Prince of Tennis – General

I just finished Prince of Tennis anime and half-way through the manga. So I thought I might write something about what I liked about it. It’s not intended as a review and may sound fangirlish, but I’m going to kill my inner editor for a few hours and hope I can write something interesting or insightful.

I’m just writting whatever thoughts that happens to occur to me after finishing the anime and halfway through the manga. As such, there is no timeline and I do tend to jump around as I build connections between events as they occur to me. Mostly, I’ll be referring to anime version. I’m looking at story elements, what works, what doesn’t, what appeals and what disappoints. These are my personal opinions of the moment, not fact or intents of the mangaka, Konomi Takeshi.

This post is full of spoilers, so if you haven’t finished watching/reading Prince of Tennis, I suggest you stop now and come back later.

Seishun Gakuen Tennis Team

What do I like about Prince of Tennis?
It’s got a good mix of humour, interesting characters and it does not take itself too seriously.

Now, I’m not a fan of sports manga/anime that goes chapters after chapters of fighting increasingly strong and ridiculously fantastical opponents. And I don’t even like tennis. I’m a badminton girl and no, I probably won’t be motivated to read/watch badminton related manga/anime either.

That said, I think it gives me a certain tolerance of suspending my believe in certain unbelievable, defying laws of physics elements of the story. I do expect manga/anime to exaggerate and elaborate reality. And I even get pleasantly surprised that some of the tennis or training techniques are actually based on reality.

Who is my favourite character?
I’d have to say at the beginning of the story, I don’t really like any of the characters. So much so, even when I reached episode 50, I didn’t think it has rewatchable value. That is, I don’t think I’ll watch it again. Somewhere into the 80s, I finally feel moved enough to actually want to watch it again.

This in some sense, came about when I started getting interested in the character of Seishun Gakuen’s captain of the Tennis Club, Tezuka Kunimitsu. He’s not the obvious likable, effeminate bishie like Fuji Syuusuke (Seigaku). But he is strangely intriguing to me. Tezuka’s character don’t have much going for him in terms of screen time character development. He’s mostly talked about by the other characters, whether as a well-respected strict unapproachable leader or a feared/dubiously strong player who has played at National level tournaments.

My favourite match is Tezuka/Fuji. Even then, there is lesson for Fuji, forcing him out of his complacency of always having easy wins. By countering/defeating Fuji’s various finishing moves, he forces Fuji to re-evaluate his level of skill and competence. And this forces Fuji to evolve and grow once more. More importantly, I think he forces Fuji to re-evaluate himself and his indifference or detachment to his own life. In some sense, Fuji was directionless, merely going along with someone else’s goal, but not making his own goals.

Who do I think is the scariest player? I’d have to say Sanada. I don’t like the Sanada in the Finals National tournament. Sanada in the Kantou tournament is really scary without being flashy or violent or over-done. That makes him one of my favourite rival player. His seeming indifference to Atobe’s rivalry is similar to Tezuka’s detachment, but I’m not certain if he really was that indifferent. He may not be expressive emotionally competitive and possessive, like Atobe declaring that he was Tezuka’s arch-rival. He just didn’t see Atobe as rival to fuss with. His goal was to be the best player and for Rikkai to win. Tezuka and Atobe were just people who were in the way. In outward temperament, he is probably closest to Tezuka. He also shares Tezuka’s more traditional family setting and upbringing.

Yukimura, unfortunately, is too underdeveloped. It would have been interesting to see this character developed as well. But for the purpose of the story, he is merely a throwaway character as the strongest player Echizen have to conquer in the finals.

For the most amazing captain, I’d say Tachibana. Although Fudoumine team is created to provide the friendly foil to Seigaku’s camaderie, Tachibana is pretty amazing captain in terms of accomplishment. While Tezuka is a good captain, he has a good coach/teacher, good school, team members who are accomplished players in their own right. In other words, he builds upon an all ready strong potential team with good support structure. Tachibana is captain, player AND coach to Fudoumine. All his team members were mediocre players that were raised to higher levels. Like Tezuka, he is well respected and has an even temper, tenacity and wisdom to lead his team. He does not have the support structure that Seigaku enjoys. The sheer obstacles and his ability and determination to overcome them makes him an even more impressive captain than Tezuka. And he did for Tezuka what Tezuka did for others, giving Tezuka help when it is need. He is the most similar to Tezuka in terms of leadership style and mentoring.

Most surprising characters for me are Atobe and Kaidou. When they were first introduced, I didn’t like either one of them. But they did grow on me as their stories progressed.

