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Halrloprillalar

You can call me Hal.

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Tezuka, Ryoma, and Shounen Sports Series
tezuryo silence
prillalar
I've been trying to write an essay about Prince of Tennis and how it's not really a typical sports series and what that means for Tezuka and Ryoma, but it's turning out to be way too long and tedious. So, a few highlights.

Before I begin, here's the list of other shounen sports series that I've followed, in whole or in part, in manga, anime, and/or live action: Aoki Densetsu Shoot, Dear Boys, Eyeshield 21, H2, Hajime no Ippo, Hungry Heart Wild Striker, I'll [Generation Basket], Slam Dunk, Whistle!. (I'm not counting *cough* Hice Cool, but I probably should be.)



A shounen sports series typically goes through several stages: issuing the challenge/passing the test, running away, making the team, team building, etc. Ryoma's story doesn't fit this paradigm very well at all.

The challenge/test phase is something the protagonist has to go through, either to perform a feat to show he's worthy, or to prove himself against the older students.

In Prince of Tennis, Ryoma comes to Seigaku and finds that first year students can't become Regulars for the summer tournament season. So, he challenges Tezuka to a match. If I win, he says, then give me a chance to become a Regular. They play and even though Ryoma loses, he plays with such skill and passion that Tezuka allows him to be in the ranking matches.

Except that didn't happen. Tezuka looked out the window, saw Ryoma playing Arai, and wrote his name down on the sheet. Tezuka deprived Ryoma of his chance to challenge him. (This is the thought that caused me to leave my scarf on the bus.)

Why? Why does Ryoma miss that challenge phase? I don't think Tezuka is doing him any favours by letting him skip it. Or does he see that Ryoma just won't bother? Ryoma will challenge anybody for their own sake, but I'm not sure that he would do so to gain a place on a school team.


Now, I said that Ryoma's story doesn't fit the sports paradigm. But Tezuka's does. When we see wee Flashback!Tezuka, he's very much the earnest shounen hero. He tries to quit, comes back, works harder than ever, and the journey and he and Oishi take to Nationals follows the paradigm quite well, as they build the team along the way, suffer losses, and finally get the point where they may be able to achieve their goal.

But Tezuka is also missing the challenge phase. I wonder if he's just too passive. Well, maybe passive isn't a good word for it. But he seems way more conforming than a sports character should be (I mean, compared to characters in other sports series). He doesn't push against anything. The only thing that comes close was that incident on Kyuushuu, where Shitenhouji force him to play. But even then, they started it.

When Tezuka does have to push to overcome something, it's himself. His injury, his fear. He has no rival, so his opponent is himself. This isn't good. He needs somebody. A rival or a mentor. (I've talked about Tezuka's missing mentor before.)


Passivity aside, Tezuka's story is very much a typical sports story. Ryoma's story seems a lot more personal. His goal is not to make it to Nationals, it's to defeat his father, and later on, to defeat Tezuka. His most important match is not in a tournament, it's in near secrecy. His tournament opponents are most important to him for the opportunity they present him, not for the chance to win for Seigaku.

My theory is that Ryoma is in a different story, some sort of personal tennis quest story, and it's converging with Tezuka's shounen sports story for a while. So they play different parts for each other. Ryoma is Tezuka's missing piece, the final bit of team-building before the last push to Nationals. Tezuka is Ryoma's teacher for this phase in his development, but Ryoma will move on once it's done.

Both their stories veer a bit. Ryoma jogs Tezuka out of his sports series, Tezuka pulls Ryoma in. They become something that doesn't quite fit in either story. It's a wonderful complication and I'm still trying to figure it out.


Another thing that's strange about Ryoma is that we never really get into his head. Every other shounen sports series I've followed, I've always had a good idea of how the main character was feeling. Not so with Ryoma. We rarely, if ever, get to hear his thoughts.

