Kuroko no Basuke is the rising sports anime of today, after Prince of Tennis. It would be a mistake, however, to compare it with its predecessor because of the huge differences in their narratives. While TeniPuri used Echizen Ryoma as a starting point and later branched out to other players and teams, KuroBasu is practically anchored on Kuroko Tetsuya’s development as a character.
In other words, TeniPuri is the grand narrative of middle school tennis, whereas KuroBasu is all about its protagonist, which is the focus of this post.
Note: Spoilers for Kuroko no Basuke in this post.
Kuroko is an interesting character. His play mainly consists of dishing out assists to help his teammates score points because he lacks the abilities to do it himself. For a basketball fanatic, this would seem to be nothing out of the ordinary, but there’s a catch: Kuroko has very little presence and uses misdirection to take the opponent’s attention away from him.
Thanks to those, he became known as the phantom sixth man of Teikou, as the invisible regular who excels in passing. Like Slam Dunk’s Sakuragi Hanamichi, he takes on a supporting role, and refers to himself as a shadow that makes the “light” brighter.
The first half of the first season convinces us that the way Kuroko plays is special and promising. Essentially, the core principle of his basketball is teamwork, the most important thing in a team sport. This point is underscored upon the appearance of his former teammates, Kise Ryota and Midorima Shintaro. He and his light, Kagami Taiga, would work together and take down the first two of the Generation of Miracles.
Kise and Midorima both believe in Kuroko’s skills. At the beginning of the series, the former even invites Kuroko to play with him in Kaijou. The latter, meanwhile, has this to say: “He has no physical strengths. He cannot do anything by himself. Despite that, he wore the same uniform as the rest of us at Teikou, and led the team to victory.”
As such, they think that going to Seirin is a waste of Kuroko’s talent because it is a team that could not fully utilize him. But Seirin wins anyway, so they don’t say anything more after that.
Kuroko’s character development would begin upon the introduction of his former light Aomine Daiki, the ace of the Generation of Miracles. Unlike the other two, Aomine defeats Seirin lopsidedly and denies the very way that Kuroko plays basketball. I find this to be very similar to the “ninja way” referred to in Naruto.
Aomine tells Kuroko: “Akashi is right. Your basketball will never win.” Those words are like dagger, but the more important thing is what he has said before that: “You haven’t changed at all since middle school. You haven’t improved.”
Basically, it is inevitable that Kuroko will eventually lose if he keeps playing on his current level, while everyone else keeps on improving. The Touou vs Seirin match only proves that teamwork can only go so far against an overwhelmingly talented opponent. This actually reminds me of Momoshiro and Echizen’s doubles match in TeniPuri. The opponents are obviously more skilled and experienced in doubles than both of them, but they still win in the end because they are simply stronger as individuals.
But going back to KuroBasu, Aomine’s words would make more sense when Kiyoshi Teppei, Seirin’s ace, returns. He tells Kuroko: “It’s extraordinary to specialize so thoroughly in a single thing. But aren’t you the one assuming that’s your limit?”
I totally agree with Kiyoshi, but I don’t think it is Kuroko’s personal choice to be stuck like that. Coming from a strong school like Teikou, Kuroko is made to believe that he is good for nothing other than his passes. It is impossible to be that bad after playing for how many years, as Kagami thinks in the first episode: “Even though they weren’t blessed with physical strength, there have been plenty of athletes who have excelled by polishing their skills.”
But instead of developing his potential in other areas in basketball (because it’s a sport for those who are able to do everything like Kiyoshi said), Kuroko’s growth as a player is stunted because Teikou groomed him to be the key to playing basketball with five individual strengths other than five people working together as a team.
(If we think of it in terms of Momoshiro and Echizen’s doubles match, Kuroko is the line dividing the court into two so that they could play as they do in singles.)
Therefore, Kuroko’s basketball is a style that does not allow him to grow as an individual. Riko falls into the trap of using Kuroko like Teikou used him, because she too had set his limits for him instead of helping him overcome them. She doesn’t even help him cure his stamina problem and is contented in just benching him for a full quarter to save his energy. I’d go as far as to say that as a coach, she has let him down.
Fortunately, Kiyoshi is there to see through Kuroko’s style and encourage him to believe in himself. He tells Riko: “He needs to abandon his style and create a new basketball for himself.”
Personally, I agree with him. I’m no basketball expert, and this is simply out of pure belief in Kuroko’s potential, but I think it’s wrong to think that passing is the only thing Kuroko can do. Passing is a fundamental skill in basketball, but rather than being a pure skill, it is a set of skills.
To excel in passing, you need to have good aim, good hand-eye coordination, and quick decision-making ability required of a playmaker. If you have good aim and good hand-eye coordination, there’s no way you won’t be able to shoot a ball. It’s just that Kuroko does not have a polished shooting form.
At the end of the first season, Kuroko seems to be headed in the right direction, thanks to his teammates. He tells Kagami: “I am not Teikou Middle School’s sixth man, Kuroko Tetsuya. I am Seirin High School first year, Kuroko Tetsuya.” The crucial first step has been taken, and we can only watch the rest of the journey.