Closure through Fanservice:
A Sweet Ending to a Mediocre Journey
I grew up on the Prince of Tennis, and I have several heartwarming memories of watching it as a kid. I've watched everything I could get my hands on, and about a year ago I decided to rewatch my favorite childhood series in full. I recorded my thoughts on this website, and came to the conclusion that it simply didn't live up to the image I had of it from when I was younger. But, that's okay. Even if I saw the reality of what the show was (which to me, was a pretty underwhelming tennis shounen akin to Dragon Ball), I still held it dear because of everything it gave to me as a kid. So, when I heard they would come out with an anime original story for a match between the powerhouse schools Hyotei Gakuen and Rikkai Dai Fuzoku, I was pretty excited. Afterall, even if most of the Prince of Tennis was only nostalgia fuel, the National Tournament OVA wound up being extremely well made, and if this could be the next National Tournament, I would be all for it.
Instead of choosing to animate the rest of the U-17 arc from the more recent Prince of Tennis II, Hyotei vs Rikkai - Game of Future was made instead, and honestly this was a pretty good idea to me, since the U-17 arc was even worse than the original Prince of Tennis. So, diving right into the first episode, it threw you in right after the U-17 tournament had already ended. The Atobe Zaibutsu had recently built a new tennis court to hold professional tennis matches, and wants Hyotei to hold an exhibition match as the court's first. Atobe asks if Rikkai Dai would be okay with playing, and they accept.
From that point, both episodes follow the Hyotei vs. Rikkai game, and that's it. It was purely focused on these two schools and them alone. It was fanservice from start to end. If you knew nothing of all the events that happened prior to this, you'd be pretty lost. Thing is, if you have seen the rest of the series, then this sidestory becomes for the most part, overwhelmingly predictable. It was pretty easy to figure out the outcomes of the majority of the matches, and the only enjoyment to be found was in the "thrill" of seeing your favorite characters pull off their "special moves." There were cases of characters showing off new skills, and there was even a completely new character written in, but it was all to further the sense of fanservice, and didn't contribute to anything meaningful.
The characters didn't feel too much of a culmination of all their iconic tropes like they were in the Prince of Tennis II, but that said, they were more or less stagnant and the same as they had been throughout the rest of the main series, which you can take as you wish.
The animation was more or less the same as the Prince of Tennis II, but the repeated use of some "attack animations" and some funky CGI here and there brought it down some points. The voice acting and score was on the same caliber as the rest of the series as well, and served to further support the nostalgia and Prince of Tennis feel, which it did well; there just wasn't anything spectacular about it.
From all that, you'd think it just wound up being a complete miss, and in a sense, it was. It wasn't on the same level as the National Tournament Arc, and was held back from its lack of substance, its predictability, and its mediocre production (at least, from the consumer's perspective). However, this did one thing for me: it gave me a sense of closure.
I feel as though after watching this, a chapter in my life has come to a close. Although there was minimal story involved, both episodes revolved around the "end of an era" from both Hyotei's perspective and from Rikkai's. There was a drive for the third year characters to set their underclassmen up for success, and there was a drive for the underclassmen to surpass their seniors' expectations. From my experience, the Prince of Tennis as a whole hardly ever showed much of how its world would continue after the departure of all its heavy-hitting third year characters, and these two episodes managed to develop a real sense that, even without them, the stories of Hyotei, Rikkai Dai, and even Seigaku are just beginning. It drove that message home, and served as a beautiful ending to an old fan like me.
If you're not big on the Prince of Tennis, then it's completely fine to miss out on this series. With two 50-minute episodes, watching this is a bit of a commitment for the amount of payoff you'd get. But, as meh as a journey it was, its ending in my opinion, served as a touching send off to a series I've been attached to for years. It's an ending that has me feel that everything in the world of the Prince of Tennis will be okay, far after where the story ends, and that was enough for me to feel glad that I chose to watch this.