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When New Prince of Tennis first started, I was disappointed, as I said in my mid-season post. Too many characters received notable screen time, each distracting from the other. I missed the Seigaku-focused plot lines from the first show. Characters' trademark tics and habits were overemphasized or, in some cases, underdone. And the plot? Not exactly enthralling.
Episode seven was probably the turning point for me. In that episode, we meet Coach Mifune. He’s a tough man’s man. You know the type: drinks sake from the gourd, chiseled face, beard, scars, can probably lift an elephant one handed (okay, that last one’s an exaggeration). He puts a bunch of our favorite middle school athletes, including Echizen, through a grueling, old-fashioned wilderness training regiment.
I’m a sucker for training camps like that. Sure, they’re completely unrealistic. I mean, if Japan has anything in common with America, wilderness training under an alcoholic coach would be a major insurance liability. So a middle and high school training camp would never actually put their young charges in such a regiment. But I still find anime with tough training like that very enjoyable.
From that episode on, the series continued to redeem itself. Extreme training, noticeable improvement in character abilities, suspenseful matches: all these boosted my regard.
And then, of course, we had the tenth episode, where Tezuka’s character development comes to its peak. We watched him support his team throughout the first series, even when he was in Germany for treatment. We saw him choose the team over himself again and again. As a result, I, as well as other fans and the Seigaku team, put him on a pedestal as an amazing tennis player and captain. So the tenth episode, “Goodbye Tezuka Kunimitsu,” presented a fitting next step to his character. Was I sad to see him go? Yes. Captain Tezuka is one of my favorite characters. But he needed to pass on the torch and pursue his own tennis career. The tenth episode finally let him do that.
This week’s episode, the thirteenth episode, continues to incorporate what I love about the show - tennis matches and a smug Echizen Ryoma. His group of middle schoolers have returned from their grueling time in the wilderness and are ready to roll!
They return with improved skills! And hurt... Ryoma's poor hat
I love seeing Echizen play, so I enjoyed this episode. However, a few things annoyed me during the first part of his match. I was a little irritated at the whole “the opponent has a huge opening on his right! Oh... wait” thing. That gets a little old. I, the audience, already know that the opponent is a the best player in Court 2. Obviously we’re about to find out that the huge opening isn’t an opening at all.
[Edit: Oops. I devolve into ranting these next couple paragraphs. Guess I’ll leave it in anyway. *shrugs sheepishly*]
Oh, and then Echizen’s friends can’t figure out why his ball isn’t going to the left, and is forced toward the opponent’s sweet spot. Um... hello... are these really the same people who have raved over Tezuka’s “Tezuka Zone”? The opponent put a spin on the ball, duh. Seriously, even I know that, thanks to the first series.
GET SOME NEW TRICKS, people! Of course, this guy’s spin will be a little different than Tezuka’s, and he’ll have his own special name for it, but it’s the same idea.
Oh, good, the characters don’t all suffer from memory loss. Inui’s closed-eyed statistic friend knows about the spin, and Momo remembers Tezuka Zone.
“He has no blind spots.” Yes he does. And our favorite first year will probably prove it to us. That’s what always happens when an opponent supposedly has no blind spots.
Of course you will, Ochibi. We expect nothing less.
“Hey. You can stop hitting those [spin balls forcing the ball to go to the right] now...” Yes. Of course you will break through, Ochibi. I expect nothing less.
Thankfully, this match ends up with more than the same old tricks with the same old rhythm. It turns into a battle with eight balls, then nine, then ten! If Echizen gets even one ball through his opponent’s right side, he wins. Very fun to watch! Echizen worked his way up to hitting eight balls at a time a only day or two ago, so what he does in this match is great!
So, despite my ranting, the match turned out to be quite enjoyable. A bit short, but enjoyable.
A Few Minutes Later:
Hey! Why does this episode’s end feel like the end of a series? There’s no way it’s over... but there’s no preview of the next episode... Some Google research turns up no reassurance. But I think they’re just putting the anime on hold for now. After all, there's more to the manga.
Yes, New Prince of Tennis rose up from its rocky beginnings. However, it still left much to be desired. Matches that would have stretched over at least two episodes in the first series were shortened to fit into one episode or less. These thirteen episodes felt rushed. They contained too many characters, matches, etc., and too little time to extract their potential.
Thus, despite the wilderness training and the many parts I enjoyed, New Prince of Tennis still disappointed.
*Pictures are screen shots from New Prince of Tennis.