Thugs, Balls and Freud: Prince of Tennis


The Promised Land.

The question, as far as I can see: With such a huge, nay overwhelming, nay soul-crushing glut of hackneyed swill in American entertainment, why would anyone go to the trouble of searching out another country’s hackneyed swill? Not to mention buying, or downloading and seeking out amateur translations (aka “fansubs”) of, said garbage? As in the case of, say, a lot of anime?

I guess it comes down to fetish. Some people stumble upon Inuyasha on the Cartoon Network and have some kind of bone-deep chemical response to the giant eyes, and that’s it. They scoff at Dancing With the Stars, smirk at The O.C. and spend hours and hours gabbing on message boards and writing fanfiction and making fan art about… say…

Prince of Tennis.

Let’s chat more after the jump…


What, for God’s sake, is the appeal of this show? It’s a show about tennis, for chrissake. Tennis! With the white clothes and little bouncy ball. Tied with Jarts for the most sexless sport of all time.


(OK, yeah, I know the real contender is shuffleboard, but I just wanted to say “Jarts.”) And don’t talk to me about Anna Kournikova. This is straight girl fans we’re talking about. Straight girl fans who have generated a 10-screen-long Wikipedia entry and detailed lists of all the different moves the characters use during games (Oooh, was that a “COOL Drive”? No, it was a “Buggy Whip Shot”!).

As a newbie otaku, I’ve been meaning for a while now to find out if “Tenipuri” (as it’s called by the cognoscenti) could possibly be as bad as it sounded. So I YouTubed a few episodes recently and it’s actually worse! Me so heppy.

You’d think they’d use the premise — 12-year-old prodigy joins high-school tennis team — as a jumping-off point for light romantic comedy à la Ouran High School Host Club. (Which is quite a good show, by the way.) Instead they actually spend the whole show … playing tennis. Literally, the majority of each ep consists of a tennis match! It’s all the “excitement” of tennis rendered in bargain-basement animation. Like, frequent pans across silhouetted figures frozen in poses of athleticism, that kind of thing. (Another standby is a closeup of our hero’s sneakers as he jumps, laces fluttering.)

Remember up top I used the word “hackneyed”? Well, I probably shouldn’t have — it’s a hackneyed word to use. But anyway. The first 3 eps of the show all go like this: 1) Our hero is taunted by some thuggish brute (or is that “brutish thug”?) who’s arrogantly certain of his tennis chops. 2) They play a match, and our hero sends Mr. Thug off in ignominious defeat.

That’s it. Oh, except, for an additional dose of triteness, there’s a sort of Greek chorus of nerdy sycophants who alternately describe the moves he’s using (presumably for the Wikipedia scribes mentioned above) and reiterate how cool he is. What edge there is, is provided by the fact that the thug invariably towers over our 12-year-old hero. So it’s, like, a little scary or something. “Just don’t chicken out, kid!” one bad guy shouts with his serve. Chicken out? What is he talking about? Tennis is not a manly game. There is nothing to chicken out of.

prince-tennis-liveBut that’s the point, isn’t it? Clearly these fangirls are responding to the unthreatening sexlessness of the whole scene. The show is a by-the-numbers depiction of the latency phase, albeit pushed back a few years. (In fact, the main character’s sole motivation is to someday defeat his tennis-star father.) Instead of indulging in typical teenage hormonalism, or even playing some macho contact sport, the pubeless cutie-pies on Seigaku High’s tennis team devote themselves to a sport designed by Victorian-era toffs to be played on the lawns of manor houses.

There are, natch, only two age-appropriate females in the team’s ambit. It’s kind of like Ouran or Fruits Basket that way, though in this case the boys ignore the girls completely. I guess they’re saving themselves until the fangirl viewer can propel herself into their dimension, Take On Me-style. I can’t imagine a similar situation on an American TV show, can you? Here, sex is such an unavoidable topic, it’s impossible to have a bunch of guys hanging around without any girls, or with just one girl, without offering an explanation. Even on Seinfeld they had to address Elaine’s relationship with the guys. But Prince of Tennis depicts an almost completely homosocial environment and everyone accepts it as a matter of course.

But (here’s the embarrassing revelation): I’m a total sucker for this setup. I read a lot of slash fiction, and I skipped to the end of the Fruits Basket anime to see if the redheaded guy would actually kiss the heroine.


(They merely snuggled.) Does this mean I’m developmentally stunted, or simply lacking in sexual confidence? I dunno, but I’ll tell you one thing: psychological shortcomings or no, I’m not sinking to the level of Prince of Tennis. So if you know other animes with groups of guys mysteriously lacking in female companionship, let me know. Honey and Clover just ain’t doing it.

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  2. Lest you forget, most Japanese anime were based off comic books.

    And 90% of the time, those comic books of Japan are better than most of the stuff in America. Just ask the Japanese comic that’s all about the game of Go, with ghosts involved.

  3. Yep, that would be Hikaru no Go:

    A couple people I respect really like it, but I haven’t checked it out yet.

  4. You forgot about the musicals…The Prince of Tennis Live action stage musicals, where boys dance and sing with their rackets.

    There have been fourteen different ones them so far…with probably a ton more in the future.

  5. Holy Mother of God. My jaw is on the floor. I expected to just glance at that vid before zipping back here to make a snarky comment, but I ended up staring paralyzed at my screen for the entire thing. Wow.

    I must say, though, those guys aren’t very good singers.

  6. Can you believe that this monster has been going on for three years, and that they’ve gone through at least 50 boys in that time?

    I have to admit that I watch it for the models; not the singing like most of the other fangirls. You’d think that they’d hire guys who can actually sing or at least act for a musical, but no; they go for models. Not that I’m complaining…heh.

    Latest addition to the myu family; #14 Rikkai Myu. You have to watch it. I cannot describe it. Ominous music with interpretative dancing in the form of slow motion tennis moves; it is fantastic.

    It’s worse than Naruto myu and Bleach Myu…

  7. Wow! They really can’t sing at all, can they?

    >Can you believe that this monster has been going on for three years, and that they’ve gone through at least 50 boys in that time?

    It’s like a Japanese Menudo! What’s a myu, though? Is that the Japanese word for, like, musical or something?

  8. juuuuuuuuuuust loooooooove it! tenisu no oujisama… really rule

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