What They Say:
From the masterpiece sports manga created by Takeshi Konomi, with over 60 million copies sold over 22 years. Provoked by his father well known as Samurai Nanjirou, a legendary winner of a US tennis championship, Ryoma is determined to train himself in US after winning a championship in Japan.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the many titles that I’d been curious about at a younger age was the Prince of Tennis work. When little in the way of anime and manga saw release in the US, this title was already something of a legend with a very popular run starting in Weekly Shonen Jump, which drew a ton of attention, and then a popular anime run that has had episodes and new runs over the years with something close to like 200 episodes. With a lot of properties experimenting with 3DCG films in Japan for long-established properties, we’ve seen a hit or miss approach but I’ve always liked to see the reinvention. I can have a love of the original (and lament its problematic at best treatment in the US market) but also enjoy seeing it presented in a new way. And with this property expanding to stage musicals in Japan for the longest time, blending it all together is just fascinating to watch.
The premise for this is really straightforward as we get Ryoma trying to live up to what his father wanted him to be as a tennis player. That’s what’s been motivating him for the longest time and he’s now found himself in Los Angeles as part of an event. It’s one that has a history for him because his father was in his prime years ago here and that was when Ryoma was little and lived there with him, his mother Rinko, and his stepbrother Ryoga. Ryoma ends up helping out another Japanese girl there when she gets accosted by some street punks and suddenly Ryuzaki is now in his orbit because of that. The two survive that initial encounter only to realize they’ve traveled back in time to that previous event ten or so years ago, which allows Ryoma to watch his father in his prime and exist alongside his younger self.
That sets up the foundations for things but what complicates it is that the competition that his father is in is such a high-stakes one that people are looking to lean on him to lose in the right way to make a lot of money. Threats have been made but it’s the kidnapping of Ryuzaki, mistaking her as the daughter, that really sets things in motion. Ryoma has to attempt to rescue her and keep her and himself on the run so that his father can play the tournament as intended and without being threatened. So we get to see Ryoma and Ryuzaki enjoying all sorts of places and events in California while hiding out from the Men in Black that are doing the big bosses bidding. You can see this in any number of 80s Hollywood movies to be sure and the film leans into those tropes easily enough.
With this being essentially disconnected from most things that have come before, you basically assume that the core ideas of the original work are here and we’re just dropped into an earlier part of Ryoma’s life and training. It’s such a well-known property that they really don’t go trying to explain a lot, including who is who and so forth. But it’s easy to figure out and the film spends its time well in just moving the storyline forward with the cast and what they’re trying to do. It’s all about Ryoma and Ryuzaki and their chaotic trip to America. Once you understand that basic piece the rest of it falls into place and you can map it out well enough to know the “twists and turns” that follow. While that may sound like a bad thing it really isn’t. It just lets you enjoy the absurdity of it all even more.
I won’t go too far into it because you really need to discover these things on your own. Remember, I love this property and I find 3DCG adaptations like this to do some really fun things with it even if it’s not as serious as “True Fans” may want it to be. It’s aiming at a totally different audience. So you get things like the initial encounter Ryuzaki has here when she meets Ryoma as we see her being accosted by “tennis toughs” on the street where they’re going to force her into a game in order to make a bet they collect on. It’s pure extortion but it’s done in this late 90s/early 00’s style with all the kinds of implied elements you’d expect of Japan writing and animating about America. It’s just hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing.
And then they break into song.
Okay, so I know there are so many stage musicals out there for this and other properties and I get it in that context, but when you see Ryoma with his tennis fight song or a ballad he sings to his father from afar as he admires his talent, I just lost it. It’s all slick and well-produced but I can’t help it. It’s just a thing of comical beauty for me and left me feeling giddy. We also get a duet of sorts later when he makes a phone call and ends up connecting to the present with his fellow teammates as a way to get them into the film and there is this fantastic training piece that they go through while singing with Ryoma – all while he’s being chased by one of the Men in Black behind the kidnapping. It’s just so ridiculous that I kept falling more and more in love with how absurd it all is.
I know that everything that makes me who I am should rebel against a film like this. Not that the original manga or anime wasn’t prone to outlandish moments of physics and tennis, but a 3DCG film that involves time travel and musical numbers just takes it to a whole other level. But the damn thing works. It works well and just made me laugh and have fun with it in a way that was incredibly freeing. It’s not trying to be all things to all people but to be its own thing and just deliver a thrilling and fun and absolutely silly experience. I watched this in its Japanese language and there is a bit of English to it for a couple of very minor moments, but the film is being released dubbed as well. I suspect both will have their pros and cons but I’m glad I saw it in this version and got to see a new variant of the original work brought to life.
This review was written thanks to a screener provided to us by the distributor. The film is in theaters on May 12th, 2022.