In which I look at important events in the Prince of Tennis manga and anime, to observe differences in characterization and emphasis for these three characters: Tezuka, Oishi, and Ryoma.
This is not a shipping discussion, although the reason for doing it is to help me write relationship-oriented fic. I ship Tezuka/Oishi only in manga canon and Tezuka/Ryoma only in anime canon. So I needed to be aware of the differences, especially in characterization.
This is fairly rough, part summary and part commentary. I meant to tighten it before posting, but decided it was too big a job; I would rather spend the time writing fic, not editing characterization notes. So, it's long. But I hope it will be useful. Any and all comments are welcome, if you have thoughts you would like to add.
NB: Spoilers for basically all of the canon, manga and anime.
Tezuka's match with Ryoma - manga 42-43, flashbacks in 232, 234
Oishi is with Tezuka when he goes to Ryuzaki-sensei to request the match with Ryoma. That and their conversation after the match indicate that they have talked about it and that Oishi is either approving or neutral.
The manga now jumps right to the end of the match, the zero-shiki drop shot and Tezuka's admonition to Ryoma, that he should become Seigaku's pillar of support.
On the train, Oishi tells off Tezuka for using his full strength, especially when Ryoma has just recovered from his injury and Tezuka's may be aggravated. Tezuka has told him that it was necessary, but Oishi doesn't really understand why. Tezuka is not really listening. It's not until much later that we find out why.
In a flashback during Ryoma's match with Sanada, we see part of this match. Ryoma is his cocky self in the beginning, but when he sees Tezuka's seriousness and determination, he buckles down. Tezuka tells him over and over, "Hit a shot I cannot return and evolve."
During the game, Tezuka sees a vision of a samurai in Ryoma, though we don't find out about it until much later. (Sanada sees it too, when they play.) This is when he realises Ryoma's true potential and knows he has to give all of himself to unlock it.
Even though Tezuka seems not to have told Oishi about the samurai, they clearly communicated about this match in advance. Oishi doesn't hesitate to tell Tezuka what he thinks.
More than anyone, Oishi has the right to be concerned about Tezuka's injury. They have decided to lead Seigaku to the Nationals together. Tezuka risks that along with his arm.
Before the game against Rikkai, Tezuka, still on Kyuushuu, calls Ryuzaki-sensei and asks that Ryoma be Singles 1, so he'll play against Sanada. He tells Ryuzaki about the samurai and says that Ryoma needs this in order to advance himself. The implication is that Tezuka wants this even if it means that Ryoma will lose, that Seigaku will lose. (By this time, though, their spot at Nationals is secured, so they won't lose that regardless.)
When Ryuzaki asks Tezuka why he goes to such lengths for Ryoma, he doesn't answer. But after hanging up, he says, "Because I am his captain."
I get a real feeling of partnership from Tezuka and Oishi overall. It seems to me that initially, Tezuka just wants to help Ryoma improve and knows that he needs the challenge and teaching that Tezuka can give him. It's the vision of the samurai that really changes things, marks Ryoma as something special that Tezuka ought to go to even greater lengths for. But still, in the end, his reason, the one he vocalizes, anyhow, is that it's his responsibility to Ryoma as the club leader.
Tezuka's match with Ryoma - anime 25-26
When Tezuka goes to ask Ryuzaki if he can play Ryoma, he goes alone. He doesn't tell Oishi about it at all. In fact, he seems edgy and snappish with Oishi.
We actually see Tezuka telling Ryoma about the match. Oishi overhears and ticks off Tezuka about it, but Tezuka won't listen. We see Tezuka prepare by training and we see Ryoma brooding. Tezuka broods too and holds his arm. This match worries everyone.
Ryoma is clearly preoccupied by the upcoming match. He seems worried about it, not happy. Though when they actually meet to play, he has a few flashes of his usual attitude. Until he sees how serious Tezuka is.
Tezuka and Oishi go to see Tezuka's doctor (who is also Oishi's uncle). They are so joyful when they find out that Tezuka's arm has healed. I can count on one hand the times we see Tezuka smile. This is one of them.
Tezuka once again cuts Oishi off when Oishi expresses his concern about the match. During the match, Oishi watches, although he's hidden. He's worried about Tezuka's arm because Tezuka is going all out.
There's a point during the match where Ryoma still thinks he can beat Tezuka. But he can't. "Why do you play tennis?" Tezuka asks him. That's emphasized here, but not in the manga. The reason for playing, that Ryoma needs to find his own reason.
"Become Seigaku's pillar of support," Tezuka enjoins Ryoma.
