Seishun Gakuen Middle School’s tennis team is facing some stiff competition in the district tennis tournament from an unknown team. Mamoru Inoue investigates Fudomine’s checkered past while each of the Seigaku players meets an on-court rival equal to their own power. Meanwhile, Ryoma has his own problems (physically and mentally) to overcome if he’s going to take his game to the next level. Takeshi Konomi’s long-running manga and anime series returns with The Prince of Tennis Box 2: Battle Scars from Viz Media.
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Textless Opening & Closing, Preview Trailers
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Episodes fourteen and fifteen introduce the second half of the district tennis tournament as Seigaku and Fudomine square off in the finals. Tachibana has rebuilt the Fudomine tennis team from the ground up and the team is ready to prove that their school is a worthy rival. Mamoru, always the curious reporter, starts to investigate the unknown tennis team to see what drives them to win. On the court, Tezuka finds himself facing a strong tennis team with a captain as equally cunning as himself. The doubles matches are close with Fuji and Taka facing Ishida and Sakurai from Fudomine. During the match, Tachibana wanders off and is confronted by Mamoru Inoue. Sitting down for a talk, Tachibana reveals the dark, troubled past the Fudomine tennis club has and his own problems trying to put together a team of true players. This kind of drive could be what gives Fudomine the chance to beat Seigaku in the tournament.
Episode sixteen begins with Kikumaru and Oishi playing through sun and rain in their #1 Doubles match against Fudomine. The pair are so good on the court that coach Sumire Ryuzaki can’t help but take a shot at the disorganized pairing of Ryoma and Momo behind her. As the doubles match finishes, both teams each have one win. Unfortunately, the downpour of rain delays Kaido and Ryoma from starting their singles matches against Fudomine. Mamoru uses the time during the delay to explain (again) what drives Fudomine to win. (Do we really need a five minute flashback every episode of the “hardships” Fudomine faced?) However, nothing lasts forever, and the match between Kaido and Kamio of Fudomine begins. Kamio is determined to provoke the Viper and pushes Kaido to use his snake shot. Unfortunately for Kaido, Kamio has an answer to the snake shot and wants the rhythm of the game turned up to wear out his opponent. As the fight pushes into episode seventeen, Kamio finds himself facing two impossible fronts: a player who doesn’t get worn out and Kaido’s new (accidental) “boomerang snake” that can wind around the side of the net.
Just as Ryoma Echizen finally takes the court in episode eighteen, we find ourselves following Nanjiro Echizen as his niece, Nanako, finds an old photobook of Nanjiro at Seigaku. (You know where this is going…) Ryoma opens strong for the first match with multiple twist serves to put Shinji on Fudomine in his place. Watching from the Seigaku bench, coach Sumire Ryuzaki is reminded of another Echizen who was brash on the court. Nanjiro was a mess on the court before she forced him to play backhand, but Nanjiro managed to learn “two-sword style” on his own to pay her back. The technique of alternating the tennis racket to either hand when needed defeated Ryuzaki, but Ryoma’s own use only puts a dent in Shinji’s armor. On the court, Ryoma is just like Nanjiro, and Tezuka starts to get an idea of what will need to be done if Ryoma is to keep growing as a player.
Episodes nineteen and twenty finish off the Ryoma/Shinji match as Shinji beats Ryoma down on the court. Shinji’s attacks have found a way to temporarily paralyze Ryoma’s muscles while trying to return a serve. However, a desperate move by Echizen to correct this problem results in losing his racket and catching the rebounding broken handle in the eye. The team knows they’ll have to forfeit the match, but Ryoma wants to keep playing. Tezuka gives Ryoma ten minutes to finish the match and put Shinji away for good or else he’s forfeiting. With the tournament victory on the line, Echizen pushes himself to the limit, his eye bleeding, while Shinji continues to play for keeps.
Seigaku is the team to watch in the next tournament and people come from all over Japan to study the players in episode twenty-one. Ryuzaki and Tezuka aren’t very surprised at all the attention, but the younger players are stunned at how many people want to learn what Seigaku does on the court in order to beat them. Sakuno bought a new tethered tennis ball to train with and Ryoma is fairly amused with how fun and easy it is. As a lecherous student in a white suit watches the girls, he notices Sakuno and Ryoma practicing. Commenting on how Ryoma could better his swing, Kiyosumi Sengoku finds himself on the receiving end of the improved swing as the tennis ball smacks him in the face. Mr. White Suit (aka Kiyosumi-the-tennis-ball-face-catcher) is from Yamabuki Intermediate School, and we’ll probably be hearing from him again soon… if he wakes up. Elsewhere, two more spies are taking detailed notes from a hiding place on each of the Seigaku players. Kenzo and Shunsuke didn’t make their school’s tennis team because they slacked off, but these important notes might get them a spot. They decide to stalk Momo and Ryoma, but are soon confronted for following them. The only answer is for Kenzo and Shunsuke to challenge the newest Seigaku doubles pair to a match on the court.