For god's sake, his most important match, the match with Tezuka, in the manga is really all from Tezuka's point of view. All the lead up, the match, most of the aftermath. Ryoma is just there and we only really see his reaction when he's home playing Nanjiroh afterwards.

It's disconcerting to me and I think it's why it took me so long to warm up to Ryoma. I never felt like I was there with him.


But Prince of Tennis does conform with the greatest shounen sports tenet of all: A true sportsman loves his sport more than anything. Because he loves it, he will strive to improve and do everything he can to win, within the bounds of sportsmanlike play. But if he loses, he will do so with grace and he will train all the harder afterwards.

In H2, the evil coach says to his evil pitcher: I don't want players who love baseball. I want players who love to win.

Love of sport is redemptive. That's how Mitsui (Slam Dunk) can come back to the team and play with the same boys he hurt. And love of sport is why Hiruma (Eyeshield 21) is actually a good guy. All the tricky stuff he does? It's all off the field. When he's playing, he plays by the rules. Because he loves football.

But Prince of Tennis turns this on its head because the one who needs to learn this true love of sport is Ryoma. In any other show, that would make him a villain, or at least a problem child that the hero had to face and defeat in order for him to learn the love of sport.

I guess this must be why there was no challenge phase for Ryoma. Without the love of sport, what would have been the point?

In conclusion, Prince of Tennis is a very strange sports series and I'm not sure I understand Tezuka any more than when I started this particular analysis.

It's so cool.

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But Prince of Tennis turns this on its head because the one who needs to learn this true love of sport is Ryoma.

Plotwise, though, that seems to happen very early on--as soon as he plays Tezuka, nearly. It's Ryouma himself, after all, who manages to redeem just about every villain/problem-player in the series; they play him and touch on something pure and re-find themselves in that love/honor/truth thing. Something Ryouma seems to have picked up by some kind of psychic contagion from Tezuka. It's just never stated explicitly when/if he has.

And there's the other point, of course. I do think it's extremely odd that we never get Ryouma's inner thoughts. His matches are /always/ seen from the outside. That, more than anything else, removes him from the sports-story, I think. We see the effects (redemption) but we don't get the vital other half, which is the internal reflection by the hero on his own determination/drive/love of the sport.

I wonder just what Konomi thinks he's doing? Or if it's even deliberate?

I do think it's extremely odd that we never get Ryouma's inner thoughts. His matches are /always/ seen from the outside. That, more than anything else, removes him from the sports-story, I think. We see the effects (redemption) but we don't get the vital other half, which is the internal reflection by the hero on his own determination/drive/love of the sport.

This is also almost a perfect mirror of Tezuka, in that we almost never ever get any sort of personal reflection from Tezuka on himself. The closest we get is "no one knows me better than me" and that is translated differently at different times to be more of a direct "no one knows my physical limits better than I do"--which is, again, not the most internal statement.

Both Tezuka and Ryoma make their personal statements directly with their tennis. I think that's why it's vital that Tezuka says he wanted to show Ryoma his tennis, and asks Ryoma to return the favor. He chooses that terminology for Ryoma because he knows that it's what Ryoma will respond to.

I don't know that what the others touch on when they play Ryoma is so much a result of Tezuka rubbing off on Ryoma, so much as Tezuka's match with Ryoma culling forth what was already deep inside Ryoma: the hidden potential to imprint himself so fully on his game that every match is an evolution. Every game that Tezuka lets himself play to his fullest potential involves a great deal of personal growth for him; in the same way, from the moment Ryoma loses to Tezuka, all of his matches signal huge leaps in his progress and understanding of his own tennis. In terms of the sports story, I completely agree that we can't view Ryoma's progress or Tezuka's in terms of the typical hero's progress past various external obstacles. Tenipuri is unusual in that in a sense, tennis itself is the obstacle. The more you have been able to imprint yourself onto your game the more likely you are to be able to evolve successfully and move forward.