Later, on the train, Oishi tells Tezuka off for going all out. "My joints are nothing," Tezuka says. It was necessary to play seriously. "This is the only thing I can do for him."
There is no samurai. Without it, things are more vague. Tezuka seems to focus more on Ryoma even before the match, to sense his potential more from the beginning. And he's not working together with Oishi. Tezuka seems more isolated here and he doesn't let Oishi support him.
We see much more of Ryoma's reaction to the whole situation as well. The focus is much more on Tezuka and Ryoma than on Oishi.
Tezuka vs Atobe - manga 143 - 153
After Fuji vs Jiroh, Tezuka steps onto the court amidst much murmuring. Other seeded teams in the tournament are out to watch him play Atobe.
There are scouts -- high school and pro -- out to watch this match. Ryoma is still sitting in as bench coach.
They begin to play. They are both strong. Ryoma seems surprised at Atobe's ability. Tezuka has actual expressions on his face while he plays.
When Atobe makes a remark about Tezuka's arm, Oishi blurts out that Tezuka's elbow has already healed. Oishi hasn't said anything because Tezuka didn't want anyone to know.
Flashback to Tezuka's first year, when he is defeating all the second- and third-years. Oishi tells Tezuka that he's impressed, but worried that their senpais might want to get back at Tezuka.
Tezuka says that in their time, he and Oishi will lead Seigaku to the Nationals.
Later on, when the others find out that Tezuka has been playing right-handed, one of them hits Tezuka's left elbow with a racquet. Tezuka quits the club. He apologizes to Oishi, who is crushed, but he can't stay in a club like this.
Yamato-buchou shows up and makes everyone run 100 laps. He won't let Tezuka quit until afterwards. Oishi, seeing how well-trained Tezuka is, can't stand to see him go. He stops Tezuka and say that if Tezuka quits, he will too. How can Tezuka give up because of something like this?
Yamato comes up and tells Tezuka to become the pillar of Seigaku. Yamato has not given up his dream of going to Nationals.
Back to the match. Tezuka and Atobe both play well. During the break, Tezuka and Ryoma sit side by side on the bench, not speaking.
Everyone realises that Atobe is deliberately drawing out the match to hurt Tezuka's arm. Oishi is very worried. However, it seems like Tezuka is complicit with Atobe. Atobe notes that if Tezuka doesn't start attacking aggressively soon, it will be too late for his arm. I've always wondered how Atobe would be able to draw the game out as much as he does if he and Tezuka are so close in ability.
More panels of Oishi watching, both concerned and determined, as though he's expressing Tezuka's determination.
The game progresses. Tezuka is at match point when his shoulder gives out. But he won't let the team approach him on the court.
Tezuka is sitting on the bench with Ryoma, Oishi is standing nearby, inside, not behind the fence like the others. The ref advises Tezuka to forfeit. Everyone is yelling for Tezuka to forfeit. He stands to return to the court.
Oishi blocks his way. They look at each other. "Are you trying to fulfil your promise to Yamato-buchou, about taking the team to Nationals? Good luck." They cross wrists. It's really important that Oishi is so supportive here. It's their dream, their plan. He's got to be the one to allow it.
As Tezuka is walking onto the court, Ryoma says, "Don't lose when you've won against me."
"I won't lose," Tezuka says.
Ryoma and Momo leave so Ryoma can warm up, in case he has to play. Atobe takes the game and they go into a tie-break. Tezuka takes the first point with a return ace and everyone cheers. Oishi looks concerned. Tezuka is gritting his teeth. His pain shows on his face.
At the end of the tie-break, Tezuka hits the zero-shiki. As best as I can make out, Ryoma at first sees it as though it's successful. But then he sees the truth -- that it won't roll back. Atobe returns it and Tezuka hits it into the net.
Atobe wins. Seigaku is shocked. Oishi closes his eyes. When Tezuka comes off the court, Oishi puts his arm around Tezuka's shoulders.
Tezuka asks Ryoma if he remembers what Tezuka told him two months ago. And Ryoma goes onto the court to play Hiroshi.
I won't lose, says Tezuka, and then he loses. I wonder if that weighs on him. It reminds me of Sanada to Yukimura.
Oishi has to be the one to give his blessing to Tezuka to keep playing. He is the one to support him off the court at the end.
Tezuka vs Atobe - anime 63, 65-68
After S2, Tezuka makes Ryoma warm up with him. There's a flashback to Tezuka asking Ryuzaki permission to play against Ryoma. Then Ryoma and Tezuka begin to volley. Ryoma is more familiar here with Tezuka than he has been in the past. Tezuka doesn't really respond, but doesn't freeze him out either.
