What They Say:
Ryoma Echizen is the 12-year-old son of a famous tennis player and a tennis genius in his own right. With talent in his blood and fire in his eyes, he backs up his confidence on the court with amazing skills. Now he has to overcome the older players on his high school team who are dead set against letting him surpass them. To defeat the slippery “Viper,” the calculating Inui Sadahara, and a host of other opponents, Ryoma will need everything he’s gotten from his father and more!
Viz Media has covered the bases for this series with a simple set of audio tracks. Both the Japanese track and English track are stereo mixes encoded at 192 kbps. The show doesn’t really do a lot with the audio however as both the dialogue sections and the action sections of the tennis matches don’t really provide any impact. Everything comes across clean and clear and the tracks are free of distortions or dropouts, but the show doesn’t have a lot of impact when it comes to the soundtrack. The music is the only area that really sounds full in that sense but overall it is a solid if somewhat underwhelming mix considering the material.
Originally beginning its broadcast run in 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this look to be in excellent shape and the resulting look on this release is fantastic. The series has a lot of bright bold colors to it, from the uniforms to the the backgrounds, and it all maintains a very solid feel here. There are many areas where it’s just large sections of color, such as the sky or the tennis courts, that I expect more background noise and break-up in it. But the end result is one that is just lush and very appealing. There are small areas of complaint here and there, a touch of aliasing during a pan, a soft moment in the source during the pause frame before commercial break, but they’re very minimal. At most, some of the reds on occasion exhibit a touch of chroma noise. But across three volumes and thirteen episodes I found the show to be stellar looking.
One of the things I like about a company such as Viz Media is the potential for a proper amount of synergy between their manga and video releases. Prince of Tennis manages to find that mix just right with this release. Styled after the manga releases, the entire thing is done up in a digipak with a slipcase. The side panel reflects the DVD aspects of the set but the design mirrors that of the manga, allowing it to sit side by side with those releases. The front panel has a great shot of Ryoma holding out his racket against a light blue backdrop while the back panel is a standard keepcase layout. A cast shot is done lightly in the background while over it there are a mix of stills from the show, a summary of the premise and a clear listing of the discs features and extras. The bottom portion rounds things out with a mix of production credits. What little technical information they provide is on the bottom of the box as there is no technical grid here. The digipak inside is similar to the front cover where it has character art on each of the panels. The interior panels where the discs are has a piece from the show that is of an empty tennis court. The insert has a two panel spread of Momoshiro and Ryoma together while the reverse side lists the episode titles by volume and plugs the manga and Shonen Jump.
The menu design for the show mirrors the covers in that it’s a mix of cover art and tennis courts. Similar to the show itself, it’s filled with a lot of bright bold colors and has a very good feel to it as a bit of instrumental music plays along. The text for the navigation is well done and they do naturally go with a tennis ball for the cursor icon. Access times are nice and fast and the discs have little on them which makes navigation quick and easy. The disc did not read our player presets and defaulted to English language with no subtitles.
The few extras on this release are all on the last volume, not that I expected much in the way of extras. A production art gallery is included as is the original Japanese opening and closing sequences. Unfortunately these aren’t quite exactly original in that they’re clean versions of the Japanese opening and closing sequences with the original music to them.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a number of sports themed series in the last couple of years, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I rather enjoy the Prince of Tennis. A 178 episode series based off of the original manga by tennis nut Takeshi Konomi, it’s a show that takes the usual themes in sports shows and applies them masterfully. Coming off of a series like Fighting Spirit, this is simply more of a team based version of that show in terms of how it makes me feel watching it. It doesn’t hurt either than I voraciously enjoyed the manga releases.
The series revolves around twelve year old Ryoma Echizen as he enters Seishin Gakuen. He’s returned from being in America for a couple of years and winning numerous tournaments there in his age group, not that anyone in his new school knows who he is. Ryoma’s something of a quiet type but with a serious level of confidence. Not the type that comes off as over the top or too serious, but just the right level to be intimidating to those who goes against. Having faced numerous tough opponents overseas, he’s not one to be easily intimidated himself which means his school life isn’t exactly a social one. Add in that he’s not good with remembering people that aren’t involved in tennis which leaves him a bit off-putting for others.
Ryoma’s arrival is one that quickly sets him up into a number of confrontations with others, but they’re confrontations that take place on the tennis courts. Be it people that hang around the public courts or those that he now finds himself being on the same team with, his personality lends itself to being challenged. Of course, there is also an obvious level of hazing going on within the team area, particularly as his arrival comes at the start of the new season. Every season has a tournament taking place within those eligible to play to see who can make the competition team. Slots on it are obviously tight as there are only second and third year students on it and many of them are returning players. Add in the new ones who weren’t able to get there during the first year and it can be vicious depending on the personalities of these junior high school students.
