I was a bit more impressed with the last volume of Prince of Tennis than I was with the last three, but with the action switching from the supporting cast back to lead character Ryoma Echizen I was wondering if this volume would still grab me.
Last time round we saw Ryoma's school, the
top seeded Seishun Academy, pitted against the unseeded Fudomine High in the
final of the District Preliminary tennis tournament. So far it's been a
bit more challenging than they expected, they may lead 2-1 in the best-of-five
tie but only their first choice doubles pairing came through their match without
any trouble. Next up is Ryoma's first competitive singles match for
Seishun, if he wins then Seishun take the tie 3-1, if he loses it will go down
to the last match between Seishun and Fudomine's team captains. Ryoma is
confident of victory against his muttering opponent, but after a few points it
becomes clear that it may not be as easy as he thinks. Fudomine's Shinji
is a clever player who uses a combination of powerful shots to cause Ryoma to
suffer 'spot paralysis' - a split-second muscle seizure that causes him to miss
his returns. In his frustration Ryoma tries too hard to compensate and a
freak accident leaves him injured, can he overcome his opponent when hampered by
an injury? Whether he can or not his actions in the tournament have raised
his profile and with it comes press and pressure, how will Ryoma cope with this
The last volume of Prince of Tennis grabbed my attention by sidelining the arrogant and unlikeable Ryoma and focusing instead on his Seishun team mates. This was a welcome change of direction for a series which has so far spent most of its time showing Ryoma panning a series of opponents whilst everyone fawned over his prodigious talent. His arrogance made him difficult to identify with and with him reduced to smug cameos last time I felt the story flowed a lot better. Unlike Ryoma, who seemed pretty much invincible so far, you weren't quite sure if the other characters would win and this made the book a lot more interesting. However, this time it's back to Ryoma and forgone conclusion time.
I don't like to give away plot spoilers but this time I don't think I really am. This match is billed at the end of the last book as the one where Ryoma can show everyone what he's made of, so he's never going to lose it from that point on. Yes Ryoma gets to raise his profile and make a name for himself, but in fairness he doesn't do it the easy way and the match does take up over half of the volume. It's pretty exciting too, but it is also the first time that the story really steps a long way outside the realms of possibility. Ryoma gets an eye injury which leaves him playing with one eye bandaged closed, he's lost a load of blood and he's playing against an opponent who has been outplaying him... and he still
wins. It's at this point that the series really steps outside of the realms of reality and into fantasy and it is to the story's detriment too. It would have been a lot better if the injury had forced him to forfeit and the fate of the tie been decided by the captains' match, as it would have given Ryoma the knock-back he and the series really needs.
Instead it looks like we may have to wait for next time for this, with this volume ending with a promise of a match that Ryoma should really lose. However, this is for the future. This volume features another Ryoma victory and a first decent part for Ryoma's ex-professional tennis player father Nanjiro Echizen, who has an amusing run in with a couple of journalists looking for a scoop on Ryoma. As with the previous four volumes it is entertaining stuff and the tennis scenes are suitably kinetic and exciting. The art isn't bad and the characters suitably distinct, but it really needs to bring Ryoma down a peg or two. The way it's going he's going to be winning Grand Slams within about 10 volumes, and whilst this is exciting wish fulfilment it won't make for a very believable or interesting story. The last volume of Prince of Tennis varied the formula by focusing on other characters but without this it falls back to an entertaining but by-the-numbers action title which does little you haven't seen before.
Has much the same extras as the previous volume, with the standard next volume preview, ads and plot summary, plus more of the character profiles and comedy asides. However, it also features a lengthy side chapter in which Ryoma puts a lazy, lecherous tennis instructor in his place, teaching him responsibility and rekindling a student's interest in tennis. Bonus stories are always a nice extra, but in this case it's a pretty clichéd and pointless story.