Tezuka seems surprised by Ryoma's ability. His mouth opens and his eyes are wide. Ryoma seems to be going all out, instead of just warming up. He asks Tezuka to make it a three-point match. Tezuka agrees and wins, fairly easily.
This sequence only appears in the anime. It connects the Tezuka - Atobe match back to the Tezuka - Ryoma match. Ryoma wants Tezuka to see how he's improved and to test his ability against him.
Tezuka asks if Ryoma has analysed Fuji well (since Ryoma was sitting in as bench coach for that match) and tells Ryoma it's now time to analyze Tezuka. They have about as much of a casual conversation as I've ever heard from them, including some near-banter about their respective catch phrases.
Tezuka and Atobe take the court. Ryoma is watching. The same thing happens with Atobe remarking about Tezuka's arm and Oishi saying it was his elbow. Tezuka didn't want the club to worry.
There is a flashback that is essentially the same as the manga.
Oishi knows a lot about Tezuka's practice regimen, which mostly seems to take place outside of club time.
Although the doctor gave the okay, Oishi is still uncertain about Tezuka's arm. He's very worried.
Ryoma thinks that both Tezuka and Atobe are good for old guys. During the break, Tezuka and Ryoma sit together on the bench, not speaking. When the game resumes, Ryoma can see what Atobe is trying to do to Tezuka's shoulder.
There's a lot of focus on Ryoma's reaction. But Oishi is the one who says that if Tezuka plays a long game it could be bad for his arm.
Oishi flashes back to Yamato's admonition to Tezuka: Become Seigaku's pillar of support. He thinks that's what Tezuka is doing now. It seems like it means more than just winning, it's about the example Tezuka sets and the spirit he brings to the club.
Ryoma thinks, "Show me what you have, until the end." He watches Tezuka getting ready to serve and says, "Mada mada dane." He's smiling. I'm not sure just what he means by it here.
After Tezuka's shoulder gives out, everyone is shocked. There's a long shot of Oishi, isolated, and he yells, "Tezuka!"
Everyone except for Ryoma runs out onto the court.
The scene between Tezuka and Oishi, when Tezuka returns to the court, is essentially the same. And the same with Ryoma.
When Ryoma comes back after warming up, he's shocked to see the tie-break still going on.
Kachiro asks Oishi why he doesn't stop the match. OIshi says that Tezuka and Atobe are using tennis in a battle of will. Nobody can stop the match.
And then it ends.
Oishi is there, but there is no arm around the shoulders.
There's a long look between Ryoma and Tezuka. Ryoma is ready to play. More long looks. Tezuka is on the bench. Tezuka asks Ryoma if he remembers what he said to him, that day under the overpass.
Tezuka leaves - manga 159 (end) - 160
Tezuka is along on the bowling outing, but not bowling due to his injury. At the end of the afternoon, Ryuzaki announces that Tezuka will be going to Kyuushuu. We don't really see anyone's reactions, so it's hard to say if Oishi knew about it or not.
Oishi and Tezuka do this tricky thing to Ryoma, Momo, and Kaidoh, where they have them overhear conversations about how good Tezuka was at their age and how Oishi is worried about the team.
Oishi is so devious! Tezuka says, "Ever since we came back from bowling, it seems like your character has changed a lot." And it has. He's stepping up to be the leader. And doing it in his own sneaky way.
All of the third-year regulars are at the airport to see Tezuka off. Ryoma, Momo, and Kaidoh are all practising hard.
Oishi is the interim captain.
As Tezuka says, Oishi seems quite different here. He's very confident. And not distressed.
Tezuka leaves - anime 73 (end) - 75
I find it so interesting that Tezuka isn't coming out to the tennis club but Oishi is. Granted, Oishi's injury is much less severe, but I'm sure he's still not able to play yet, or not much. He's running the practices. And he says to Tezuka, "I thought you forgot all about the tennis club already."
Tezuka wouldn't leave before, just to go to another study program, but now he'll leave for rehabilitation.
Tezuka goes among the club members, giving them all advice. It's all very portentous.
Oishi is concerned about morale, so he arranges the mountain-climbing expedition.
The next day at practice, the regulars are gathered together. Tezuka tells them that he's going away to Germany. He clearly has not told Oishi beforehand.
Ryoma is shocked and the ball he's been balancing drops to the ground.
Tezuka practices at a sports complex, with a ball machine, hitting with his right hand.
Ryoma seems nonchalant about Tezuka leaving, but he's really rather distracted.
Tezuka finds Oishi in the library and asks him to take over as the club leader. Oishi refuses. Only Tezuka can lead them. But he will be the temporary buchou. "Be sure to come back," Oishi says. There is certainly some uncertainty planted in this episode about whether or not Tezuka will come back to Seigaku in time for Nationals.