If personalized tennis is seen as the ultimate goal of the series, then I think Ryoma can function as a character who speaks almost completely through his game alone. If Tezuka is the kind of character who only seems to be able to speak about tennis and rarely anything else, while putting all of his personality into his game, then it makes sense that Ryoma, who is clearly meant to evolve a level higher than even Tezuka, would ultimately save all his statements for the game itself.

I like to pretend it's all deliberate on Konomi's part. There's so much that's rewarding in the structure of this series; I don't want to think even the less substantiated readings of it are just accidental. :D


:D :D :D :D I agree with every word of this. The post I had alotted for discussion of the game in my whole PoT intro was shamelessly taken over by me talking about Tezuka and passion and how much both of those things are vital to Ryoma's development as a character. I had intended to spend a little time on the subject of PoT itself as a samurai trope rather than a shonen sports trope; because to me it seems as though the spirit of the series as embodied by Tezuka is all about internal struggle, just as you said, rather than what I think of as the external struggle of a sports manga.

I wound up not writing in that part because I didn't feel like I was qualified to talk about a trope I knew mostly intuitively and not because I've actually read another sports manga in my life.

Now I'm really glad I didn't because this is way more articulate than I would have managed under the constraints of brevity. And, just. Yeah. This is spot on. And possibly was worth losing your scarf. :|

I never, ever get tired of listening to good Tezuka analysis.

I'm a total sports series addict. (And Slam Dunk is king!) But since PoT was the first one I followed, I didn't realise until later how odd it really is. If I were watching it now for the first time, I think I would expect the main character to be Kachiro and Ryoma somebody that they have to coax to be in the tennis club at all. Ryoma's dampened love of tennis would rekindle when faced with Kachiro's passion. Etc.

I've been thinking about this since December; there's so much more inside my head about it. I've been wondering if Tezuka's seemingly passive nature is a flaw. But then I think we're still waiting for more information. Konomi teased us in the manga with that bit with Yukimura and Sanada recognizing Tezuka's special ability when no one in Seigaku had seen it before.

I feel like I'm still circling around these two, especially Tezuka, but that I'm getting a little closer every time.

And I got the scarf back from the Lost and Found. :)

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Did he really switch Ryoma's role after the series was already underway? I'll have to dig out my manga and have a look.

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I like your analysis of the different myths driving PoT.

I've always had the strange feeling that Ryoma's story was that of a Kung Fu hero. Instead of being the protagonist who has to change to drive the plot, he's always seemed more like a Messiah, a spiritual redeemer and inspirational force for Tezuka and Seigaku.

Ryoma is better than everyone except for Tezuka (and possibly Fuji?). This means that for a while, he can be Tezuka's disciple. But Tezuka reminds him of the Buddhist maxim -- do not worship Tezuka, keep seeking enlightenment.


Yeah, Ryoma is more of a force than a person, in a lot of ways. He changes others more than they change him.

do not worship Tezuka, keep seeking enlightenment

I hope that just applies to Ryoma, not to me. :)

But Prince of Tennis turns this on its head because the one who needs to learn this true love of sport is Ryoma.

A large part of this, I think, has to do with his intense dislike of Nanjiroh. I mean, at one point, Ryoma actually comes out and says that he would have quit tennis if he knew how. That speaks volumes about his attitude towards tennis at the beginning. Tezuka helps him gain a more positive outlook on tennis, one that Ryoma's competitive nature can accept (because it's obvious he can't respect Nanjiroh the same way he does Tezuka).

Also, I think Ryoma would help people better if he were flawed himself. It's just a feeling, nothing more, but Tezuka's (or Yukimura's) high skill level don't really do much to ordinary tennis players who need them, it's the select few that are able to appreciate; the rest just stare and point in awe. And why is it that we hear about how stunningly good these players are, and they don't play much for the entire series?

I think not getting into Ryoma's head has to do with the way he interacts with the multitudes of characters in the series. It's almost like he's only a catalyst, or an embodiment (sp?) except he's not.

