About two months ago, however, I made the rather questionable decision to give it another try. And oh wow. Turns out it’s much better if you just go in fully intending to just mock it the whole way through. If you’ve been following me on twitter I’d like to apologize to you, because I have barely talked about anything but this show since I’ve started marathoning it. But I’m done now! I’ve watched the entire anime and all the OVAs! Aren’t we all relieved. (Seriously though, live-tweeting it was a super fun experience and I actually ended up screencapping all my #tenipuri tweets for posterity. The most fun thing was giving everyone feelings-flashbacks, probably. :3)
At some point after I started watching tenipuri, I remembered a sports anime bingo I’d seen on tumblr a couple times and looked it up, figuring I’d be able to cross out everything immediately, only to realize that barely any of the tropes on that bingo card applied. Granted, that was at the very beginning, and after watching everything I’d now be able to cross out...*checks*...at least 14 out of 25. But it did make me think about how tenipuri, which I’d always thought of as some sort of proto-type for all sports anime, differs from other sports anime I’ve watched.
Let me tell you which shows I’ve seen and can use for comparison: Haikyuu!! (love of my life), Kuroko “The Zone is Magic” no Basuke, Ookiku “BE STILL MY HEART” Furikabutte, Chihayafuru (it counts! it’s not typical but it totally counts!), Free! (lol), Prince of Stride (LOL) and...uh, IDK, Beyblade? :P Anime I haven’t watched: Yowamushi no Pedal, Daiya no Ace.
Honestly though, I’mma mostly focus on Haikyuu and Kuroko “still embarrassingly into this mess” no Basuke.
Okay then, let’s do this. First of all, tenipuri is obviously much older than any of these. It started airing in 2001, 15 years ago. (I don’t think it ever aired in Germany, but if it had, 9 year old me would’ve probably been really into it.) This mostly means that the animation is very, very old school (reaction shots! speed lines!), but that’s not really an area where I should compare it to modern anime. (Side note: considering how old it is, I really would’ve expected more ridiculous #fashion. I guess the fact that everyone wears their school jerseys 90 % of the time works in their favour.)
What I found really interesting, however, is just how long tenipuri ran for. The internet divides the original anime into seasons or arcs, but from what I can tell it ran continuously for 178 episodes, until 2005, which seems honestly ridiculous now. What kind of anime, aside from the big shonen ones, runs longer than a year without a break between seasons? I’m guessing this is just a trend in anime no matter the genre (though I’m too lazy to actually research this). Nowadays you get your sports feelings in tight and more or less concise seasons, which also means: no filler episodes.
Okay, maybe Kuroko “ok but srsly his hair is green” no Basuke had some filler eps? It’s been a while, I’d have to look it up. But certainly not to the extent that tenipuri goes to. After every arc you get like, 5 of them at once, it’s both insane and wonderful. Seeing as some of the matches had me bored out of my mind, the fillers and all the crazy shit that happened in them were a welcome diversion.
That’s just format though, and not really all that surprising. I knew it was hella long when I got into it, not even to mention all the OVAs, the latest of which is from 2015 (!). But let’s talk about what really fucked up my expectations: the “holy shit why is everyone such a giant dickface” situation.
There’s a tumblr post I love, about sports anime rivalries, and it goes like this:
Kuroko no Basuke: Like the worst break up ever. But five times.
Yowapeda: Either best frenemies for life, or trapped in rivalries with unworldly creatures.
Haikyuu!!: Archnemeses who probably party together on weekends.
Free!: We’re basically best friends but we try really hard to hide it at official meets. Except for when we cry on each other.
I think about this post a lot, because it’s hella accurate, but also kinda points to how these anime treat their supposed antagonists. Haikyuu especially, at least in my opinion, is a show that makes you care about every. single. fucking. character. No matter if they’re on the main team or not. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the main team to win, because I always do, Karasuno had better become national champion while my darling third years are still around or will cry so hard. But I also care (excessively) about the other teams. Don’t get me started on the big recurring teams, but I even feel for the ones that only show up in one episode.
Meanwhile, the main reason why I still watched Kuroko “let’s have a ten minute conversation while the clock goes down ten seconds” no Basuke’s third season was because one of the “antagonists” and his bf had become my favourite characters by that point. There’s a backstory as to why Kuroko and the rest of the miragen seperated, and they still act like assholes when we first meet them, but they grow and change at a more or less realistic pace and you start feeling for them and you believe that they can become friends again. The only exception there is Hanamiya, who can die in a fire and never gets redeemed, and never should.