Episode twenty-two delivers what is probably the silliest episode in the series as the players from Seigaku and Fudomine cross paths thanks to a purse-snatcher. The purse-snatcher grabs a woman’s (duh) purse and runs off with it. In a moment of chivalry, Momoshiro starts to chase down the man and borrows a bicycle from two students nearby. However, the bike is Kamio’s and he runs after Momo, not understanding why his bike was taken. Of course, the other person with Kamio is Shinji, who notices that the group who was with Momo is Ryoma and the Seigaku junior tennis members. As Kamio catches up to Momo, the purse snatcher is tripped by Kaido. The thief keeps running and a cop, just catching up, finds Kaido holding the stolen purse. Meanwhile, Momo explains to Kamio why he borrowed the bike when they overhear a girl struggling. Ai, the mystery girl from the district tournament who helped Sakuno and is the younger sister of Tachibana, is being harassed by some tennis thugs who want a date with her. Momo and Kamio pair up to defend her honor while Ryoma finds himself having a minor disagreement with Shinji over some tennis racket tape. (Don’t you love soap opera anime? Next time tune in to find out Ryoma and Sakuno are really brother and sister, which means that Sakuno’s best friend Tomoka Osakada has more than a fighting chance for Ryoma’s affection unless he wanders down the Ujin route of Sakura Tsuushin. Cue the dramatic music!)
With the next tennis competition closing in fast, episodes twenty-three and twenty-four continue the lighter look at the squad members’ lives before the next major showdown on the court begins. Episode twenty-three features Inui developing new routines and a special drink to keep the Seigaku squad motivated. As usual, the losers hit the ground running to cleanse themselves of the horrid taste. Coach Ryuzaki can only smile at the powerful combination of players the school will be sending to this year’s tournament. Episode twenty-four gives Sakuno her first real chance to be alone with Ryoma for an episode. Coach Ryuzaki is busy and can’t take Sakuno to get her racket fixed up, so she asks Ryoma to take her since he knows where the special shop is. Nanjiro finds out Ryoma has a “date” and decides to tail the lad. Meanwhile, Momo and some of the junior members happen to spot Ryoma and Sakuno being followed by a creepy-looking monk (Nanjiro), so they decide to make sure nothing bad happens. Of course, no one can help Ryoma from himself when one of the two people thinks of this as beiing more than just a trip to the racket shop…
The final two episodes for the second box set pit Ryoma Echizen against a strong player to push him further: team captain Kunimitsu Tezuka. Tezuka, who has been sidelined for tennis elbow, has made a full recovery and asks coach Ryuzaki for a special favor. Tezuka realizes that Ryoma will never grow as a player if he isn’t pushed harder to reach for something bigger than just beating Nanjiro someday. In secret, the two square off deep in the city, away from the rest of the team, so Tezuka can show Echizen that just being good will not get him through the later tournaments.
The Prince of Tennis has hit a decent stride, though I’d be happier with more silly episodes like the purse snatcher and less rehashing the Dragon-Ball-Z-esque “what you missed because it was only on TV a week ago!” that popped up so often during the district tournament. I can’t imagine trying to watch this series on television when stories take up two and three episodes at a time. In a box set, this show is much more fun. The supporting cast gets a bit more fleshing out, which was sorely needed for this team, but there are still more side characters that could use development over introducing even more rivals for the team. With the light hints of a romantic connection between Ryoma and Sakuno, I fear we’ll be waiting for the move forward even longer than the Mulder and Scully moment. The opening and closing animation and music changes are still present on this volume, so don’t expect to get away from the poor ‘rock’ theme version used for the U.S. TV broadcasts. The Japanese cast is well rounded in this set of thirteen episodes. Junko Minagawa has been working on fleshing out Ryoma Echizen’s more human side quite decently. Kohei Kiyasu’s Kaido is a bit more amusing with the “hiss” coming off a bit more natural now. And Mikako Takahashi’s Sakuno is adorably cute as she constantly worries about impressing Ryoma. She’s going to pop if he doesn’t give in soon. The English production from Salami Studios continues to have issues with poor direction and the waffling script that bounces between accurate and the writers trying to be clever. After twenty-six episodes, I fear this is basically as hard as they are going to try for this show. Among the series regulars, only Doug Erholtz (Momoshiro) seems to have a good grasp of his character.
The Prince of Tennis Box 2: Battle Scars pushes out a bit more fun and a bit less of the stiff character introductions, making for a solid second entry to the series. There is always room for improvement, but Ryoma becoming a bit more normal while the other characters are fleshed out on-screen is a huge plus. The video is clean and the subtitles contain only a couple minor errors in spelling. The chapter breaks could be better, with one or two needing to be added inbetween the opening teaser, the opening animation, and when the actual episode starts so you don’t have to fast-forward through the crappy opening music. The DVD extras are slim with the creditless original opening and closing and a promotional video for the series. The Prince of Tennis plays out better in DVD set form than as a sports anime to watch on broadcast TV. The lengthy storylines need the handy feature of an affordable thirteen-episode collection to help buffer the episodes almost entirely based around the court with some lighter moments. Ryoma and Momo are a great pair to follow during non-court time and the same goes for Sakuno’s pursuit of Ryoma. It will be interesting to see how the series balances out the next big tournament that should start in the third box set.