It’s always nice to find two of your favourite things combined together, and it’s even better when it actually works. So when I came across the anime “Kuroko’s Basketball” (also known as ‘The Basketball which Kuroko Plays’ and ‘Kuroko No Basuke’), which combines basketball with what essentially amounts to superpowers, it was an easy sell. With the third and most likely final season done and dusted, and because the NBA season doesn’t start for another month and I’m having withdrawals, I wanted to look back on the series and analyse the ‘powers’ that are present.
The series has had some criticism heaped on it because it got too unrealistic as some crazier talents were introduced, but I’ve always maintained that many of these abilities, while mightily exaggerated, were designed within the realms of actual basketball. So I’m going to break down a few of the abilities on display and consider their real world potential. I’ll be ranking the abilities through two measures: How overpowered they are in the anime/manga, and how possible it would be to replicate it in a real world game. I’ve also compiled clips from the anime to represent each power, and also a close NBA analogue to see how it might work in real life.
Warning! Spoilers for all three seasons ahead. Generally if you’ve seen the player in action you should be fine as I don’t mention final scores or anything too critical to the plot, but you might get a moment or ability spoiled if you aren’t too careful with what you read.
Kuroko Tetsuya’s Misdirection
The phantom sixth man of the Generation of Miracles (GOM), Seirin star player and titular character, Kuroko’s basketball style is utterly unique (mostly…). At first glance he doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and that’s entirely the point. Slipping through offense and defensive sets undetected, he is able to change the trajectory of a pass or come from nowhere to steal the ball.
At the core of this is the concept of misdirection. While star players like Kagami Taiga draw eyes on them because of their skill level, Kuroko directs attention away from him. While his power base develops the most of anyone in the series, to the point where he becomes a far more prominent player and more than just a shadow, at the core of his game is essentially being invisible on the court until he makes a play.
Real World Possibility: 6/10
This is a tough one, and its ‘possibility’ comes down to what level you play at. Even at the top level you will sometimes see a player manage to sneak out of an opponent’s coverage and get wide open (this is easier with someone like James Harden guarding you). The scramble to stop this mistake often leads to easy shots, which Seirin use to great effect . At lower levels, players might drop their focus on a weaker player completely to try to stop a better player, leading to similar chances. It’s not exactly misdirection, but it can achieve a similar effect. Ballwatching, where a player’s attention is on the ball rather than the player, tends to be the defender’s mistake, and this is why much of Kuroko’s initial play revolved around him never holding the ball for too long.
If Kuroko is on the court too long this power is lost as people grow accustomed to him, and when his play becomes more spectacular the effect is also lost (this becomes a major plot point in one of the later games). Both of these aspects help ground the concept of misdirection, but in reality it would only take one or two of his touch passes or steals to get noticed, as opposed to a sizeable chunk of the game. The theory behind it is sound enough, especially when working in conjunction with a stronger player like Kagami (and since many players do watch the ball rather than the man), but it also uses some leaps on logic to make it applicable. Misdirection Overflow, a variant which helps the team disappear, is far less realistic.
On the topic of Kuroko, his touch passes, while extravagant, are perfectly reasonable. The Ignite Pass and Ignite Pass Kai are less so however. Full court passes happen (see Kevin Love) but not with the kind of action Kuroko uses, and definitely not with the kind of power and speed seen in the Kai variation. The best case example of this is seen below with Manu Ginobli, which has already been Kuroko-ised for my benefit.
Midorima Shintaro’s Three Point Range
While Kise is the first GOM Kagami faces, Midorima proves to be one of his more important opponents. Facing off twice in close matches as well as interacting quite a bit off the court, the big shooter from Shutoku is one of the more well rounded GOM characters. His ability is also one of the more impressive. He was touted early on as the team’s shooter, being able to knock down three point shots with ease. What becomes apparent though is he can knock them down from anywhere. First proclaiming his range extends to the half court line, and then knocking several shots down from full court. He is so confident in his shot that he routinely starts walking back on defense (when he’s not shooting from full court) before the ball has swished through the basket. He’s not just capable of making this nigh impossible shots, he expects to make them.
