Woah, a manga review? That’s right, I decided I don’t do enough with this blog as is (I mean, I haven’t posted in quite a while, despite having a few reviews to do…) and first on my list is the manga: Prince of Tennis! Created by Takeshi Konomi and published in Shonen Jump from 1999 to 2008. With 42 volumes and its own anime adaptation, Prince of Tennis was once one of the big Shonen sports titles like Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this manga matches up to those manga.
Prince of Tennis is about a young boy named Ryoma Echizen, a tennis genius who attends Seishun Academy. Seishun Academy is a private middle school proud of its tennis team, and Ryoma quickly makes it his job to shake up the establishment by challenging upperclassmen to matches and showing off his American tennis skills. Eventually he learns to get along with the Seishun team and together they strive for the National Middle School Tennis Championship, facing many tough and unique tennis styles along the way.
I’ve always kind of liked tennis. I find the sport fun to watch, even though I can’t even attempt to play it, and games like Tennis on the NES and Mario Tennis on the N64 are pasttimes to me. Still, I wondered, could a manga about tennis really be engaging? And yes, it can be! Konomi does a great job explaining the different rules and techniques used by the players and real life pros through the manga so I never felt lost or confused when it came to the actual game. He is also very inventive and clever when it comes to incorporating these skills into manga, such as Kaido’s “Snake” or Momoshiro’s “Slam Dunk.” Every character has a move that makes them stand out from the crowd, as is the norm for Shonen sports manga, but it helps show each character’s strength and makes it easier to remember their names in the beginning of the manga.
Now, I say “the beginning” because this manga has a major pacing problem. It progresses at a very natural pace up until Konomi gets to the major tournaments, where he introduces a whole slew of forgettable characters that have very, very short appearances but Konomi tries to keep them all relevant to the story and as somewhat important characters. He seems to have somewhat of a “hoarding” problem, he is unable to let go of the characters he has created so instead we are treated to reintroductions of these characters you barely remember in later chapters that for some reason hold importance. Almost every school has a team of aces with special moves, but at most you might remember 3 or 4 of them, and certainly not all of them. At then end he continues to introduce characters, and none of them really get fleshed out. And then, when Konishi realizes he has run out of characters to use, he has Ryoma get amnesia OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE and it only gets explained like 20 chapters later, and it is just so out of place and an extreme example of sloppy planning and storyboarding.
It seems as if most of Konomi’s characters show up to play a round and do a special move, but then when they should be getting of the stage, they continue to put around in the background for god knows what reason. Then, 30 chapters down the line they step out of the limelight and I’m like “Oh, you’re here? Wait…who are you again?” I had this thought process a number of times towards then latter half of the series and it was both frustrating and embarrassing that I was unable to remember these characters that for some reason bore importance to the story all of a sudden. Konomi should have looked to Eiichiro Oda if he wanted his manga to be filled with a vast amount of characters who are (mostly) memorable.
Another major gripe I have with this manga is the ending. It is abrupt, non-satisfying, and at first I was thinking “Wait, is this really it? I read all these chapters for THIS!?” I could tell that I was going to be disappointed by the ending when the manga introduced “auras” in tennis matches, before that it was a semi-realistic manga that could somewhat be feasible with human constraints. However, at the end Konomi decides to throw that all away and introduce auras a la Dragonball Z. All of a sudden these characters have these alternate states they can enter at will and all the other characters can see the aura surrounding them, when none of this was mentioned earlier in the entire series. It just seems like a cop out for Konishi in that he couldn’t come up with a way to beat the “self-actualization” technique and instead opted to make Prince of Tennis a pseudo-battle manga at the end. Disappointing, to say the least.
Still, the Prince of Tennis, despite the major flaws with its ending, is a great read. A tennis manga is something new and interesting for sports manga, and Konishi does a great job with engaging the reader and he creates some great moments. He really knows how to make Ryoma appear cool and collected, and Konishi also has a great sense of humor which is seen in Inui’s “special drink” segments. If only he could have transferred some of that talent to his skills at writing an ending, I might not have been as disappointed with Prince of Tennis.