Now, I don’t really like narcistic, showy characters. But Atobe is so funny when he affects his ‘Be awed by my brilliance’ declarations, it’s hard to hate him. I think I begin to like Atobe when he shows his willingness to support Shishido’s placement in the team, against the coach decision to drop Shishido after he lost to Tachibana. Later, his willingness to use himself and Hyotei’s team to help Tezuka train the Seigaku players for Kantou finals (anime) cinch it for me. The short conversation between Tezuka and Atobe is one of my favourite scenes. Especially Atobe’s confession that he plays the devil’s advocate because the role suits him. Yes, I think I like the sly, generous and contrary hidden Atobe.

Kaidou is another hidden character, who is not what he appears to be at first glance. When he was first introducted, he appears unpleasant, surly, hostile, short-tempered, competitive and selfish. As the story progresses, we get glimpses of inner Kaidou. From his softspot for animals to his sheer determination and stubborness. Kaidou’s gruffness is kinda refreshing. Through his actions and speech pattern, the inner Kaidou is loyal, respectful (such as telling annoying spectators to be quiet during a match), shy and honest. I kinda like his look without his bandana, when he looks much younger and more like his age. He is one of the few that Tezuka did not directly have a hand in developing. Instead, Inui took the role of mentor to Kaidou. It’s interesting to observe that while it’s natural for Ryuzaki sensei and Tezuka to reprimand and keep the club members in line, none of the other members, including vice-captain Oishi seems inclined or capable of doing so. Except Kaidou. There are a few instances where Kaidou actually steps in to maintain discipline or reprimand improper behaviour among the younger students. In contrast, Eiji, who is older than him, normally adds oil to the fire. My favourite Kaidou scene has to be the pre-National tournament, when he got into a fight with another school who had been belittling Rikkai when they lost to Seigaku. It’s so unexpected and yet so in-character with Kaidou’s personality to give respect where it is due, regardless of affliation or allegiance.

Kaidou and Momoshiro dynamics is normally used as comic relief. While it gets annoying and tiresome at the early part of the story, their later use of this rivalry is woven well into the plot to keep it interesting. I must say I find their double matches funny and fun, due to its unpredictability and mischief-making.

Among minor characters, for various reasons, I like Tachibania’s sister Ann as most interesting and least annoying female character, Kirihaya Akaya for changing and unpredictability, Ibu Shinji for being funny without meaning to, Echizen Nanjirou for the sly rascal in him.

Rivals are part of the character design in Prince of Tennis. Rivals allows the characters to interact, express emotions, gives motivation and someone they have to defeat. Most of the characters have rivals pairing. The most obvious being Momoshiro – Kaidou and Inui – Yanagi Renji. One sided rivals include Fuji Yuuta – Fuji Syuusuke, Echizen Ryoma – Echizen Nanjirou, Mizuki – Fuji Syuusuke, Atobe – Tezuka, Eiji – Oishi, Inui – Tezuka, Echizen – Tezuka, Kirihara – Sanada/Yukimura/Yanagi.

It’s interesting when a character breaks this pattern. The characters that do not pick or own a rival are Fuji Syuusuke, Yukimura Seiichi, Sanada Genichirou and Tezuka Kunimitsu. While they have one-sided rivalry from the other players, they don’t seem to have hangups on a particular person as rival. All four are generally acknowleged as top players of their time.

Fuji’s mindset is perhaps one of the easiest to unravel. Despite his secretiveness, Fuji’s match with Tezuka did reveal his lack of competitiveness and indiference to winning. Fuji simply wanted the thrill of a fun game. Looking for something more challenging than the simple concept of winning a match, Fuji sets a more indirect goal for himself by putting certain personal constraints on himself such as playing at the opponent’s skill level. This requires deep understanding and ability to accurately measure the opponent’s ability as well as to control his gameplay to whichever level required. This ability makes Fuji an admirable, competent and complex player. This characteristic is something shared by people who are highly intelligent as a way of coping with boredom or lack of external challenges. The handicaps or constraints they put on themselves add higher difficulty to a task that was too easy to be accomplished.

Although Sanada is sometimes linked into a three-way rivalry between Tezuka – Atobe – Sanada, I think it’s more of Atobe’s interpretation than his actual frame of mind. Sanada lost an unofficial match to Tezuka prior to entering junior high. This can be extrapolated as the beginning of a Sanada – Tezuka rivalry, but I don’t really find much concrete evidence beyond this. I’m not sure there is Sanada – Tezuka one-sided rivalry. Like Tezuka, Sanada keeps his own counsel.

Yukimura appears self-confident and deadly enough to believe himself unchallenged and reigning top player. As such, he does not really see anyone as rival.

I have to say my least favourite part of the anime is the National Tournament’s Finals. Story-wise, if feels rushed and disjointed. Not much plot going on. The game plays were a showcase of flashy moves after another. So most of my character analysis is focused on the anime TV series. I have not reached this arc yet in the manga, but I hope it is better than the OVA.



  1. watcat said

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  2. matt said

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