*looks at what she's written* *groans* I'm so obsessed. Yay braindeath in class tomorrow. At least it's better than freezing rain.

Interesting thoughts about Nanjiroh. He's another one who's hard to figure out. The way he just dropped out of tennis! I would have expected him to have been injured and unable to continue and so trying to live out his dreams via Ryoma. But that didn't happen, so his motivation is a bit puzzling.

Ryoma is definitely a catalyst. He stirs things up and makes everyone change.

Obsession is good! Right? (Tell me it's good.) I'm glad you shared your thoughts. :)

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Hee! I guess I'm sneaky or something. :) There's meta in the episode summaries as well, though after a while they become more crack than serious.

My theory is that Ryoma is in a different story, some sort of personal tennis quest story, and it's converging with Tezuka's shounen sports story for a while.

This makes a lot of sense to me. They don't have to be mutually exclusive though--I think of Sakuragi in Slam Dunk as embarking on a personal basketball quest (so he can say "I like basketball" and mean it) at the same time as he undergoes the shounen team quest (though the latter is given more weight).

When I first saw PoT I thought it was strange that Seigaku was so strong to begin with--it sort of devalues the growth that would be required to win the team quest. And the way that Ryoma starts out insanely good at tennis right off the bat puzzled me too. But Konomi kind of takes care of that by making his tennis "empty" or just a copy of his father's--so Tezuka has lots to teach him.

I see Tezuka as grabbing hold of Ryoma at at an important stage (since Ryoma is so young and impressionable, ha ha). I don't really understand Tezuka either, but it does seem to me that the teacher is often someone who stands to lose a lot. I'm thinking of Sai from Hikaru no Go and, uh, Obi-wan Kenobi here. They have to give and give and give so that the pupil can grow and become great.

And this is off-topic and mostly a result of my Hikaru no Go obsession, but I think HikaGo sort of fits the bill for the team quest at first (when Hikaru was in the Go club, and to some extent when he was an insei). Later on, the series transitions to a personal quest. I had just read Slam Dunk before HikaGo and I was expecting Go club to conquer the nation or something, so I was really surprised when Hikaru quit to become an insei. Maybe the team quest is a necessary precursor to the personal quest? I know HikaGo is not really a sports manga, but a lot of the traits you mentioned seem to apply (issuing the challenge/passing the test, running away, making the team, team building, learning to love the sport for itself, and I'll add the obsession with a rival thing).

Anyway, I just wrote a paper for school and it's 3am and I'm not thinking coherently so I'm going to bed zzzz.

I think the difference between Sakuragi and Ryoma is that Sakuragi learns his love for the game as he learns his skills, which seems exactly right for this genre -- he's progressing in a natural way. Ryoma, though, has the skills but not the love, not even a dampened-by-bitterness love, and that's just weird.

When I first saw PoT I thought it was strange that Seigaku was so strong to begin with--it sort of devalues the growth that would be required to win the team quest.

Yes, exactly. I think that's partially made up for by the personal growth of most of the characters, but it's still odd. It makes more sense if you assume we're coming in at the end of the story, not the beginning.

it does seem to me that the teacher is often someone who stands to lose a lot. I'm thinking of Sai from Hikaru no Go and, uh, Obi-wan Kenobi here.

Oh, I like that. Good thought. And that's true for Tezuka -- by taking that role for Ryoma, he sets himself up to let his injury overcome him. As well, there's at least one place where it's implied that he puts Ryoma's development ahead of the team's win, when (in the manga) he phones Ryuzaki from Kyuushuu and asks that Ryoma play Singles 1 against Sanada because this is what Ryoma needs to advance himself. The implication is that Ryoma needs this, even if he loses, even if Seigaku loses. (However, even if they lose against Rikkai, they will still go to Nationals.)

