What They Say:
Ryoma Echizen and the rest of the Seigaku players enter the district tennis tournament as the school to beat. But an unknown team comes from out of nowhere to put them to the test. During a series of intense matches marked by extreme angles, tough spins, and gutsy play, it starts to look like the favorites will be taken down! Ryoma even gets injured during his grueling match and desperately searches for a way to win. Can he pull it off and keep his reign as The Prince of Tennis?
Contains episodes 14-26.
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 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 Ryoma and a cat 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. The original previews for the series are included here 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 the first set served up some very enjoyable content, this next set of thirteen episodes does much the same. On the downside, Viz has done more of the same when it comes to the technical side of the release which means the opening is different and the ending as well, complete with the same awful new music. This is made all the worse by the patent untruth on the front of the box that says, “Original Uncut Episodes.” Don’t you love it when someone just lies right in your face?
This set covers episodes fourteen through twenty-six and a good part of that first half can be difficult to watch at times. Though the show takes several obvious liberties when it comes to realism and tennis, it’s not that which bothers me as pretty much every sports anime does that. What does kill me is that as we’re already dealing with episodes that run shorter than normal and they spend so much of their time on flashbacks and recaps. The prologues rarely have anything new to them and then in the episodes the do flashbacks to events that happened in the previous episode. Not short ones either but fairly lengthy pieces at times in order to remind the viewer as to why this particular match is important and what’s riding on it.
The District Tournament that runs through the first half is quite enjoyable when you take that material out of it however. With Fudomine being an interesting upstart school considering their past, which does get explored well enough through various associations during this arc, they provide the right kind of challenge not only for Seigaku but also for themselves. Coming from a school where they were openly mocked and toyed with only to take it as motivation to succeed on their own, they have the kind of indomitable spirit that makes them a strong team. They may have dark intentions cast on them by others and the animation at times portrays them as a nasty group, but in the end they’re just as motivated and driven as the Seigaku players. The only difference is that we’re not seeing the story from their angle all the time.
In the midst of these entertaining matches however there is one really bright moment. A good deal of history is covered as we find out what Nanjiro was like back when Coach Ryuzaki was teaching him in her younger days. Nanjiro continues to be my favorite character other than Momoshiro so getting to see him in the middle of these episodes was a welcome surprise. A lot of him is naturally still a mystery as the episode focused more on his tennis playing days before he got truly serious, but it went a long way towards explaining not only why he is the kind of player that he is, but also his relationship with Ryuzaki. There’s an amusing subtext there about the possibility of Ryoma becoming involved with her granddaughter that would make things awkward for Nanjiro considering his mild and humorous distaste for the woman. This flashback is also important in the present because it lets things click for Tezuka about what Ryoma really needs to have happen for his skills to grow properly.
Once the District’s are out of the way and the focus shifts to the Metropolitan Tournament (because you just know that they couldn’t fail out this fast in the series), everything turns more towards character stories. Ryoma has some good material as he has a date of sorts with Sakuno which has Momoshiro and Nanjiro following them around for different reasons. There’s a lot of simple but great comedy here, especially as Momoshiro knows Nanjiro only as that perverted priest and not as Ryoma’s father. There’s a good two episode arc that focuses on Tezuka a bit as he takes his role as team captain quite seriously. One of the things a good captain does is to recognize the strengths and weaknesses on the team and to try and elevate others on the team even higher. Tezuka is quite good at this and with what he learned in the District’s, he’s able to start motivating Ryoma in the right direction.
Something that continues to be amusing with this series, and more so as it moves away from the actual school and tournament courts, is that everyone seems to live and die by their rackets. It’s not unsurprising but it is amusing to see that matches happen at the drop of a hat for numerous reasons. Be it An getting taken advantage of or other players that happen to stroll by, there almost always seems to be a reason to drop everything and unsling that tennis racket. Sometimes it comes across as forced but even then it can be amusing. Case in point is the episode that focuses on a roller skating thief. A couple of smaller stories run around this and it eventually ties it all together with some competitiveness. But in the middle of it we have the obvious but still amusing moments with Kaido as he ends up becoming involved without realizing it.
And therein lies the shows continued strength once more, it’s characters. Ryoma continues to play it aloof and cool, something a rival school talks about as a personality trait that’s even more obvious since he helps out in the school library. Ryoma is still the weaker of the characters in a way but it’s helped by having such a fun and engaging cast around him. Momoshiro has a lot of fun throughout there as do others like Fuji and Takashi. There’s a group party at one point after a game and seeing the way they’re all dealing with each other in that environment off the courts goes a long way. The show does avoid showing them in schoolroom settings for the most part which is an interesting choice since there are things they could obviously play up there. The focus is really kept on the tennis though and even as silly as it gets sometimes it’s still quite addictive to watch.
The Prince of Tennis series continues to have some real flaws to it, with altered music and opening and closing sequences as well as the completely incompetent method of creating chapter stops, but in the end watching these thirteen episodes over the course of three days was just a lot of fun. I really enjoy the characters, their interactions and the over the top styling of the actual tennis matches. With the setup of the series mostly behind us and the show focusing more on the characters and match progression now, it essentially has a lot of room to play with. With a sizeable cast that has different strengths and weaknesses and an endless array of opponents down the road, all they have to fear is Inui’s special drinks. Prince of Tennis is a guilty pleasure on a lot of levels but it’s one that I just revel in.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Previews, 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: July 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.