Monday, June 4, 2012


The Prince of Tennis (Tenisu no Ojisama), by Takeshi Konomi, first published in 1999, first published in the USA in 2004

PLOT:  Kakino-Kizaka Junior High is about to receive a new student, a true prodigy of the tennis world.  Ryoma Echizen is a seemingly tiny, frail 12 year old boy, but his size belies his skill.  Once he arrives at the school, he finds older members of the tennis club are exploiting younger students or simply want to challenge him on the courts.  Regardless of the reason, the result is always the same: Ryoma easily beats them and wins the day.

STORY:  I will confess that I chose this series not because I was all that interested in it personally, or even that I purposefully wanted to look at some sports manga.  No, it was because I was aware of this series before I got into anime and manga, thanks to its MASSIVE following of slash-happy fangirls and I wanted to see what might have drawn them to it in the first place.  Well, I can say one thing with absolutely certainty: it’s not the story.

This story is the very definition of “cookie cutter.”  Our hero is introduced, and once Ryoma enters the school one of two things happens.

1.        He encounters older students from the tennis club who are picking on younger members, and proceeds to beat them at tennis.

2.       A older student from the tennis club challenges to a game, because no 12 year old could be as good as an experienced 16 year old!  Ryoma then proceeds to beat them at tennis.

3.       Repeat Steps 1 or 2, changing out cast members as needed.
The story just keeps adding and adding cast members, all of which can be divided into two categories: Ally (which tend to be the younger kids) and Enemy (the jerkass older kids).  We really don’t get much time to get to know anyone, friend or foe.  You can’t even say that much about Ryoma himself.  Sure, we know that he’s an excellent tennis player with a sense of fair play, but what else?  What is he like off the field?  What do he and his new friends do in their spare time?  Does he have any fears or loves or hatreds?  Hell if I know, because the mangaka sure as hell won’t tell me.  Of course, if he can’t be bothered to give his lead a personality, you can guarantee that the rest of the cast won’t either. 

I have to wonder why they even bothered with the school, because we hardly see anyone in class or outside of school.  It’s just nothing but tennis, 24/7.  I imagine that if you like tennis, you might get something out of watching Ryoma demonstrate his advanced technique.  If you’re not a fan (like myself), then all that information just goes in one ear and out the other.  It’s also a total sausagefest.  There are precisely two female characters: a little girl who serves mostly as a plot device to introduce Ryoma to the story, and her grandmother, who is the head coach for the tennis club.  Their contribution to the story as a whole?  DIDDLY SQUAT.  They might as well not exist.  In the end, this is the kind of cliché, dull storytelling that gave sports manga such a bad name in the first place.

ART:  The character models are clean and polished looking, but like the characters, they tend to come in only two flavors: generic bishonen and bobbleheaded, demon-eyed child.  Honestly, if the mangaka didn’t give them different hair and accessories, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish most of the cast at all!

Wait a minute…lots of good looking guys with generic personalities and swap ‘n’ match looks who are vaguely anatognistic towards the lead?  I now realize why this has such a fujoshi following!  The mangaka basically gave them a wide selection of pretty paper dolls that you can can pair up any way you wish.  Plus, you can write them acting any way you want because there’s pretty much no personality to change - thus, there’s no way they can be called 'out-of-character'.  It's like a training fandom for yaoi fangirls!  They get to experience all the slashiness with none of the complication of things like personality or story!  I don't know whether to call it brilliant or devious!
Oops, got a bit off-track there. Where was I? Oh yes, the art. The composition is pretty generic, and it only breaks out the larger panels to show off during the matches. The action is drawn with with short, blurry motion lines, a style which I actually kind of like because it enhances the illusion of movement without obscuring the characters. Backgrounds are rare and mostly traced when present. Otherwise, the characters drift about in blank white voids. There's not much more I can say, really. The art here is just as generic as the story.
PRESENTATION: All we have is a tiny bio on the mangaka up front.  This is sadly quite typical for a lot of Viz titles.

This title is as plain and dull as a white tennis uniform. Unless you really love tennis, there's nothing here that you cannot find in a better form in other titles, sports-related or otherwise.
This title is published in the USA by Viz. All 42 (!) volumes were published. Some of the earlier volumes have been discontinued, but most are still in print
This volume and many more like it are available through!

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