193rd DUNK: Infringement?! Slam Courtroom!!

Sunday, September 23, 2018 at 10:37 pm Comments Off on 193rd DUNK: Infringement?! Slam Courtroom!!

As part of research and documentation for Scans & Bits, I bought what could be scientifically described as a shit-ton of Comic Bom Bom. I definitely had to document Dr. Mario-kun, I wanted to get the full run of Ganbare Goemon, and I was curious about all those Ninja Turtles manga. But these 700+ page magazines are always full of funky curiosities, be it bizarre toy phenomena of the early 90s, coverage of video games long forgotten, or just its strange bevy of manga I’d otherwise never heard of.

The series that really got me guffawing with shock and awe in every instalment I saw was Katsuyuki Toda’s DANDAN Dunk! (DANDANだんく!), a sports manga following the pint-sized Makishima Dunk (or Danku, but where’s the fun in that) who makes up for his lack of height with some bomb-ass basketball skills. What sets it apart from other dry sports dramas is its joyous disregard for any attachment to reality – every episode I’ve seen goes some real crazy places!
What begins as simple matches of street basketball quickly escalates to challenges against strangely-shaped caricatures who are least ten thousand times bigger than him, in far-out and outlandish arenas. For instance, a visit to America has Dunk playing against a gang of inner-city b-ballers, one of whom is later kidnapped by a shotgun-toting police officer in an episode literally titled “FUCK the BADPOLICE!!”.

I wasn’t joking. And after friend-for-life M.B. is rescued, it then immediately begins a story where the “Silverman” alien is revealed to have been trained in the art of b-ball by the government, and only Dunk is good enough to challenge him!

It also tests the boundaries of fair-use parody in the way Japanese media of the mid-90s knows best. Japanese cartoon icons are caricatured such as the brothers of Osomatsu-kun, and one episode has Dunk going to space and challenging Domon and Domomi (parodies of Doraemon) aboard the Bas-Star (a skull-shaped Death Star complete with TIE Fighters), who abduct a NASA space shuttle and transform it into the dribbling machine Basket-Robo.

Not even western pop culture is spared; the July 1996 episode is one long parody of Disney properties, corrupting their Electrical Parade into the “Ectoplasm Parade”, encountering the mascots “Big Mouse” and “Naruhodo the Duck”, the malevolent cook and woeful pun “Heater Pan”, and seven giants guarding Cinderella castle… which is a giant living princess-shaped castle. When the whole place falls apart Dunk is rescued by the sudden appearance of Michael Jordan.

Er, yes! The series is also notable for featuring actual-factual stars of basketball. Michael Jordan appears to be a somewhat recurring character, referred to only as “M.J.”, but come on, he’s got his name and his number on his vest! The first appearance I’ve seen of him depicts him as a mysterious rival (hiding his identity with an unfortunate pointed hood) testing Dunk’s skills before being brought to his senses…

… and turning into a naked giant bursting out of a cliffside. It’s more than a little surreal.

Alongside pastiches of Lupin III and Jigen as terrorists threatening to blow up the stadium, the August 1996 episode has Dunk challenging the Dream Team III at the Summer Olympics, complete with caricatures of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeemand Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone and John Stockton.

(the title page even depicts Michael Jordan lighting a torch off Izzy’s head!)

And then there’s references out of left-field that just had me cackling in absolute bewilderment, like the living bio-mechanical fortress that’s styled after the cover art of In the Court of the Crimson King.

This is a basketball manga, I remind you.

I’m sure there’s even more outrageous shenanigans in the series’ four year run, this is just the nonsense I’ve seen in the issues I’ve collected.
Is it an insult to the sport? Quite possibly. Does it give me a greater respect for basketball? As sad as it is to admit, yes! Where Space Jam and Barkley’s Shut Up and Jam Gaiden failed (despite their long list of merits), it’s DANDAN Dunk! that got me thinking, y’know, maybe I would attend a basketball game if a ticket somehow found its way into my possession. To be fair, basketball and ice hockey were already sports I’d be willing to watch without reservations; you’d only get me to watch football if the players were allowed to bring hammers onto the pitch.

I’m hardly an authority on the matter, but sports manga has a weird rap in English-speaking circles, and it’s a hard sell to get people invested in it compared to any other genre. Martial arts and boxing manga like Hajime no Ippo or Baki the Grappler get some groundswell in certain circles, though anime fans are already acclimatised to battle stories as it is; trying to pitch them baseball is just pushing it. Some folks praise Prince of Tennis for its ball-centric theatrics, and the entire population of Latin America is gonzo for Captain Tsubasa, but those are just single titles out of decade-spanning genres of sports manga.

I’m sure if you gave me a few hours I could bullshit some opinions on what makes sports manga a unique and interesting beast, yet tough to pitch to an international audience… but I’d argue none of that applies to DANDAN Dunk!. It might as well be an off-the-wall kids’ adventure series where basketball is the universal problem solver. The hero can’t Hokuto Shinken the shit out of everything, he’s a two-foot tall 10 year old who’s only talented at basketball! Fortunately, wherever he finds himself the conflict is always a basketball match or can be resolved through elite basketball skills, be it challenging a corrupt police system or fighting his way out of a nightmare hellscape. I imagine the same reasoning applies to the semi-ironic fandom for Yu-Gi-Oh, but it doesn’t have bizarre celebrity appearances that are 100% unauthorised, as far as I’m aware anyway.

The entire series was rereleased a few years ago on Amazon Kindle, and can also be bought as DRM-free PDFs on J-Comi, or even read for free! As far as I can tell, the only changes made to the modern reprint are to obfuscate the names of real basketball stars, such as renaming Olajuwon to “Ngajuwon” and referring to the Dream Team III as the “DF III” instead. It’s a 25 year old kids’ manga about basketball, it’s no surprise I’ve never seen any English coverage of it online. It’s pretty easy to follow just on pictures and katakana alone, but I confess I’d be thrilled to see translators take an interest in it. It’s a funky little curiosity!

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