Tezuka comes out onto the courts, ready to play. He warms up, using his right hand. Once practice ends, he tells Ryoma to say and play a game against him. Oishi is the ref.
It's an intense match. Tezuka is both trying to inspire everyone with his fighting spirit and to get Ryoma to improve. Tezuka eventually creates the Tezuka Zone, even though he's playing right-handed.
Ryoma is enjoying himself, even though he's losing, and he finds a way to break the Tezuka Zone. He doesn't win but he definitely evolves.
It's so different between the anime and manga! In the manga, Oishi is self-assured and working with Tezuka. In the anime, he's distressed and kept in the dark by Tezuka. In the manga, the emphasis is on all of the lower year members improving. In the anime, it's all about the connection between Tezuka and Ryoma. There is no match like this in the manga.
"Before we play again," Tezuka says, "become strong enough to beat me."
We don't see Tezuka at the airport in the anime, though I thought there was a flashback to it at some point and that only Oishi and Ryuzaki were there to see him off.
Tezuka away - manga (flashback) 282-286
In a flashback, we see Tezuka undergoing examination at the hospital on Kyuushuu. There are no words, but Tezuka's shocked face and the overturned stool behind him tell the story.
He sits on his bed and broods.
Later on, we see him, wearing the same shirt as he does in the flashback phone call to Ryuzaki about Ryoma and Sanada. He goes to a court, picks up a racquet that's lying there, and tries to hit. "Will I make it in time?" he thinks. He's definitely still focused on his team, on getting back for Nationals.
The racquet belongs to a grade-school girl. She tells him to raise his shoulder more and pushes it up. It seems to hurt Tezuka a lot. They strike up a bit of a friendship and train together. She keeps telling Tezuka to raise his shoulders more.
Tezuka keeps training against a wall, after his rehabilitation is done. He can't properly lift his shoulders, not because he's not healed, but because of fear and the memory of pain.
Then the Shishigaku tennis club show up and force Tezuka to play against them. He does terribly. The girl says she'll play in his stead, and even though she's getting beaten too, her determination helps Tezuka to overcome his fears. And Tezuka helps her as well.
He crushes his opponents and leaves to make it home in time for Nationals.
The important things here are the fear Tezuka has to overcome and his strong will to make it back to his team. Tezuka's greatest opponent really seems to be himself, both in his match with Atobe, and then here, in Kyuushuu and in the match with Kabaji that the flashback occurs during. Tezuka has no rival but himself.
He is determined to rejoin his team. There is never any question of him staying away if he is fit to come home.
Tezuka away - anime 130-131
The team goes to Germany to visit Tezuka. Ryoma is transfixed. But then, everybody is. (Momoshiro tells him not to cry when he sees Tezuka! Ryoma is ticked off by the suggestion.)
Oishi gives Tezuka the Kantou tournament medal. Tezuka is touched that the team considers he was fighting along side of them.
Tezuka seems so very relaxed. He even laughs and teases Ryoma. Either that or he and Ryoma are having a serious conversation and everyone else thinks it's teasing. Oishi sent Tezuka videos of the Rikkai matches and Tezuka says Ryoma did all right, but there are still holes in his play.
And then there is sightseeing. Tezuka and Oishi talk. Tezuka misses playing tennis. He has a little fantasy about playing against Sanada.
Tezuka's coach says that he's really annoying, that he's "impertinent, disdainful, conceited," and he lectures her. She says Ryoma's cockiness is similar.
When Tezuka comes upon Ryoma and his coach playing, he lets the game continue, so as to help his coach get over herself. But there's no indication that Tezuka himself needs to get over anything or that the match is really all that big a deal for Ryoma either.
Tezuka has been talking about Ryoma to his trainer.
When they leave, everyone says they'll be waiting for Tezuka. Ryuzaki says, "If anything happens..." and Tezuka says, "Yes." But what that means, I do not know.
Ryoma says good-bye to Tezuka in a soft voice.
In the anime, I get the feeling that Tezuka's return to Seigaku isn't a sure thing. That he might just choose to stay away. There certainly doesn't seem to be the determination and urgency as in the manga. It feels symbolic that he goes so much further away, that he leaves Japan entirely.
Tezuka's return - manga 248 (end) - 250
Oishi is at the drawing for placement at the National tournament. He's rather nervous. But just as Seigaku is called to draw, Tezuka appears at the back of the hall and does the drawing instead of OIshi.
This is the first Oishi knows about Tezuka being back in Tokyo, although he may have had updates from Tezuka.
