to where it all started for "Slam Dunk," there's the manga option. Viz has published all 31 volumes of the "Slam Dunk" manga. Surprisingly, they don't offer it digitally through their Shonen Jump App, but in print form, each book is currently priced at $9.99.