12 August 2006
Lately I've found myself addicted to all things Shonen Jump. Thus, it was inevitable that despite my previously hard-line stance against watching sports anime, I would eventually succumb to the curiosity and watch Prince of Tennis.
Prince of Tennis, for those who are unaware, follows the story of the Seigaku middle school tennis club, or more specifically, the regulars who make up the tournament team on their way to the national titles. The main character is Ryoma Echizen, a new student whose unbelievable tennis skills, honed by his ex-professional father, earn him a place on the team despite his freshman status and diminuitive size. Prince of Tennis: Two Samurai, the First Match (hereafter referred to as the Prince of Tennis Movie) takes place towards the end of the tv series, but before the National Championship OVA. There's no real need to watch all of the Prince of Tennis anime before partaking of the movie, as the story is simple and time is taken to briefly introduce all of the main characters, but it probably helps to have watched at least a few episodes to maximise your enjoyment of this film. As mentioned, the premise for the film is quite simple - the Seigaku regulars are invited onto a cruise ship to play in exhibition matches there. On board, they meet Echizen Ryoga, who claims to be Ryoma's elder brother, and learn that the free cruise comes with a price. To avoid completely giving away the plot (there's not much left to give away, to be honest), I'll leave the summary there.
Coming in at only a little over an hour, the Prince of Tennis movie could probably be better described as a special, if it weren't for the noticeably higher budget. The plot really isn't anything particularly spectacular, but that doesn't really matter much as Prince of Tennis has always been a heavily character-driven anime, and that too is the case with the movie - most of the interest lies directly with the relationship between Ryoma and the easy-going mysterious Ryoga. So don't be expecting something as epic as, say, your average Naruto movie.
After that warning, be alarmed at just HOW epic the animation gets. Prince of Tennis has always been a little over-the-top (to be expected in any sports anime - it would be almost strange if the tennis balls didn't catch on fire at least once), but in the movie, the full-blown metaphoric animation goes to brand new heights that completely bypasses being cool and heads straight into being ridiculous. In Tezuka's and Ryoma's matches, particularly, it starts out already being rather heavy-duty on the metaphoric shots, and then manages to completely surpass that in the fashion that a nuclear missile surpasses a handgun. Then just when you think that they've truly made their point and there can't POSSIBLY be any more to come, they'll add DINOSAURS! Someone obviously gave Production IG way too much money.
While this makes the movie completely overblown and overexaggerated, it doesn't necessarily make it bad. I, for one, found myself laughing uncontrollably more than once at how ludicrous the tennis matches became, even if that might not have been the original intent. In fact, so long as you don't approach the Prince of Tennis movie with a serious mindset, you'll probably find quite a lot to enjoy in this film. After all, for the most part Production IG put that high budget to good use � the animation is quite spectacular, as has come to be expected of any of IG's higher budget titles. Fans of the tv series will really enjoy seeing familiar characters and familiar techniques animated with much more lavish care. And while the plot isn't anything ground-breaking, the script is written well and there are plenty of humorous moments spread throughout.
The soundtrack, while not being memorable, performed its job quite adequately and remained true to the style of the tv series. With the exception of the aforementioned crazy metaphoric exaggerations, the film is overall well executed, with interesting cinematography, a strong sense of mood, and effective editing for maximum impact. In terms of pure, simple, light-hearted brainless enjoyment, the Prince of Tennis movie delivers on almost all fronts.
Overall score: 778,886/1,000,000. If you're looking for a Steamboy sort of experience, look elsewhere. But if you're an anime fan just searching for some quality entertainment, this is definitely worth a look.