Unlike the other boys, Tezuka isn't in school uniform; he's in his Seigaku Regulars warm-up suit.
Back at school, Tezuka addresses the club and congratulates them on winning the Kantou tournament. Ryuzaki announces a ranking tournament, but Oishi steps up.
He says that the ranking tournament could affect morale, that they won the Kantou title and that they have been playing their best tennis. Momo offers to drop out, but Oishi says that he won't allow anyone whose injuries haven't completely healed to be a Regular on the team. He's looking right at Tezuka.
He tells Tezuka they will have a match and if Tezuka loses even one game to Oishi, he won't allow him on the Regulars.
Tezuka says he won't hold back. They play. All the regulars are saying who they think will win. "Tezuka." "Tezuka." "Tezuka."
"Oishi-fukubuchou," Ryoma says, and turns away from the court. (I don't think I've ever seen him use that title for Oishi before. He usually just says "Oishi-senpai". )
Ryoma flashes back to when Tezuka left and Oishi let him overhear Oishi saying how amazing Tezuka was in his first year, how he could hit 26 falling leaves in a row. Ryoma hits leaves until he gets 27.
Oishi is sweating; Tezuka is not. It's 5-0 for Tezuka, but if Oishi takes the next point, he'll win one game.
Tezuka hits a heavy ball. And Oishi's wrist gives out. There's a "snap" sound effect.
Oishi is still trying hard. There's a whole page about their first year, a flashback collage. "Our goal is to lead Seigaku to the Nationals!" Tezuka wins and takes his place as a Regular. Oishi is crying as he says, "This is the strongest member for winning at Nationals." But does he think he himself is the weakest member?
Ryoma is nearby. It's unclear if he watched any of the match, but he does seem to be affected by it, fired up and inspired.
I have so much respect for Oishi here. He knows that it will be better for the team to stay together. And that Tezuka still needs to show himself worthy and able to lead them. That there needs to be a strong transition.
I don't know if Oishi knew his wrist was still not quite healed. He seems surprised, but maybe that's just the pain. It breaks my heart that they have to change places like this, but that's okay. Oishi is always there to support Tezuka and the team and this is what needed to happen.
I think Oishi is stronger than Tezuka. That's why he can do this, he can give up his place on the team.
(It makes me think of Hughes and Roy, actually, of Hughes telling Roy he'll stay at a lower rank, to support him from below.)
Tezuka's return - anime 139 (end) - 141, 164, 166
At the Senbatsu training camp, Ryuzaki has to leave due to illness. She calls Tezuka back from Germany to coach in her stead.
Oishi is having trouble with the leader-less group. Nobody wants to do basic training and does what they want to. Oishi wonders, "What would he do?"
Tezuka arrives at the facility and is met by the ichinen trio. (Unlike Ryoma in Germany, they do cry.) He is introduced at the new coach, which causes some rumbling. Tezuka's rehab is not yet complete.
But he can play a little and he does, to convince his group that he is a worthy coach.
Anime-Tezuka seems so passionless, compared to manga-Tezuka. He's harder for me to understand. He seems broken to me, in a way that manga-Tezuka is not.
There's not a lot more to say about these episodes, except that I wonder how Tezuka feels about Atobe and Sanada fighting over him. Tezuka really is the golden boy -- everyone chases after him. Is he proud? Does it make him conceited? It's so hard to tell, because he never really expresses himself.
After Senbatsu, it's back to business as usual. And Tezuka, finally, returns to the club. Ryoma is about to hit a shot to open a message for Ryuzaki, who is back after being hospitalized. Tezuka shows up in his uniform and says he'll do it. And he does.
This is parallel to Oishi and the placement lottery in the manga. And it also shows that Tezuka's arm is all better now. Everyone is happy.
There's a tableau at the end of the episode with everyone crowding around. Oishi clasps Tezuka's hand, but Tezuka is looking away, down at Ryoma.
There's no protest from Oishi here and they do have ranking matches. There's a parallel scene to the very first ranking matches, with Tezuka, Ryuzaki, and Oishi. Ryoma is clearly thinking about Tezuka. You can tell by the way he pretends not to be.
In the manga, Ryoma and Tezuka have played only once, to date. Ryoma still needs to defeat Tezuka. In the anime, they have played three times, and things are resolved.
The only conclusion I want to draw is that the focus is very different between the anime and manga. The anime is about Tezuka and Ryoma, beginning to end. The manga isn't, not really. And in the manga, the connection between Tezuka and Oishi is what underlies the drive to Nationals.
Ryoma is the Prince of Tennis and he will be, wherever he goes. Tezuka and Oishi are Seigaku and they can only be that where they are.