But then there’s tenipuri. Oooh boy. For one thing any and all rival teams start out much worse than any of the miragen. It’s like every new character that gets introduced is Hanamiya. Injuring opposing players on purpose? Check. Exploiting your opponents previous injury AND MAKING IT WORSE, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST ATOBE? Check. Aiming at the coaches? Check. Just straight up beating people up? Check. I’ve probably forgotten half the shit that went on because it all just blends together after a while, but my point is that almost every single rival team is introduced as a successively worse hive of scum and villainy. Only to turn into super chill, friendly dudes directly afterwards.
It’s like they don't trust the viewers to like Seigaku enough to want them to win against people who aren't complete assholes, but then they also want to have other recurring characters, so they present them as redeemed without ever going through the process.
This is actually where tenipuri’s incredibly long run really works in its favour - you get so used to the over-the-top-ness and all the characters that you eventually forget/stop caring about what they even did or just starts liking them despite it (*cough*Atobe*cough*).
Actually, let’s take Atobe out of those parentheses, because I love that pretentious, spoiled connoisseur of ruffled lilac night wear. One of the things that finally sold me on tenipuri and giving it another try was that Atobe was mentioned to me as a tennis version of Oikawa, and I wanted to bring that up because I will use any excuse to talk about my favourite idiot child (side note: when did I start referring to fictional characters as children? Will I ever stop? (during this marathon; no.))
There’s certainly some similarities between them, as they both have that magnificent bastard thing going on, though I’d say that Oikawa benefits a lot from having Iwa-chan and the rest of his team there to take him down a notch or five and to humanize him in the process. That’s something I really missed in regards to Atobe when he got first introduced, but ultimately I didn’t even care. There’s something glorious about a character who’s this convinced of his own awesomeness that it brought me pure joy any time he was on screen. Any other team just kind of paled in comparison (ugh, don’t get me started on Rikkaidai), and every time Hyotei came back I was full of glee. And that’s two ways to make you love smug rival type characters, I guess. Either you humanize them and show us their frustration and pain and genuinely good relationships, or you make them so awesomely ridiculous that their mere presence is an absolute delight.
So yeah, having asshole characters isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To get back to the point at hand though, it’s not just the rival teams that are full of douchebags, Seigaku has enough of their own. Those second years, for example. But the most interesting case is definitely the protagonist himself.
Echizen Ryouma is such a little shit. He grew on me eventually, don’t get me wrong, but by ‘eventually’ I mean ‘roughly around episode 130’, so. On that note, I tweeted at some point that Dan seems like a much more typical sports anime main character - he’s small, very genki, gets inspired by someone, but is not that good at tennis yet.
That’s basically a pitch-perfect description of Hinata, who is talented, but still has to learn the basics at first. Kuroko already was good in middle school, in a way, but he has to improve himself and learn how to work with his new team. He’s also small and constantly getting underestimated. Mihashi is a smol kitten made entirely of anxiety. Again he is very talented, but has to grow as a person and with his catcher and his team. Haru and Chihaya don’t really fit that role, but they are both outsiders of sorts who have to build their teams up from scratch. There are no swim or karuta clubs they could join. Seirin, Karasuno and Nishiura are either very new or in a recent recline. They’re underdogs, in short. Which is great, because who doesn’t like cheering for the underdog?
Seigaku and Ryouma though. Seigaku is a well established and very strong school. Ryouma joins a fully formed and impressive roster that doesn’t even particularly need him, honestly. And the only main character trope he fullfills is that he’s short. Aside from that he’s incredibly good, already famous, and arrogant as hell. He’s instantly popular and makes friends without even trying. And his talents aren’t even limited to tennis! Aside from that one beach volleyball episode he instantly excels at any sport he tries.
He does eventually run into situations where he has to work hard and learns some lessons, but for the most part of the main anime he just sails smoothly and smugly through. Perhaps that makes it even sweeter when he thanks all his senpai while crying in the last episode. I genuinely loved that.
Tenipuri is in kind of a difficult position when it comes to letting its main character grow by making him become part of a team because, well. tennis isn’t a team sport that way. (Neither is karuta, in that sense, but Chihayafuru also places a lot more importance on developing the relationships of its characters outside of the game.) Everyone is working towards the team victory, sure, but you’re still playing alone or with max. one other person.
