Captain’s seat #1 – Tezuka Kunimitsu

Seishun Gakuen’s captain, Tezuka Kunimitsu, is the most developed character among the captains. Personality-wise, he is serious, reserved, independant and highly principled person. He is normally shown as unemotional, expressionless with inscrutable poker face. At first glance, Tezuka is boring, uncharismatic (in contrast to Yamato’s charismatic and eccentric personality), unapproachable (habitually shown with unsmiling,even frowning expression), indifferent (despite Inui’s attempts to get him interested in gossip such as Momoshiro’s date, Tezuka hangs up on him, showing that Tezuka will not poke his nose into matters that are not his business) and detached (ignoring and refusing to rise up to provocations by Akutsu at Perfectural, Kakinoki’s Kuki and Kyushuu’s tennis club members).

In his role as captain, he is responsible, strict, uncompromising, authoritarian, supportive and willing to take risks on his team members. While Tezuka tries to look out for the welfare of the members, he is also flexible enough to allow for the individuality and styles of his members to show through, allowing matches to continue that may perhaps should have been forfeited. It was no less than what Tezuka expects from himself. It appears that in this matter, both Ryuzaki-sensei (during Fuji-Kirihara, Tezuka-Sanada, Kawamura-Kabaji) and Tezuka (during Echizen-Kamio, Kawamura-Ishida match) were of the same mindset. However, it is gratifying to see that Tezuka (and all the captains in the series) does not force the players to play against their will.

At the beginning of the story, Seigaku did not have a manager. The work appears to be shared between Tezuka and Oishi. With the introduction of Inui as team manager, Inui takes over training menu and record keeping while Tezuka focuses more on mental and team management aspects. The work of managers and captains tends to be blurred depending on the school, coach personality and team dynamics.

Tezuka’s leadership tends to be forward-looking. Finding ways to improve the members (regulars or not), even to the point of planning and cultivating future members of the team after his time. At the end of the National Tournament, Tezuka finally accomplished his goals; securing a place in Nationals tournament, leading the first victory for Seigaku in Nationals Tournament, passing the baton (Seigaku’s pillar of support) to Echizen and sowing the seeds for new generation of Seigaku players.

Tezuka has been commented as having a presence. While his personality, physical appearance (artwork), and demeanor is subdued and plain, this aura or presence is usually depicted in the comments of characters around him and the upward tilted artwork angles of his drawings. Throughout the series, his fame is spread through his reputation and his first and second year exploits or upsets. Whenever he plays, the rival schools made a point of attending. This gives Tezuka an aura when leading his team. He can command and rein in his unruly members such as Kaidou (when provoked by Kamio) and Momoshiro (when provoked by Akutsu) when needed. In constrast, when he is absent or does not feel the need to exert his authority, the hotheads have to be physically restrained. However, as time progresses, Tezuka must have rubbed off on them as Kaidou, Momoshiro and Echizen learn some self-control.

A captain’s personality and style will greatly influence the internal culture of the team. Likewise, Tezuka’s personality is reflected in the Seigaku team dynamics. It also a good study of one of the characteristics of Japanese language where an honorific and the way someone is addressed shows the degrees/desire of familiarity in their relationship to each other. It even conveys the person’s personality, such as one who is normally formal or informal, open or distant. (More detailed discussion branch) Commonly, most of the team members addressed each other by their surname, especially at the beginning of the story. Most of the ways they addressed each other is formal or semi-formal, much like Tezuka’s personality. Those that tends to go against this are Kikumaru Eiji and Momoshiro Takeshi, who were most playful and friendly members of the team. Momoshiro himself insisted of being addresssed as Momo-chan by younger members, which is usually considered too familiar and disrespectful. The younger members tends to compromise by calling him Momo-sempai or Momo-chan-sempai. The addition of sempai shows a sign of respect for  a senior student, while the shorted name shows a certain familiarity and informality.

Compared to the extreme end, Tezuka is normally addressed as Tezuka-kun, Tezuka, Tezuka-buchou, buchou (captain), Tezuka-san, Tezuka-sempai. The only people that calls Tezuka ‘Kunimitsu’ are his mother (offscreen) and his coach in Germany.

