History features a plethora of monumental battles, Nelson versus Napoleon, the Greeks against the Trojans, and apparently any high school tennis match featuring Ryoma Echizen. Prince of Tennis manages to take a simple concept – a high school tennis tournament – and transforms it into a wonderfully flamboyant and comedic romp into the world of sport.
Prince of Tennis follows the Seigaku Tennis Club and its bid to make it to the Junior National Tournament Finals. Central to the plot is Ryoma Echizen, a freshman tennis prodigy. Returning to Japan after spending four years in America, Ryoma manages to not only wow the seniors at Seigaku, but also easily secures a place as a “regular” – something unheard of for a freshman. With their new ace player in place, Seigaku begins its quest to conquer the regional championships and attain its dream of making it to the National Finals.
Whatever excitement Prince of Tennis lacks in its basic premise, it more than makes up for in pure entertainment and spectacle. In a shounen tradition shared with series such as Naruto or Bleach, Seigaku’s regulars demonstrate an array of impressive yet entirely outrageous new techniques. Incorporating such exorbitant moves, the matches themselves become dazzling extravaganzas that seem more like a clash between rival ninjas than a game of tennis between middle school boys. As expected, these astonishing attacks always emerge at the most crucial point of any given match. Naturally several aspects of the plot become predictable, though I still found myself anticipating the revelation of Ryoma’s most recent technique.
Prince of Tennis only manages to get away with such theatrical styles of play for one simple reason: it never once takes itself too seriously. Designed to entertain rather than educate, Prince of Tennis’s generous supply of comedy perfectly complements its showy matches. Humorous exchanges between Seigaku’s club members, ridiculous training camps, and various jokes surrounding Inui’s special vegetable juice, nicely balance a generous helping of boomerang shots, disappearing balls and shattered tennis racquets.
Outside of the tennis court Prince of Tennis’s visual quality remains fairly standard. However, with most of the series devoted to Seigaku’s games, this is not a major problem as Prince of Tennis boasts impressive animation during its match sequences. In particular some close ups – such as that of Ryoma’s shoes as he jumps – exhibit a more realistic movement, even down to the minute motions of his shoelaces.
By pouring more effort into the matches, Prince of Tennis’s visuals heighten the intensity of what become epic battles. Whether displaying Momo’s powerful ‘Dunk Smashes’ or Eiji’s flexible acrobatics, Prince of Tennis effectively portrays each playing style, and even the most ludicrous ideas seem more believable.
The musical score does well to enhance an already cheesy atmosphere. Including suitably melodramatic music for intense matches and light, bouncy harmonies for more comical moments, Prince of Tennis’s sound design performs its duty. Though fitting admirably with the series, it feels as Prince of Tennis’s score took few risks and instead chose a safer, more generic path. Consequently the music frequently feels familiar rather than in any way innovative. Completing its soundtrack, the series’ myriad of opening and ending themes, while moderately catchy, unfortunately leave little lasting impression.
Overall, the voice acting is decent, with nothing to complain about. Special kudos goes to Horio’s voice actor. His blaring, nasal voice, served only to make Horio all the more irritating – a perfect fit for the character.
Including characters from other competing schools, Prince of Tennis boasts a large cast. While Ryoma remains the central protagonist, he is not Prince of Tennis’s sole focus. The other Seigaku regulars demonstrate plenty of development throughout, from their various problems and injuries, to the creation of their new match-winning techniques. Although central focus always inevitably shifts back to Ryoma at some point, Prince of Tennis often feels more like an ensemble series, which helps maintain interest.
Even secondary characters such as the students from Hyotei and Fudomine enjoy more development and screen time than would be found in any average shounen series. By exploring their personal stories and improvements, Seigaku’s opponents develop into more than just faceless rivals; they become characters in their own right, which gives each match an added depth. This allows Prince of Tennis to become something worthier of viewing instead of falling into a realm of mediocrity entitled: ‘The story of Ryoma Echizen’.
Prince of Tennis demonstrates satirical qualities that become, without a doubt, its greatest strength. Mixing a large portion of comedic content with matches of epic proportions, Prince of Tennis provides pure entertainment and ideal viewing for those looking to kick back and relax. Hardcore tennis fans may find Prince of Tennis a little on the ridiculous side, but take it as it is and even those who, like me, aren’t necessarily fans of sports anime could find themselves enjoying this playful series.
Meet Ryoma Echizen, the cocky prince of tennis. He comes to Japan from America where he is known as the Prince of Tennis – but that is no surprise considering he is the son of the former tennis pro, Nanjiroh Echizen, otherwise known as the Samurai! Upon transferring to the school Seishun Gakuen, he meets the regulars of the tennis club, and becomes the first freshman to become a regular; but he has a lot to learn yet about being a tennis star. Ryoma, along with the rest of his teammates, aspire to win the Nationals; but first, they must defeat the other teams which stand in their way!
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.