Close this search box.

The First Slam Dunk: Movie Review

Takehiko Inoue’s The First Slam Dunk is a sports movie done right, with one of the best climaxes of the year that’s guaranteed to leave you fist-pumping the air.

Being a fan of any sport is all about the individual moments. That moment when your favourite player does something sensational, that moment when your team makes a last-minute comeback – it’s times like these that make all kinds of sports so exciting to watch and partake in. The First Slam Dunk gets that, it puts all of its focus on ensuring the individual moments that take place during a single basketball match are as adrenaline-pumping and emotionally engaging as humanly possible, and it pulls it off with ease. You may walk in knowing absolutely nothing about basketball aside from Michael Jordan’s name, but by the time you walk out, you’ll be loudly cheering and talking about previously alien concepts like “free throws” and “double dribbles”. 

An adaptation of Slam Dunk, the seventh best-selling manga series of all time, The First Slam Dunk has the admittedly difficult task of trying to figure out how best to adapt a series that clocks in at 31 volumes into a 2-hour feature film. The approach they take is an incredibly interesting one, choosing to only focus on a single match and have that serve as the film’s framing device. As the match progresses, we’re shown various scenes from the different team member’s pasts, helping us gain a better understanding of who they are, why they play basketball and exactly what’s required of them in order to beat their current opponents, the seemingly unstoppable Sannoh High School.  

The plucky underdogs that we follow are the representatives of Shohoku High School. The First Slam Dunk primarily focuses on Ryota Miyagi (Shugo Nakamura), the team’s point guard, who constantly finds himself in the shadow of his deceased older brother, who was regarded as a prodigy basketballer. His story’s a painfully sad one, all about dealing with grief and expectations. Nobody knew how good Miyagi’s brother would end up being, but it’s that belief that he would have been one of the best that fuels the bitter disappointment they feel towards the younger sibling. It helps make Ryota an incredibly easy character to root for, which, in a sports movie where the main emotion it wants you to feel is pure excitement, is an absolutely amazing thing.

a character with a basketball in The First Slam Dunk
The First Slam Dunk (Anime Ltd. & Toei Animation)

As for the rest of his team, there’s a wide variety of personalities and backstories for the viewer to engage with. The flashbacks establishing them are generally nicely paced and well-told, but they definitely range in effectiveness. Obviously, not every character is going to have this massive traumatic incident that inspired them to play basketball, but it does mean that some characters inevitably feel slightly less fleshed out than others. Then, on top of that, there’s the issue of Hanamichi Sakuragi (Subaru Kimura), a delinquent who’s brand new to playing basketball and the original main character of the manga.

From my limited understanding of the source material, Ryota Miyagi wasn’t too much of a focus of the original story, meaning that the decision for this movie to thrust him into the spotlight was a pleasantly surprising one to long-term fans. With that being said though, the way the actual match plays out, which I assume is mostly ripped from the pages of the manga, it’s blatantly obvious that Sakuragi was intended to be the central focus, which makes it all the weirder to those going into the movie not having consumed the original work that we don’t get too much of a deep dive into his backstory compared to others. We get a delightful montage near the end showing us how he got into the sport, but aside from that, we don’t get too much of an exploration into his past, which is relatively frustrating given his importance to the central match.

Outside of the characters though, where The First Slam Dunk shines the most is in its animation. The film blends CG animation with the more conventional, 2D hand-drawn style that you see in most anime, which honestly, I thought was a disaster waiting to happen. From the first second that I saw a CGI face, I had flashbacks to recent 3D anime disasters like Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch (2020), but the end result is surprisingly sensational. The CGI is used almost exclusively for the basketball scenes, and it allows for the action to look fluid and stylised, with every movement feeling dynamic but also being easy for the audience to follow. By the climax, The First Slam Dunk ends up throwing so many stellar animation tricks at you that it’s almost overwhelming, but it helps contribute to one of the best endings in any film this year, without a shadow of a doubt.

When The First Slam Dunk ended, I heard someone behind me in the cinema quietly let out an excited “yes”. That’s what this film does to people. It’s a 2-hour masterclass in getting you emotionally invested in a sports match and then delivering an absolutely phenomenal conclusion that leaves you satisfied beyond belief. It doesn’t matter how much you know about basketball or whether or not you’re familiar with Slam Dunk, you should check out this film no matter what. I promise that by the end, you’ll be cheering too.

The First Slam Dunk is now available to watch in cinemas in the UK & Ireland.

The First Slam Dunk: Trailer (All the Anime)
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.