Those that calls him “Tezuka” are the third years that are closest to him, namely Oishi and Fuji as friends and equals when they are outside the framework of tennis club hierarchy. The younger members (Echizen, Momoshiro and Kaidou) tends to address him as buchou or Tezuka-buchou, respecting his position as captain more than as senior student. Also, shows that they are not as familiar with him as the third years. This also maintains a certain distance or aloofness for a captain who maintains discipline and unchallenged authority within the team.

Tezuka’s lack of egotism and vanity is a nice break from the usual sports-based archetypal patterns of either a competitive, loudmouth player or one with whinny inferiority complex but miraculous talent. His self-esteem is inward focused; challenging, measuring and evaluating against himself rather than seeking out other players to defeat (as in the case of Kirihara Akaya and Echizen Ryoma). Tezuka’s attitude towards other people or players tends to take a mentor/coach mentality. He is not jealous or envious of players who are stronger than him. In fact, his obvious respect for these players tends to reciprocated by his fellow rivals, leading to friendly rivalry, mutual respect and non-antagonistic relationships. These relationships are obvious from Tezuka loss to Atobe in Kantou Tournament and his subsequent friendship with Atobe, his loss to Sanada in Nationals and the aftermath of his matches with Fuji and Echizen Ryoma. This good sportsmanship mindset was not commonly shared among his team members at the beginning of the story, but as they mature towards the end of the series, they ‘mellowed’ and began to understand and show similar mindset in varying degrees.

Tezuka’s leadership method, not style, is greatly influenced by Captain Yamato Yudai who took Tezuka under his wing in his first year. One was the assignation of practice laps as forms of disciplinary punishment. This became a running gag in the series, but it was not overdone. Tezuka did break this tradition once, when Momoshiro, in his disappointment from losing his regular position, skipped practice for three days. While Inui predicted 50 laps, Tezuka gave Momoshiro 100 laps, forbade him from touching the racket and relegated him to collecting balls, which is a worse punishment, in form of demotion, since collecting balls were normally the tasks of first year members. Tezuka is also uncompromising and fair in his judgment, as shown in punishing both Kikumaru and vice-captain Oishi for quarreling in the court.

Another Yamato influence was the concept of “Seigaku’s Pillar of Support”. It is probable, given Yamato’s philosophical and eccentric nature, that this concept was invented by Yamato himself. Perhaps as a ploy to get Tezuka to remain in the tennis club, or to make Tezuka feel that he belonged in the club. The most obvious effect is that it appeals to Tezuka’s tendancy to take things too seriously and his sense of responsibility. It engaged the detached Tezuka to personally claim ‘ownership’ of the welfare and success of the club. Tezuka’s interpretation of this concept goes beyond that. He set himself up as role model, setting the standards, codes of conduct and philosphy that all the team members must aspire to. So much so that the club members started using Tezuka as yardstick, measuring rival school players against him, calling the strong players ‘Tezuka-class’, which usually refers to players who are at National-level. This tendancy even spills over to the other schools, most notably Hyotei and Rikkaidai who knew Tezuka personally or by reputation, such as taunting the Seigaku players that they would lose if they can’t even play at Tezuka’s level of mastery.

However, more important than Tezuka’s tennis, is Tezuka’s principles of mutual respect, good sportsmanship and good conduct. The most important lesson that he instilled in his team members, especially the junior members is his principles. Tezuka’s character is an introverted thinking type. He rarely speaks nor does he lecture. His preferred method is to lead by example, remaining calm and unruffled by provocations, and creating events or opportunities for the member to learn. One of the first lessons was given to Echizen Ryoma. After watching Echizen’s performance in the Perfectural Tournament, Tezuka realised that Echizen, gifted as he was, did not have right motivation or spirit to go higher. Echizen was copying his father’s tennis. While the advanced level of copying Nanjirou’s style would give him easy victories against normal players, Tezuka knew it was a crutch that  will block Echizen’s potential from developing fully. He also saw Echizen’s short-sightedness and immaturity in that Echizen merely plays tennis with the goal to defeat his father.

