Prince of Tennis – Tezuka Kunitmitsu

I have originally thought to write about various story telling and character design aspects of Prince of Tennis (see previous Post), but as I was rambling on, I realised I was writting a lot (I mean really a lot) about Tezuka. So, I’ve decided to snip out Tezuka specific sections and start another post just on Tezuka. So some parts are sort of fragmented since it was suppose to flow in the previous post.

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. If it sounds fangirlish, well, it’s because I’m currently in Tezuka zone till further notice. *wink* But all said and done, I try to keep it objective and analytical.

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.

Tezuka Kunimitsu - 14 years old

Tezuka Kunimitsu - 14 years old

Tezuka Kunimitsu is the captain of Seishun Gakuen (short Seigaku) Tennis Club. At the start of the story, he is the strongest player in Seigaku, stern and highly respected. He suffers from elbow and shoulder injury that continues to haunts him throughout the story. He is a 3rd year student, 14 years old, hardworking and good student (good enough to correct his teacher in class).

Throughout most of the series, we rarely see Tezuka play. And even when he plays, compared to the graceful style of Fuji, distinct signature styles of Echizen, Kaidou, Eiji and Kawamura, his style is plain, unflashy with good control and precision. But I couldn’t help notice that Tezuka’s gameplay tends to have elements of the other players. His game play changes according to circumstances, all be it subtly (compared to Echizen’s). He plays analytical strategist games (less extreme than Inui’s data tennis), endurance and stamina (Kaidou), power games (of Momoshiro, but not to the extent of Kawamura), mind games (Momoshiro / Oishi) and with skill and elegance (Fuji). I wouldn’t call Echizen’s gameplay elegant, more like a bulldozer getting the job done.

Perhaps it’s the contrast between the character’s direction of growth. As the story progresses, each member of the team grow steadily stronger, mastering or creating new moves. But Tezuka does not seem to be evolving at all. The story arcs merely show what he had lost to his injury and till the end, merely gaining back what he had lost. Does this mean that Tezuka has not changed at all since he was 12? That no one had challenged him far enough since to force him to grow?

Tezuka - 11 years old

Ochibi Tezuka Kunimitsu - 11 years old

I find it ironic that Fuji was accused of not really into the game with desire to win. That he did not care if he won or lost. You might say the same of Tezuka too. While Tezuka always play seriously, it seems, he plays not to win, but to grow his opponent. Like he wasn’t competitve with an all out desire not to lose, but with a more nurturing desire to understand and to bring a valuable lesson to his opponent. More coachlike than rival or enemy. It is in his subtlety that I find intriguing. And it is probably why, while he may have many rivals, he does not really have enemies. His rivals became respected friends; as in the case of Atobe, Tachibana, Echizen, Fuji, Yukimura and Sanada.

It amuses me to think of Tezuka as nurturing, which is normally associated with traits like warm, approachable, caring, friendly. The exterior everyday Tezuka is cold, unapproachable, unreadable, stern, authoritarian, disciplinarian. But he is nurturing in that he observes and he gives help where it is needed, not when it is asked. Sometimes, his help comes in really bitter draughts like his first match with Echizen where Echizen was utterly defeated, and his decision not to let Echizen play against the American team. Sometimes, help comes in a few succint words, like reaffirming Momoshiro that he is strong, but he can’t be strong without overcoming his fear of his leg injury. Sometimes it comes in the form of tough love, like pitting Atobe against Echizen to overcome his shock of a much stronger Sanada, pitting Eiji/Ootari against their partner gamemakers Oishi/Shishido to wean them off their over dependence. Sometimes, it is in the form of leading by example, when Oishi realizes Tezuka will sacrifice himself and do his best, despite his weakness for the sake of the team and his friends.

Something about Tezuka’s games have always bothered me. Since Tezuka rarely plays, as Inui would say, there is very little data to work from. Tezuka is supposed to be an all rounder like Echizen, yet in most of his games, his game play is pretty fixed, stable and unchanging. It seems like each tennis player character in the story evolve and changed either in skill, psychology, philosophy or physical fitness. Yet, Tezuka and Tachibana are the only ones that remain unchanging. By design or by accident, it seems Tezuka’s injury have been holding him back for 3 years.