Real World Possibility: 2/10
Look, knocking down long distances shots is possible. There are plenty of YouTube videos of NBA stars and even amateurs doing so in practice. Doing so in a game, especially consistently, is another matter entirely. There’s a reason you only see shots from half court and beyond taken when the quarter is about to end. The chances of hitting them are too slim to justify being ‘open’, and trying it in a game is a sure way to get benched. Stephen Curry, who’s making a case for being one of the greatest three point shooters in NBA history, averages 44% from beyond the arc. Midorima would consider that a horror stretch of bad shooting. Also, regular shooting form is generally sacrificed to make that kind of distance, but outside of taking longer to shoot Midorima still retains his form. Truthfully, this ability would be more overpowered in real life than it was presented in the anime. Consistent full court shooting ability? That’s a game-breaker right there.
Paul George shows off his best Midorima impression below, keeping a pretty regular form throughout too. As for walking back before the shot has landed, we’ve seen it done successfully (Stephen Curry) and unsuccessfully (look up Nick Young celebrates 3 point miss on Youtube)
Aomine Daiki’s Formless Shot
The ace for the Generation of Miracles, the former light to Kuroko’s shadow, and the primary antagonist for most of the series, Aomine Daiki proves to be the true litmus test of Seirin’s growth. When suitably challenged by a worthy opponent, Aomine is able to unleash an array of impossible shots alongside his blinding speed and agility. The formless shot, developed in his early days playing streetball as a kid amongst men, negates the need for orthodox shooting form. This allows him to take shots as he fades and falls across different angles. They are highlight plays in every sense of the word, and prove to be a real thorn in the side of Kagami and Seirin.
Real World Possibility: 4/10
There is a reason street ball rarely works in the NBA. Flashy moves and crazy off-balance shots might look cool, but they are high risk, low reward scenarios. If you’re looking for examples of the Formless shot in the NBA, your best bet is to search for circus-shots. These are typically last option prayers as a player finds himself off-balance and cornered. When it works, it throws the crowd into a frenzy, but the circus shot is almost exclusively reserved for last ditch efforts rather than a go to move like it is with Aomine. And while he basically never misses, the typical circus shot ends with a turnover and possibly a fast break for the other team. It’s not that these shots don’t happen in the NBA, but they don’t form the basis of an offense, and you certainly wouldn’t be so sure of taking them in a game like Aomine is.
Aomine’s formless shot might not really work in the real world, but that isn’t to say his game is completely unrealistic. The change of pace dribble moves he uses are effective and dangerous tools in games, and the street ball philosophy of flashy dribbling can be seen by Jamal Crawford types in the NBA. His game style is best linked with Allen Iverson, who combined street ball with athletic ability and even pulled out his fair share of circus shots. The body control to execute the formless shot, while exaggerated with some of the angles, is a part of getting bumped and completing a shot. Iverson below demonstrates a real case example of that body control as well as the borderline unfair finish.
Murasakibara Atsushi’s Defense
[Not much in the way of examples on Youtube, to get the full picture you’d need to watch the episodes he’s in, but here’s an AMV to give you an idea]
Of all the Generation of Miracles, Murasakibara Atsushi’s abilities are the least specialised. While each other member has one completely unique ability, the big centre from Yosen was just a beast. His only specialised move, Thor’s Hammer, is just a powerful dunk. But for most of the show the focus is on Murasakibara’s defense. Heading up the best defensive team in the league Yosen, known as the Shield of Aegis, Murasakibara and co managed to keep two consecutive teams from scoring at all in the Winter Cup. He is able to guard the entire area within the attacking team’s 3 point line, making any shot that isn’t a three ripe for blocking, and his agility allows him to defend multiple shot attempts if people try to pass out of a shot he’s defending. It’s an ability, but it lacks the specifics of a Formless Shot or Emperor’s Eye.
Real World Possibility: 7/10
His abilities are pushed to unrealistic standards sure, but the ability to nullify an offense is not unheard of. The reality of the situation would be more missed shots than straight blocks, but a long and agile player with great defensive instincts like Anthony Davis can create the kind of havoc shown by Murasakibara. Part of why he is so deadly on defense is that he also has a strong defensive team backing him up. Even some of his more impressive offensive feats, like breaking the backboard or dunking on multiple defenders, has been done by his most accurate physical, offensive and personality analogue: Shaquille O’Neal (coincidentally, Murisakibara is my favourite on the show, and Shaq is my favourite all time basketballer).
