12 Days of Anime #12: “Why Don’t You Give Up” December 14, 2015Posted by navycherub in 12 days of anime, Anime, Essay, kuroko no basuke.
Tags: 12 Days of Anime, Anime, Essay, kuroko no basuke
If Akashi is basketball Jesus, does that make this a Christmas episode?
Kuroko no Basuke is known pretty well for giving all of its characters their time in the limelight, usually through the very Shounen Jump method of flashbacks just in time for us to care. It isn’t a new trick, but in this show’s case it totally works, mostly because its ridiculous writing has a lot of confidence in itself. Despite its insistence on giving sympathetic backstories to just about every cast member, though, it took a long time to get around to the ultimate Big Bad, Akashi Seijuro.
Up until this episode, there was pretty much nothing salvageable about Akashi’s personality. The abrasive captain of the Generation of Miracles led his team to three championships, but by the end of their run any semblance of friendship they may have once had was gone, and his all-or-nothing attitude certainly didn’t help the team feel like a family. Once they went to high school and became rivals, the Generation of Miracles was no longer on good terms, but it frequently felt like Akashi didn’t even notice – to him, it seemed like everything was almost the same as usual.
Now at the end of the Winter Cup, Kuroko has met and played against all of his old teammates, leaving only Akashi and his new team Rakuzan. For a while, Rakuzan systematically crushed Seirin, mostly thanks to Akashi’s Emperor Eye ability, a power so strong that his teammates were practically unnecessary. In this episode, the tables turn, as Kuroko learns his own variant of the Emperor Eye – one quite different from Akashi’s. Whereas Akashi’s power manifests as an act of “obedience” from others, forcing them to the ground, Kuroko is able to track Akashi by following Kagami, catching Akashi off-guard and allowing Seirin to capture the ball and start gaining ground again. It is a pretty clear difference that highlights the power of teamwork Kuroko no Basuke loves so much; Akashi’s power does not require any assistance, while Kuroko and Kagami can work together to defeat the lone Akashi.
This sudden turn of events throws Akashi for a loop, leading to the second half of the episode – the part that made this episode really stick out in my mind. Akashi’s two personalities become quite real, entering a sequence where Akashi literally talks to himself, working through his past and trying to cope with the first ever defeat of his Emperor Eye. This also feels very Monogatari-esque, because Kamiya Hiroshi is talking to himself and his second personality has a very heavy filter over it that reminds of internal dialogue effects in Monogatari. Totally has nothing to do with why I like this episode so much.
From here, we finally get to see Akashi’s backstory fully laid out. Akashi was born a very talented child, shown to have at least practiced (and we can assume, excelled) with violin and piano, and his family is very well off, which kind of also makes him a perfect villain in a show about basketball. However Akashi’s mother was kind and encouraged him to play basketball – when Akashi succeeded, his mother’s pride in him encouraged him to do even better. She soon dies, though, leaving Akashi with only basketball as a tie to his late mother. His father is much more strict, only allowing him to play basketball as long as he does well. It’s a perfect combination of unhealthy reasons for Akashi to continue, leading inevitably to a sort of emotional dependence on basketball that we can see leading to the victory-obsessed Akashi we know today.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Akashi then starts reminiscing about middle school, his time at Teiko and with the Generation of Miracles. Despite his rough childhood, the Akashi we see here is kind and plays basketball for the joy of it. He respects and cares for his teammates, a very different person from the Akashi we have seen. That, of course, takes its appropriate turn as well; as Akashi sees his friends excelling and growing stronger, while he didn’t see the same growth in himself. The fear of being left behind mixes with his insatiable quest for victory, leading to the creation of the second Akashi and the appearance of his Emperor Eye. The story of the Generation of Miracles we know plays out from there.
This backstory informs Akashi’s current actions in a sad but genius way – although it seemed Akashi was always antagonizing his old teammates to prove his superiority, in reality he was a broken person expressing his admiration for them in a bizarre manner that only made sense to him. He valued his time at Teiko, where he was free to play basketball to his heart’s content. When he saw his friends attaining new heights in skill, his father’s insistence on perfection created a fear in him, a fear of being left behind. He thought that the best way to be accepted among them was to focus on showing off his own prowess in a never-ending series of one-ups.
To be fair to Akashi, the competitive nature of his team didn’t make it seem like humility and such would be rewarded, and he was only acting in kind. The themes in the Generation of Miracles flashbacks in general point toward how we can unwittingly create a negative environment despite good intentions. Every single member’s story in high school is, at its core, the story of them growing out of their hangups from that time with the help of friends. Among the six, Akashi’s story is saved for last, not only because he is the last to be defeated but more importantly because he came out the worst from that situation. His intentions beginning basketball were as simple as making himself and his mother happy, but his stressful home life, the sudden competitive nature of Teiko Junior High, and his life-long desire to be accepted led him down the worst path.
However, while the players around him became more mature people, finding comrades who could share the court and respect each other, Akashi never really grew out of his elitism. It wasn’t until Kuroko and Kagami proved to him through sheer force of will that their mutual trust and camaraderie is what gave them real strength, not an “Emperor” and his loyal soldiers, that Akashi was able to look inside and realize how wrong he has been for so long.
And so, at the end of the episode, Akashi wakes up and becomes his old self again, set to become stronger than ever before. His story is a journey toward true understanding, honest respect, and the dangers of creating a toxic environment, and it manages to be a powerful and memorable one.