Manga Review – The Prince of Tennis

The Prince of Tennis Volume 1
The Prince of Tennis
テニスの王子様 (Tennis no Ouji-sama)
KONOMI Takeshi
Shounen – Comedy, sports
42 Volumes (complete)
Viz Media

Summary:

Seishun Academy has a strong tennis team, but even its members are intrigued by the skill of 7th grader Ryoma. Cocky and confident Ryoma only has one goal, but perhaps the world of middle school tennis will expand his horizons.

Review:

While the manga itself is decent (although not one of Shonen Jump‘s best), Viz Media’s awful adaptation makes The Prince of Tennis a series to pass on.

Many sports manga stars a newbie who eventually becomes the team’s ace or secret weapon. This is not one of those cases. Ryoma is one of those characters that not all people will enjoy as the protagonist. Ryoma is quite powerful from the start, and he knows — not just believes — he can win. He is the opposite of many Jump (and other shounen series) male leads. In most manga, he would be the main rival character. He is indifferent to people he has no interest in, and he can have an attitude even with his teammates. Eventually Ryoma realizes he is not invincible. In a completely new pond, he is no longer the big fish despite his attitude. This does make him grow slightly as a character. And, on the bright side, he isn’t a copycat “I-like-everybody-be-my-friend-I’m-such-a-nice-guy” lead.

The problem with having a protagonist strong from the start is that others have to have the same level of skill. Otherwise, the hero would just be a level 100 character beating up a level 1. Each new rival has an amazing skill, far beyond their ages. It’s almost odd: Ryoma is supposed to be so amazing for his age, but almost all his opponents are only a year or two older and have their own talents in tennis. It almost seems like The Prince of Tennis should have been set in high school. At least the characters would most likely have had another three years of tennis experience. They would also match their physical appearance.

The rest of Ryoma’s team also gets quite a bit of page time. Some are quiet, some are friendly, and others are rather strange. They each have their own quirks, some of which were enhanced due to the anime. They all get at least one rather significant moment in the spotlight. So even if a reader isn’t a big fan of Ryoma, the other team members never fade too far into the background. It’s pretty rare for the mentor or coach in a shounen manga to be a grandmother, so that is a refreshing change. She also is not a hands-off mentor. She is very assertive and does not slack in her mentoring responsibilities. Finally, the Seishun team is supported by 7th graders who are often used as the catalyst to explain the action to the reader. Other than one’s big mouth, they are pretty insignificant.

The rival schools range are all different types of frenemies, with some being closer to the friend side and others are more like enemies. Defeated teams do not just fade into the background, and some opponents become fairly reoccuring and get quite a few scenes. The rivals’ personalities range greatly from being almost villians to wanna-be best friends. They all have their own attitudes toward tennis. Some want to pursue it as a career and others see it as a temporary distraction. With such a wide cast, readers are likely to find at least one character that they enjoy.

The story does not jump from one tournament to the next. Plenty of side stories are included, many unrelated to tennis. This contributes to both world-building and character-building. The characters actually seem to have a life outside the tennis courts. There are quite a few running gags. The most notable one involving the world’s scariest drink. I must admit that most of these are quite funny. As the story goes on, the tennis becomes less and less realistic to the point it’s almost a magic battle.

I kind of wonder how this series would have went if the fujoshi had not gotten ahold of it. I can see how some plot lines were altered. I have no doubt that Sakuno was intended to be more of a love interest but was relegated to the sidelines for fangirls to dream of BL heaven. (The author does not seem to abandon his original pairing but keeps hints more in supplemental material.) The guys become more attractive, and at times the author “gays it up” a bit. Some characters’ relationships delve more into the BL genre as the manga progresses. This is a major portion of how the series got so popular. But combined with the influence of the anime and its multitude of character songs, the first volume is quite different than the last.

The series goes through quite an art shift. At first, Ryoma and the others all have huge bug eyes. Character designs look uneven and not all have their visual characteristics. Shusuke, for instance, walks around in the early volumes with his eyes open. This quickly becomes a much rarer occurrence. By the end, despite the series only covering a few months in its world, the characters look like high schoolers. They are muscular and well-defined. Konomi does a good job of trying to make each guy different from each other visually. This is important as it avoids the “which guy did/said that” that happens when people resemble each other too much. Konomi is also not afraid to mix up the action with full page shots and artwork not confined to the panels. Even in the early, weaker volumes, the action is easy to follow.

Translation:

Yuck…

Viz Media (well, then just Viz) released this series as part of their Shonen Jump line (it was a Jump title in Japan, after all), but for some reason, decided to rate it A for All Ages. So this series suffers from heavy Americanization and also some censorship. It starts off shaky and never gets better.

No honorifics are used. In fact, last names are hardly used. It’s ironic, as sports settings are one of the few places in America where people are likely to address each by last names. So we have everyone calling each other by their last names. Of course, the real problems start when new characters are introduced. Most of the time, of course, the Japanese only gives the character’s last name. So the English version uses the character’s last name, but once the first name is revealed, then it changes to first name. With at least seven members a team and seven teams, that’s over 50 characters. But the sudden name switches makes the characters even more confusing and hard to remember. Last names are really only used for new characters and in the first couple volumes.

Many terms and names are modified: regular to starter, Tezuka Zone to Kunimitsu’s Domain, Drive B to Drive V, vice-captain to co-captain, just to name a few. The school is called Seishun Gakuen. The problem is in Japanese they usually shorten the name to “Seigaku”. This term is only used in volume 1 in Viz’s adaptation. So it looks all the Seishun players are walking around with their school name misspelled on their jerseys in the English version. Genius. In addition, “seventh graders” and the like are used in place of “first years”.

I will say that this series would be a bit more difficult than the average to translate, as almost all the characters in this series have some type of speech  quirk or catchphrase. Translating Ryoma’s “mada mada da ne” one way may fit one scene but not another despite both scenes using “mada mada da ne” in the original Japanese. Unfortunately, it feels like this adaptation didn’t even try to maintain some consistency. Plenty of errors can be found (swapped speech bubbles, mixing up aunt and grandma, typos) and many examples of incorrect or inconsistent romanization. (“Habai” from “hanabi”. Even I can read that kanji without furigana.) They even mess up basic dialogue: a character says Sakuno has three braids, but she only has two!

The series has at least one use of swear words (damn), although some people say it isn’t a swear word. It’s still a little heavier than what would normally be in an A-rated manga. There language at times just doesn’t jive with its rating. They should have just kept it a T series.

I know that there is at least one instance of censorship. In Ryoma’s father’s side story, the panel is chopped so he is no longer seen grabbing a woman’s chest.

All in all, terrible.

Final Comments:

If you were teetering on this series, this English adaptation should make your decision an easy one: no. I have mixed feelings about the actual manga, but if you don’t mind your sports manga to heavy on the fantasy side, it’s worth a read. Just not this version.

I wonder if there’s another language (like French) that would be fairly easy to read that doesn’t suffer from Viz Media’s horrible adaptation. If you don’t mind the original Japanese, take a look at the kanzenban. It features extras like new colored inserts and interviews. The bunko is cheaper, but I don’t think it includes the extras.

Viz did not bring over the fanbooks. The author has also written bonus/supplemental books (Pair Puri) and a sequel (on hiatus). There was also a tribute 4-koma written by another author.

The Prince of Tennis is a media juggernaut with an anime series, OVAs, character songs, and musicals. The anime started to be released here by Viz but got suspended. I highly recommend the various Tenipuri Family episodes. It’s full of lampshade hanging and self-parodies. The various other sports episodes (particularly the OVA beach volleyball) are also quite funny.

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