To get an idea of what his defense would look like it real life, here’s a clip of Anthony Davis covering most of the court (#23 in navy). Through the play he directly affects all four players who touch the ball, and aids in denying the fifth one a touch. Yes the rest of the team is doing their job, but even before he blocks two shots in the space of two seconds (from different shooters) you can see him forcing the offense to pass out of plays and rethink their moves. So while Murasakibara being the unholy spawn of Davis on defense and Shaq on offense is a thought no NBA team wants to have to face off against, the way he plays isn’t all that unrealistic. In fact, Murasakibara Atsushi may be the most realistic player on the Generation of Miracles. Now that is a scary thought.
Tatsuya Himuro’s Mirage Shot
Sorry for the lack of video, apparently the Yosen series isn’t worth breaking up into specific clips outside of the final moments. The Mirage shot was used by Kagami’s old friend Himuro to confuse the Seirin defense. The shot allows Himuro to ‘fake’ a shot if people try to block his jumper, by throwing it to himself in a way that makes the defense think he’s shooting. After they’ve missed the block, he then takes a second shot which is now unguarded. If they don’t bite on the jumpshot, then he simply shoots it. Either way, it’s all but a guaranteed two points. It’s made possible because of how smooth Himuro’s game is. He easily transitions from fake to dribble to shot making it hard for the defense to react, both to his normal plays and the Mirage Shot.
Real World Possibility: 0/10
In the real world, it’s illegal. Fakes are perfectly fine, and we see it plenty both in the real game and in Kuroko. But the mirage shot, which is basically Himuro throwing it slightly in the air to himself to then shoot, is a rule violation. The only way it would be legal is if the ball is touched by the opposition player on the first release, which would let Himuro re-gather the ball and shoot. Otherwise it’s a violation. Maybe if he wasn’t covering one of his eyes with his hair he’d see the problem with this shot.
Seijuro Akashi’s Emperor Eye
While Aomine was billed as the ace of the Generation of Miracles, as the show went on a figure loomed over the rest of the players. Seijuro Akashi, point guard and captain of the Generation of Miracles as well as Rakuzan high (despite being a first year) was quickly built up as the most dangerous threat. His main weapon was the Emperor Eye, which allowed him to see his opponent’s every movement, from subtle shifts in body weight to their damn heart beat, to which he could “see the future of his opponent’s moves”. With this he would stop shot attempts, intercept passes and most impressively, break the ankles of virtually any defender who tried to stop him, allowing him to score unopposed.
Real World Possibility: 6/10
This is a weird one, because it gets described in different forms. Initially several players would describe the Emperor’s Eye as allowing Akashi see briefly into the future, which more or less instantly threw it into the realms of impossibility. But as the show went on, it became less about that and more about reading a player’s precise movements (this is especially true when Kise replicated it while using Perfect Copy). While being able to see a player’s heartbeat is ridiculous, reading your opposition’s movements is one of the best ways to anticipate a play. As such, blocking Midorima’s shot or breaking someone’s ankles is perfectly realistic. At the top level players study footage of their opponents, to the point they too can essentially predict how they might attack on offense and in turn negate that.
The ‘ankle breaker’ component of Emperor’s Eye is also realistic. It is a popular highlight play, and is executed much in the same way Akashi does it, using dribble moves to throw the defender off-balance, and often completing one final move which brings them down. Watch the below clip of Andre Igoudala to see this kind of move in action. Reading someone’s balance makes this far easier, so the theory behind Akashi’s eye works in this scenario if you approach is not as foresight but acute judgement of a player’s movements. At a top level though you’re not breaking everybody’s ankles. Even the elbow pass Akashi pulls off against Shutoku has been done in an NBA game before by ‘White Chocolate’ Jason Williams.
Various: Zone and its Variations
Warning: This next section is pretty spoiler heavy. Proceed with caution.