Tezuka also seems to suffer the same problem as Fuji in terms of skill development. Both rarely get to play or challenged by difficult/good players. Tezuka’s lost matches are a lot more interesting than the matches he won. His character design is the perfect setup as the great adversary to be overcome by the great players, ie. Echizen, Fuji, Sanada, Atobe, Yukimura. While this makes Tezuka’s character a little too two-dimensional, the way the story is woven around the characters that plays against Tezuka gives depth to the plotline. But I admit, it creates a lack of depth to Tezuka’s character in comparison. This is what bothers me. Is it a problem of creating a character too perfect, that you can’t write a story around him? So much so, Tezuka’s injury is a tagged on crutch to make his character less than perfect.

Tezuka is identified as an all-rounder player. Yet his gameplay does not really match this. Most times he plays like a counter-puncher, letting Atobe and Sanada control the game. He even goes to the point of playing to the opponent strength or gameplay advantage, as in allowing Atobe to drag and prolong the match to his disadvantage. If Tezuka is as great a player as advertised, he could have changed the pace and strategy to counter Atobe. We are told he sacrificed himself for the sake of the team. I find that incongruous with the setting.  While Atobe was a formidable opponent, he was not insurmountable. Also, Tezuka did not do anything to counter Atobe’s ploy to end the game quickly. What is worse, Tezuka purposely prolong the match, to the detriment of the team’s success. The risk and the noble sacrifice were unnecessary and Tezuka’s action did not actually help the team, but put them at greater risk in the Kantou Tournament, considering that Hyotei was their first opponent and there were still many more opponents they had to face. However, I speculate that Atobe’s realisation is closer to the mark. Tezuka was taking a great risk and a calculated one to push the team and wean them of their over-dependence and over-confidence in him. That adds unexpected depth and maturity to Tezuka’s character (14 going on 40), which makes me see him as more coach/mentor than player/competitor. I also speculate that Tezuka did this to test himself and measure his weakness before entering the Nationals tournament. Surely he would have doubted his fitness to perform and endure the gruelling matches in National Tournament. And having lost the match to Atobe, Tezuka found his answer and found himself wanting. Now that is subtle, clever and great story telling.

Tezuka only plays one doubles match, Tezuka-Inui against Shitenhoji’s Chitose-Zaizen. Here was an opportunity here to see Tezuka’s doubles dynamics, I was pleasantly surprised and looking forward to see. But the story turns this into an essentially singles match between Tezuka and Chitose. I find this rather disappointing and out of character for Tezuka’s personality design. Tezuka’s personality seems unlikely to disrespect the spirit of the game and in someway, disrespect Inui as a fellow team mate and partner. It also goes against Tezuka’s aim to build his team up to the best that they can be, just for a showdown. Then again, this is probably done to fit in the story template. In this instance, adhering closely to story template weakens the plotline.

Tezuka’s finals match against Sanada had been bothering me for a bit. I finally figured out why. It’s the internal story inconsistency. In an effort to counter Sanada’s Lightning, Tezuka unveiled a new move, Tezuka Phantom. Based on story theory, Tezuka Zone imposes a certain spin to the ball to make it bounce back to an area that can be easily covered by in one step. However, Tezuka Phantom forces the ball to fall out of bounds, away from the player. And to impose that kind of spin, it puts a greater load on the elbow/arm. Tezuka then had to keep hitting Tezuka Phantom balls because he can’t predict when Sanada will return with Lightning. What is wrong here? If Tezuka Phantom forces the ball out of bounds, it doesn’t matter if Sanada hits a Lightning or not. All Tezuka have to do is hit a Phantom and have the ball out of bounds on every return. Which means, Tezuka would have ended the rally within 2 (Tezuka serve) or 3 (Sanada serve) exchanges. Tezuka doesnt even have to care if Sanada hits a Lightning or not. As Inui would say, it’s illogical!

As long as I’m bitching about internal story consistency, if Tezuka Zone is created to by putting a powerful spin on the ball, then the counter for Fuji’s Tsubame Gaeshi would also nullify Tezuka Zone. Itsuki Marehiko hits sinkers (ball with no spin) to seal Tsubame Gaeshi. Surely someone of Sanada, Ryoma and Fuji’s caliber are also capable of hitting sinkers too. Which means, Tezuka Zone is probably easier to break than Tsubame Gaeshi because the spin has to go out and come back. In constrast, Tsubame Gaeshi only needs to go out. Besides, Tezuka Zone is a pretty ridiculous strategy. The objective of Tezuka Zone seems to be making the ball fall WITHIN the court. Why would anyone ‘help’ their opponents hit balls that will never go out? It has a cool name, but seriously, it needs to be a more logical and rational technique to keep in character with Tezuka’s vaunted reputation.