At the beginning of the story, Seigaku members were less united, taking rivalries within and without to open hostilities, seeking to defeat each other. As the story progresses, the members learn to rely on each other, working together, take pride in the accomplishments of their team mates. The rivals Momoshiro and Kaidou eventually mellowed, learn to respect each other and value their relationship.

While Tezuka’s canon motive is to build up a successor in Ryoma, by accident or by design, Tezuka uses the same ‘Pillar of Support’ concept to engage Echizen Ryoma in the Tennis Club. Ryoma, at the start of the story was indifferent and apathetic. He does not want to be in Japan or Seigaku and prefers to disengage and remain disinterested in others. This is shown in Ryoma’s tendancy to wander off during matches, and showing disinterest in everyday happening. As the series progresses, Ryoma slowly changes, becoming more involved and integrated into the team. By the National Finals arc, Ryoma finally accepted and understood the torch that Tezuka wished to pass to him. In another sense, Ryoma agrees to bear the burden of responsibility that Tezuka had been carrying. This is something new to Ryoma who prefers not to be responsible for anyone but himself and forces him to see the world is bigger than himself.

As captain and mentor, Tezuka also sets himself up as the final straw, playing positions that ensures the best lesson-experience for the weaker members of the team without jeopardising the chance of success for the team. Such that, holding the position as Singles 1, Tezuka has the least chances to play at Tournaments and gain experience. At the same time, if he ever needed to play, the situation was grave enough that he can’t afford to lose.

Throughout the whole series, there are glimpses of Tezuka’s past and his relationship to various regular members of his team. The overall impression was that Tezuka had started building or put together a team of players in Seigaku who have the potential to reach National Championship, especially among his third-year peers. Out of the third years, Tezuka, Fuji and Inui were under-12 champions. These three were the most self-directed when in comes to personal development. While Fuji is the most creative, rightly nicknamed ‘Genius of Seigaku’, he lacked the drive and mindset. Inui, the “Brain of Seigaku”, sets Tezuka as a goal. Wrapped up in Tezuka’s concept of Seigaku’s hashira, Tezuka sets himself as a source of inspiration for all. Win or lose, Tezuka’s game always inspire his team and his opponents to better themselves.

Seigaku, in the past, had one problem. Despite having an ace player or two, tennis tournament is a team sport. The school had not been able to go beyond Perfectural tournaments because of this. Not even during Nanjirou’s time had they made it to National Tournament. It took foresight and vision for Tezuka to create a team capable of going that far. In some sense, Tezuka’s journey is such that in the beginning (first year), he was the singular ace. By the time Seigaku managed to win Kantou Tournament and Nationals Tournament, Tezuka had built multiple aces capable of carrying on with or without him.

There is something difficult to define clearly in Tezuka’s beliefs, behaviour and feelings towards Tennis in general. It plays a huge role in his character’s motivation and actions, as well as his direct influence on his team members. It is intriguing in that, it is subconscious and the motif is usually understated and ambiguous because it is interpreted by the people around him (usually Fuji and Ooishi) according to their understanding of it. Tezuka’s attitude towards tennis and tennis courts sometimes feels akin to religion. This is partly due to Tezuka’s characteristic as one of the most mature and philosophical player characters in Prince of Tennis. I think I shall call this Tezuka’s Zen of Tennis.

Tezuka-Oishi dynamics as the captain – vice-captain appears to play off each other’s strengths and hold complementary support roles. While Tezuka plays the strict uncompromising authoritative figure, Ooishi is a loyal follower type, ready with explanations and assurances. Tezuka plays the disciplinarian while Ooishi takes the role of peacemaker. Tezuka remained aloof, unapproachable while Ooishi is open, caring and friendly. Tezuka tends to deal with other authorities or adults, such as teachers, officials, reporters, etc. Ooishi deals with the members and youngsters. Tezuka’s presence tends to cause certain tension and seriousness while Ooishi diffuses it. Tezuka demands while Ooishi pursuades. Tezuka sets the directions, goals and visions while Ooishi keeps the team together, happy and united.

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