It's interesting you mention Obi-Wan. I've been trying to make sure I don't fall into the "Yoda trap" with Tezuka, that is, believing unquestioningly that what he does is, in fact, the best for Ryoma. I always thought that Luke was being stupid when he ignored Yoda and Obi-Wan and raced off to Cloud City. But after Episode I, I thought a lot more about the Jedi and realised that Luke was right and they were wrong. I do think, given the context, that Tezuka *is* more likely to be right, but I don't want to just assume.

I was thinking a lot about HnG in the context of this analysis. Maybe Ryoma is a lot more like Hikaru, where he passes from stage to stage and leaves the people who helped him behind.

more fighting shounen than sports shounen

I haven't really developed these thoughts, but perhaps Ryoma's role is much more in line with one of those martial arts/samurai stories? (I vaguely remember hearing that his name is from a famous samurai.) Fighting shounen. Where even if there is an initial barrier and some setbacks, our hero tends to always win his battles and be very naturally gifted (Kenshin, Naruto, One Piece, and Dragonball come to mind, although there may be better examples). Certainly the tennis matches are set up very like duels. We have the *impossible* secret techniques, the strange training, and one could consider the teams as different dojos (complete with masters who seem to mostly sit on the sideline and say cryptic things).

In this light, the fact that Ryoma starts out so skilled from playing from a young age, but that his tennis is "empty" doesn't seem so weird--along with his need to find a better master than his father, and all the stuff about *evolving*. Of course, it's a little hard to use one's tennis racket to protect other people, but maybe becoming a "pillar of support" is vaguely analogous (stretching, I know).

Another thought: I haven't seen all the shounen sports shows you mention, but the ones I do recognize are all team sports. Tennis is 1-on-1 (or 2-on-2). Which might be another reason it seems so easily to blend into fighting shounen.

Another thing that you mentioned at the end: that Ryoma really is filling the antagonist role. So, it's like we really are watching a regular sports anime, but from the other side. Like, really we should be watching Fudomine develop, but somehow we ending up watching the tough, but honorable team that beat them.

Re: more fighting shounen than sports shounen

Yes, I was thinking that PoT reminded me more of Naruto than it does of other sports series. I have never seen such strange, near magical techniques in another other sports series. (The closest was in Hungry Heart Wild Striker where the ball would sometimes glow orange when Kanou kicked it a certain way.)

In this light, the fact that Ryoma starts out so skilled from playing from a young age, but that his tennis is "empty" doesn't seem so weird--along with his need to find a better master than his father, and all the stuff about *evolving*.

Yes, you're right. I like the way you phrase "to find a better master". He doesn't know that he needs one until he finds him.

Hajime no Ippo, which I am currently devouring, is a boxing series and it's the only solo sport in the batch. It's not even a school story. Ippo is a high school student, but he boxes for a gym, not a school team. But it's a straight-up sports series, highly typical.

But that doesn't invalidate your point about tennis fitting more with fighting shounen, which I think is correct. It's very interesting to me that Ryoma's most significant matches, though moreso in the anime than the manga, are not in a tournament situation.

Fudomine would make a classic sports series! I would love to see it. I especially love the player-coach figure and Tachibana is a really good example of that.

I figured I wouldn't comment on this post, even though it was fascinating to me, because I really have nothing constructive to contribute. Having been swimming in more typical sports manga recently, the differences between PoT and them are even more striking. Ryoma really isn't a protagonist type at all, is he? I suppose that's why there are enough fans who actually dislike him, as opposed to just being indifferent.

Yeah, I think the dislilke is in part due to that, but even more to the way we're shut out of his head. We can't empathize for him if we don't know how he's feeling.

Are you developing a love for sports manga now? I'm such an addict.

I've only read Eyeshield 21 and watched some of Prince of Tennis (I will catch up within the next...year!) and a couple of shojo manga that have sports in them but are not actually sports series, so I can't comment on your comparison of Prince of Tennis to shonen sports manga overall. However, I think you're dead on with the crossover appeal of PoT to Naruto and other shonen fight series in terms of style. I do not care about sports at all, but I love some good cracktasticness and quality violence, and much of what I do find charming about PoT and ES21 are their sheer over-the-top cracktasticness (PoT for the "battle techniques", ES21 for colorful characterization). A straight serious series about sports without any pyrotechnics would probably bore me to death.