All in all, Tezuka’s tennis is graceful and well drawn without too much flashy moves. He appears to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Compared to Fuji, he appears to be lacking in originality as well, with only one original idea, Zero-shiki dropshot and serve. Tezuka Zone is based on Echizen Nanjirou’s technique. However, this lack strangely works in favour of the story. With a character like Tezuka, the lack of glitz in a story filled with fireworks and garishly flashy techniques makes him unique for most of the story line. Yes, sounds like we should be grateful for Tezuka’s injury preventing him from going that route. Yes, I love the fact that Zero-shiki dropshot looks deceptively mild and unflashy. Tezuka’s real strength appears to be his precision racket control and mental strength. By mental strength, I mean he doesn’t get goaded, lost his temper, gets shaken or distracted, disheartened or scared by whatever his opponent say or do. The Psych student in me says he’s got healthy self-esteem, self-efficacy and good mental stability.

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.

Like Sanada, Tezuka also keeps his own counsel close. Unlike players whose aim is to be better than someone else, Tezuka aims to be better than what his is. This lack of competitiveness makes him unique and not easily readable in terms of motives and desires. It is also what gives an veneer of arrogance to Tezuka’s demeanor. There is also another unique aspect of Tezuka that also comes into play in his games and actions/decisions. Tezuka also aims to make his opponent better than what he is. This lack of jealousy and inter-competitiveness makes him stand out among characters that are climbing over each other to declare themselves the best.  This aspect of Tezuka’s personality is probably a development as part of his increasing responsibility as Seigaku’s Pillar of Support, vice-captain and captain. The brief glimpses of first year and younger Tezuka does not contain the mentor aspect of Tezuka. Even in the Fuji – Tezuka match in the first year flashback, Tezuka’s motivation was to find out just how good Fuji really was compared to himself. The final Fuji – Tezuka match finally shows the maturation of both characters.

Tezuka’s character is set up as the archetypal Mentor or Sage. He appears to have the foresight and wisdom of the Sage who can see into the future and see beneath the surface. He is cast into positions of intersections, taking the role of catalyst at the crisis or crucial points of other characters.  He is also placed as the driver, another typical Mentor persona, propelling the main character, Echizen, and his other team mates into new direction and towards individual goals as well as team goal at key points of the plot.

Tezuka’s character on the surface may appear two dimensional and stiff. But by peeling the layers of Tezuka’s character, I find that it is superficial view. Tezuka’s character is deeper that it seems at first glance. It is with great pleasure that I delve into an enigmatic and subtle personality; and story telling of an intelligent character. In real life, people with Tezuka like characteristics, introverted and self-driven, are equally misunderstood and misrepresented. Most are deemed cold, aloof, uncaring, indifferent, arrogant, unapproachable.


Added 16 May 2009:

Tezuka is a character of contradictions. His everyday personality is seen as calm, cold, distant, and unemotional. Yet, ironically, all of Tezuka’s matches are very passionate, and to some extent evoke very emotional response from the spectators, especially from his team members. Tezuka has the least matches depicted among the Seigaku Regulars, yet each match has something in common, they all inspire his team mates and deepen their respect for him. His first match against Atobe has his team mates running into the court to stop him. His second match, against Kite, Tezuka spoke the most passionate line in the whole story, “Racquet and ball are not for hurting people.” He was also said to be saddened by Kite’s poor ethics and bad example as captain. In Tezuka vs Kabaji, Tezuka’s struggle with his injury was shown in flashback. This was also the second time we were shown some of Tezuka’s inner thoughts. Oishi pretty much sums up Tezuka’s true passion in an emotional speech. Tezuka’s only doubles game vs Chitose was the most normal and abnormal game. A doubles match turned into singles match and in my opinion, least memorable of all his matches. The only thing I like about the arc is that Miyuki called him “Dourobo-niichan” and Chitose asked him to congratulate Miyuki on winning her medal. Poor Oishi cried during Tezuka vs Sanada match. And we get to see Ochibi Tezuka, Sanada, Yukimura and Yanagi. Kawaii!