Like any team, there are plenty of archetypes that are covered here. The serious prodigy that is the captain who will change the face of tennis, the happy yet very skilled player, the intelligent one, the one with the violent temper and the one who seemingly gets along with everyone. All of them are different kinds of challenges for Ryoma as he gets into things as he not only has to compete against them but also work with them such as when the show shifts into dealing with doubles instead of singles tennis. Through these players we get to have a lot of the game and its techniques explained to the viewer. The techniques are mostly based in reality, but like most things it’s exaggerated and stylized in some ways so as to be appealing.
The other players aren’t the only ones who explain the game to the viewer though. There’s a wide range of supporting characters that enhance and expand the show that cover this area as well. When Ryoma starts to win against the regulars, he starts gaining something of a fan club. One of them, someone he met prior to starting school, as actually the granddaughter of the coach that brought him to Seigaku. Even more amusing, she’s the coach who taught his father. There’s also the other first year students who have gone out for tennis that provide commentary and questions, including one very terribly annoying one. Even with all these people they bring in a couple more in the form of a reporter/photographer combination from a tennis magazine that covers up and coming players.
Quite possibly my favorite character though is Nanjiro, Ryoma’s father. A former tennis pro and something of a legend himself before he simply disappeared from the limelight, he now basically just hangs around the house and does some light monk work for a temple whose monk has gone on sabbatical for awhile. He’s co-opted some of the land for a tennis court and plays continuously against his son. This relationship is one that is both plainly obvious and simply but highly entertaining. Nanjiro is almost comical in his approach to teaching his son through playing against him which has Ryoma’s serious nature railing against him. Nanjiro’s playing around when Ryoma is at matches often provides parallels to what’s going on in the match, at least when he’s not looking at dirty magazines.
The visual design of the show is one that is highly appealing and comes across beautifully here. The tennis scene is filled with lots of shades of greens and blues, both on the court and in the backgrounds. These wide open spaces look great here and provide plenty of contrast to the character designs. The uniforms for Seigaku use such a rich blue and white combination that they stand out strongly against everything else. With lots of close-ups, pans and stills to provide flair and impact, the action scenes look great and there is a certain fluidity to it. There are plenty of shortcuts though, such as some repeated movements and empty backgrounds during power scenes, and sometimes the use of photographs by the reporter seem forced, but it allows for the really quality scenes to show through later.
As great looking and enjoyable as the show is, there are a couple of problems to note. The first is that the chapter layout is poorly done. The show itself has a prologue, the opening, first half, second half, closing and then a preview for the next episode. The first chapter is comprised of the prologue, opening and first half. So if you want to skip the opening, you skip the first half of the episode. The other problem is one that’s far more problematic as it constitutes an edit within the show. The opening and closing sequences are not the ones originally used in the series during its broadcast or DVD run in Japan. The original opening and closing sequences are provided as clean extras which is good, but they really belong where they should be, in the show itself.
The new opening, which is the same as the one scene in the US broadcast run, is a combination of pieces from the original opening and closing. Parts are removed as well including the spot where the series name is in English. The ending sequence is completely new as it uses scenes from within the show. The original music from the opening and closings are gone and in its place is new original music by the son of the producer of this English language adaptation. There don’t appear to be any rights issues with this since if there were they wouldn’t be included as extras. This seems to be more of a case of laziness as we’re getting what was prepped for the Cartoon Network airing. The show itself seems to be uncut and problem free however. In the end though, the basics we like to see in releases is that the home video version is treated as just that, the home video version. Not a dumped version of what was used in the US broadcast. There is simply no excuse for it in 2007.
With the new series hitting the airwaves, going back and looking at the original run again is definitely fun. And infectious as the show is one that really hit the right chords for me. There’s a certain style that sports shows like this use that keeps me engaged and entertained as it plays out. Some shows overdo it a bit but there is a good deal of progress to be made during the first thirteen episodes that are provided here. And that’s where this show really succeeds. With the way the storylines move, going through a good chunk of episodes at a time helps since you just want more and more of it as it goes on. The opening stories here do well to set the stage for what’s to come and gets us familiar with the characters in a quick and easy way, making them quite accessible. While there are problems with this release, the core show itself is in good shape and revisiting it reminds me why I enjoyed it so much.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Gallery, Japanese Opening, Japanese Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: April 24th, 2007
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.