This part struck me as very interesting, and I'm still mulling over what I think about it:
Love of sport is redemptive. That's how Mitsui (Slam Dunk) can come back to the team and play with the same boys he hurt. And love of sport is why Hiruma (Eyeshield 21) is actually a good guy. All the tricky stuff he does? It's all off the field. When he's playing, he plays by the rules. Because he loves football.

This is very true in all fiction media about sports I've seen (insert dozens of Hollywood baseball/football/tennis/whatever movies here). You can kick puppies to death in you spare time, but if you play it straight on the field, you're Not A Bad Guy, Really, and are assumed to have some measure of social respectability even when your attitude when not playing should say otherwise. (That's not without correlation in real-life sports, where there are plenty of professional athletes notorious for their bad behavior as civilians who are nonetheless adored for their performance on the field--the bad behavior probably makes them even more noticeable and colorful.) And you will probably turn out to be fuzzy and warm later and not be Such A Bad Guy After All. How much evil can you get away with under love of the game? At what point, if ever, does the evil you do outweigh your love of the game that can save you--or is your love of the game assumed to be irredeemably corrupted anyway by the time you reach that point? Do your teammates try to save you through their love of the game/you, as Naruto tries to save Sasuke?

Since I love fight series, I'm terribly curious now about how much the two genres actually overlap and diverge. Do you get actual training in non-pyrotechnic-filled sports manga, or is it fight series "training" a la "wave your sword/chakra/magic around under the watchful eye of this magic sensei for about half an hour and suddenly be twice as strong as you were before"? Do characters "level up" to face new, more powerful opponents? Do you have the sports series equivalent of some of more fantastic fight series character archetypes? Like, oh, the sports equivalent of Gaara--someone who plays the sport to crush others because of a past hidden Deep Wound, etc.? Would Ryoma be Gaara, or Sasuke, or neither? Gaara and Sasuke are both fighting prodigies, but neither of them take real untainted joy in fighting.

You can kick puppies to death in you spare time, but if you play it straight on the field, you're Not A Bad Guy, Really, and are assumed to have some measure of social respectability even when your attitude when not playing should say otherwise.

This annoys me actually, because off the court Ryoma acts like such a brat I want to punch him. His court attitude is sort of into the taunting-your-opponent-until-they-snap kind. And there's Akutsu, who needs to be treated for urges to commit violent acts- everywhere he goes, if he's in the mood, someone leaves the scene bleeding. Sheesh. And then people get all fuzzy about him because he helps Ryoma out, which is contradictory to his nature and everyone just assumes that he really is a teddy bear under all those cigarettes. Maybe playing competitive sports make men go haywire...

or is it fight series "training" a la "wave your sword/chakra/magic around under the watchful eye of this magic sensei for about half an hour and suddenly be twice as strong as you were before"?

Actually, the Prince of Tennis people are obsessed about training. All the teams, including Rikkaidai and random unknown schools have their own ways of training, but there is definitely the grueling physical aspect of "run up and down that hill 20 times and then climb trees to finally test your accuracy when you're tired" type of training. Although Inui gets a bit strange sometimes, with the punishment Juice and all that.

And since Inui is the Datamaster, we know from him that everyone else on the team does this-and-that etc. They certainly work hard even with talent. And then there's training camp episodes...

There are at least 10 episodes devoted to Kaidoh going to the riverbank on his own and swinging wet towels (XD) to improve his stance/stamina, and then most of the time we see him outside of school he is jogging.

But you know, sometimes I think Prince of Tennis is just a well-disguised metaphor of magic/samurai moves drawn by people fangirls who were under the influence.

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