What I find admirable and liked about Tezuka’s character, and what I feel is the factor that underlies his enigma, is his self-restraint.



  1. lilly said

    I love you captain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  2. Wow, very insightful. Some typos made parts a bit difficult to understand at times, but I agree with all of your ideas about Tezuka. right from the beginning of Prince of Tennis, he was my favorite (along with Fuji and Echizen). 🙂 Yay for analyzing characters!!

  3. saliviabaker said

    Thank you for your thoughts on Tezuka and his story.
    I always thought that Tezuka will become a coach after his Tennis career, it seems to fit him so well. For me his motivation or his reason to improve not only himself but his team as well as his opponents is his love for the sport. He wants to experience what opportunities Tennis hold and also wants to see other people experience it. You see his love in the line you quoted “racket and ball are not for hurting people” – which shows a) he doesn’t like violence and b) he thinks it’s a miss use.
    You are right when you say he doesn’t grow (much) due to his injury but I find that intriguing as well because it shows how strong he is to endure this and how much he wants to be a Tennis player.

    You also ask why someone would want to use a technique like the Tezuka Zone to keep the ball in the field. Well there are several uses. a) you yourself don’t have to move much that saves you stamina b) it’s a psychological weapon if you cannot break it and c) you can control y your opponent’s game to some extent because he has to adapt his play in order to break the Tezuka Zone. (I hope that helps)

    I have only seen the Anime but on a sidenote: I loved the scenes with him in Germany, especially that he has books in German about sports medicine on his desk! He is 14 and speaks good enough German to read scientific books O.o

    • cohlinn said

      I agree! I can totally see Tezuka as a coach. And he will teach the new generation the Zen of Tennis. 😀

      Re Tezuka zone, yeah, I can imagine how frustrating it can be when all your shots are not going where you want them to go. Maybe it does underscore what Ooishi interprets as Tezuka’s philosophy when it comes to Tennis in the Jr Senbatsu. It simply helps him put one more ball into the opponent’s court. But man … that makes a long match.

      Yeah, the tour to Tezuka’s room in Germany is one of my favourite scenes too. He is such an over-achiever. The Germany arc shows him reading English books (Ed McBain) and German books. That makes him tri-lingual :O Funny how he’s never shown reading Japanese books.

      • saliviabaker said

        Maybe he would even come back to Seigaku to relieve Ryuzaki-seinsei.. I mean he could be a great teacher as well.

        The longer the match the more you can enjoy it :p
        Well honestly I don’t know what Tezuka feels/thinks when he is on the court. he remains a mystery to me – maybe he doesn’t know himself.. and we still don’t know why he doesn’t want to express feelings, he hides them. why? It’s not simply that he is how he is but when Fuji sees him smile he’s embarrassed and Fuji has to promise not to tell anymone. why? (besides that e smiled 2 times before in the national tournament)

        I love t that he’s in Germany.. it’s so easy to imagine I could meet him by simply walking through the city *g*
        I didn’t notice the english books. do you have a screencap of that?
        Maybe he can’t read kanji^^

      • cohlinn said

        It was at the beginning of Episode 103. Tezuka’s room was labeled “Teduka” and he said “Ashita ka?” (Tomorrow, is it?) showing he was thinking of his team mates facing Rikkai Dai in Kantou Finals.

      • saliviabaker said

        ah I see. thank you.
        yeah Teduka *headdesk* did they mix up the letters or what’s with that?

      • cohlinn said

        Apparently, it’s a sort of confusion with the づ sound in Japanese.
        The character is in the “d” row of hiragana character table, but pronounced as ‘zu’.

    • saliviabaker said

      I see so they didn’t use the Hepburn system for creating romaji but the Nihon-shiki romanization. That would lead to tsu = tu and then when adding ” change it to du.

      Thank you, I always forget that there are different systems since I only use the Hepburn system.

  4. Miyoko said

    i wish tezuka is a real person.i like him alot specially cause he is so good in studies and tennis after i grow up i want to be just like him

  5. Soni Jagannath Gupta Kumari Boruah from India,Assam,Guwahati said

    If it is so then then i like to be his fionce in the series;):)

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