The First Slam Dunk: Notes from a Rukawa Fangirl


I would have given it six stars out of five if they used even one of the familiar opening/closing themes. My heart would’ve been totally annihilated.

My husband and I finally saw The First Slam Dunk yesterday, Saturday, at SM Cabanatuan. It was our first movie since the pandemic, and was it worth it! It will never not be worth it because I saw my Rukawa, Rukawa, L-O-V-E Rukawa in action again.

Funny thing is, I would have backed out from seeing the movie. Right after checking out the tickets on January 23rd, I found a thread on r/Philippines where Filipino Redditors shared their grandparents’ experiences with the Japanese occupation. That was traumatic to read, and for days I literally thought I wanted to have anything to do with Japan anymore.

But well, Filipinos forget easily, and I took around five days before totally forgetting about the thread and getting excited again to see my favorite basketball team and the first girl to make me to question my sexuality, Ayako. (I would ship Rukawa and Ayako so I won’t have to choose.) I had seen Slam Dunk back when it was on ABC5, and was a completely unhinged fangirl from when it became the best thing ever to come out of GMA-7.

Being a Slam Dunk, specifically a Rukawa, fangirl had been my personality for years. Every time I would watch a basketball game, I would immediately look for the team’s Akagi, Mitsui, Miyagi, Sakuragi, and Rukawa. (Of course, no one was ever Rukawa.) And I would cheer for them with the enthusiasm of a Rukawa cheerleader. I would make unapologetic fangirl speeches in Nihongo class about Rukawa, my inspiration and hero. I prayed hard that no live action ever be approved to spoil my favorite thing ever.

My loyalty to Slam Dunk stopped me from enjoying any other anime, and my loyalty to Japan because of Slam Dunk stopped me from entertaining entertainment from any other country. And although I do watch Korean drama sometimes, I was never a fan like I was of stuff that came from Japan. (Okay, I’ll admit I’m a fan of Sun Woo and Bora from Reply 1988.)

And yesterday, all of my crazy fangirl things came back like an avalanche. The 34-year-old got isekai-d to her high school self. I even found myself exclaiming Pakshet! – my Sendoh fangirl friend Joy Marie’s curse of choice from our Slam Dunk days.

As a Rukawa fangirl, the first part of the movie felt like a disrespect to the ace, the number one player in Japan. I understood that Rukawa had learned from the Kainan game and had to reserve his stamina for crunch time. And yes, he did deliver in the end. Glorious.

It was incredibly satisfying, and incredibly painful.

Here are all the things I wished were there:

  • Ryota turning chibi whenever Ayako would cheer for him
  • My fellow Rukawa fangirls
  • The iconic opening and closing themes

Here are what have changed in me:

  • Accepting that Rukawa is not the main character
  • Choosing that they lose the game over Sakuragi losing his basketball career
  • Seriously wishing Sakuragi and Rukawa would *kiss* lol (my high school self would never)

And here are my favorite parts:

  • All the parts that had Rukawa, duh
  • Ryota’s letters
  • The last two points, which we will never forget for the rest of our lives

Thank you, Toei and Takehiko Inoue, for knowing exactly that your working millennial fans need this to recuperate from all the stresses and ugliness of adult life. Thank you for taking us all back to a time of hopes and dreams. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what we once had when all we had was basketball.

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