This is the pinnacle of a player’s strength. Only a few chosen ones – true greats – can enter what is called the zone, a period of time where the individual is at peak athleticism and ability. He can move faster, jump higher and pull off moves so effortlessly that nobody can really stop you…unless your opposition number can enter the zone too. It’s on a time limit though, and once that expires the player is basically wrecked stamina wise.
There are also variations of this displayed in the game between Rakuzan and Seirin. Both team’s aces enter the zone on their own, and the time limit aspect here is more or less thrown out the window. Both display a variation on the zone however. First, through Akashi’s skillful point guard play he helps his entire team enter a weaker form of zone, and then Kagami reaches a ‘second level’ of zone, which is known as Direct Drive Zone. This stage creates lightning fast team orientated play to get open looks, though one mistake can break this zone.
Real World Possibility: 7/10
The biggest problem caused by the zone was that is became something of a crutch in staging comebacks. While it was an amazing feat to see Aomine and then Kagami reach this stage, it started to lose its edge as it kept getting used, to the point you were expecting it in each game. The time limit function helped to build drama, but that limit became rather arbitrary and only affected a player when the writers wanted it to. It ended up being a little ‘cheap’ in the anime, although it made for some amazing moments.
In the real world, being ‘in the zone’ is an accepted phrase for when a player is playing at his absolute best. This can happen at any level and indeed in any sport. I myself have had those patches in a game where everything just comes easy to me and everything I do works. Even the Akashi team variant is feasible. This is done through Akashi making perfect passes, and again receiving the ball at the perfect spot makes a shot or drive to the basket so much easier. Get this consistently, and the rhythm the team can build lifts the entire group’s play up significantly. Of course, in real life there is no lightning trailing from the eyes of a player in the zone, but we can’t have everything. The anime (and manga) take some liberties with the concept, and while in universe it had some flaws there is some legitimacy to the concept if you accept that it operates differently to how Kuroko’s Basketball presents it.
I’m also going to rope in Kise Ryouta’s Perfect Copy here, since it works as a similar time limit based ‘superpower’ akin to zone, where he is able to replicate all of the GOM’s abilities over a five minute span. In the end it’s more a specialised version of ‘zone’, but for an example of Kise’s copycat nature just compare Kobe Bryant’s entire play-style with Michael Jordan’s…
The best recent example of a player being ‘in the zone’ probably comes from Klay Thompson’s record breaking quarter. Everything just clicked and he could do no wrong. It’s also an example as to why a ‘Midorima’ player would be so overpowered in real life. He’s knocking down three’s with the defense scrambling to stop him. Imagine that from half court and beyond.
Many of the abilities shown in Kuroko’s Basketball are not entirely unrealistic, but they are amplified ten fold for the sake of the anime/manga. Many of the other minor abilities, like Hyuga’s Barrier Jumper (step-back), Kagami’s Meteor Jam (Blake Griffin throwdown style dunk) and Kiyoshi’s Vice Claw are also parts of the game that you can see in the NBA. They are presented as dramatic and special, and they are, but what is often overlooked in this anime is how accurate the game is portrayed. Constantly there are accurate strategies employed like the box and one, full court press and techniques like screening and drawing fouls. Even some of the psychological aspects of a game has a base grounded in the realistic and are presented in surprising detail, to the point it is clear that the creator didn’t just pick the sport because it could be flashy, but because they actually enjoy the game.
As a basketball fan, it added a lot to what was a fun if over the top series. Yes some of the powers were ridiculous if the series tried to be completely realistic, but it never tried to be that. This was a world where basketball ability could essentially be determined by the colour of your hair. But for all of the outrageous moments presented in Kuroko’s Basketball, there was also a surprising level of detail to it all. Honestly, the most consistently unrealistic part of the series when it came to the depiction of basketball was in the amount of time they had to think and talk. Between their monologues and internal patterns of thought there would have been so many shot clock violations. Ultimately, the abilities presented here are kind of crazy, but Kuroko was always aiming to be a super powered game of ball, so the more ludicrous moments come with the territory. What it does well is incorporate these elements within a functioning analogue to the sport, grounded in some kind of basketball strategy and ability.