A lot of my favourite moments (and a lot of shipping potential) in other sports anime come from people learning to work together as a team, or with one specific person as a pair (basically any setter-ace combo in Haikyuu, all the miragen and their conveniently provided partners in Kuroko “have I mentioned my undying love for Takao Kazunari recently” no Basuke, Mihashi and Abe in Oofuri). Tenipuri could have done a lot there with the doubles pairs, but it kinda...didn’t? For one thing, they kept shuffling their pairs around. Not even Eiji and Oishi, the be-all and end-all of doubles tennis, were safe from that. And they always threw people together randomly just for official matches (I mean, Atobe and Sanada? Are you fucking kidding me?), no training beforehand, which is hella stupid, even if I kinda understand that they did it to keep things interesting.
I didn’t exactly keep track of this very well, but I think the only more or less consistent doubles for Seigaku were 1) Eiji and Oishi, who were already established as a team and as such didn’t need to build up chemistry, and only had some very short-lived falling outs to overcome, and 2) Inui and Kaidou, who at least had a bit of relationship and training build-up, if nowhere near as much as I would have expected. There were occasional sub-plots about people having to learn to work together, mostly Momo and Ryouma or Momo and Kaidou, but they were always very quickly abandoned.
On a somewhat similar note, I was really thrown by just how little training there is in tenipuri, or at least in the original anime. Especially at the beginning it was just ranking matches - official matches - fillers - repeat. And well, the matches weren’t exactly the strong point most of the time, at least for me. This changes by the time we get to New Prince of Tennis, which is all training all the time, what with that whole prison camp thing. But all anyone ever does at Seigaku seems to be swinging their rackets around. Well, aside from Kaidou, who goes running and swings around towels while standing shirtless in rivers.
A side effect of that lack of training we are shown (as well as the fact that all the regulars are already very good) is that Ryuzaki-sensei seems effectively useless. That sounds really harsh, but it was one of the things that really bothered me. Having a female coach is a much needed opportunity to have more women in your sports anime about dudes, see also Momokan in Oofuri and Riko, among others, in Kuroko “Momoi Satsuki for queen of everything” no Basuke. Compared to them Ryuzaki-sensei barely does anything, aside from deciding on who to randomly pair up for doubles, sitting on the bench during matches, and letting her students play through serious injuries, which mostly seems like something you’d get sued for. Though there is that one thing where she takes everyone up to that weird mountain for training camp, I guess. Honestly, it’s my own fault for getting my hopes up, but when we first got introduced to her, a tennis grandma with a lifelong dedication to pink training suits just sounded super cool.
Another thing that I expected to get from her as the coach was all sorts of exposition and info about tennis, but no. In over 200 episodes of anime and OVAs, the only things I learned about tennis were a) how you decide on who goes first by spinning your racket and b) that the Australian formation is a thing that exists. When it came to ‘explaining’ special moves etc., Inui tended to be the one who took care of it. And as for exposition, that was mainly left to the reporters, who are an entirely different problem by themselves.
Because seriously. Aside from the fact that Shiba supposedly works for a pro tennis magazine, yet appears to be entirely clueless about the sport, just the fact that they are constantly checking up on MIDDLE SCHOOL TENNIS CLUBS and their tournaments is beyond ridiculous. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ, don’t you have any pro tennis to cover? They kinda disappear towards the end, which I was pretty grateful for, because just seeing them was a constant reminder of the biggest problem of them all: the stakes. The stakes are way too fucking high.
A large part of that is one glaring and seriously confusing decision: why the fuck is tenipuri set in middle school? I quite happily ignored everyone’s supposed ages most of the time, which is easy enough when they all look roughly 25-30 years old. Not every anime can be Haikyuu or Oofuri , where teenagers actually and recognizably look like teenagers, or even Kuroko “ok but I’m 1.73 m and already felt uncomfortably big in Japan, how does Murasakibara deal” no Basuke, which is seriously exaggerated but at least makes some effort to distinguish teenagers from adults.
But every once in a while something came up that reminded me that, yes, these guys are supposed to be 12-14 years old (Y’know, stuff like hot megane sensei creeping on them, ewwww). They still have high school in front of them. And that seriously takes away some of the urgency your characters could justifiably feel.
One of my favourite sports anime tropes is “There’s no next year for us third years”, and by ‘favourite’ I mean if I had 5 € every time I cried over just the Aoba Jousai third years’ last chance I’d be fucking rich, and they’re not even the main team. From what I understand, high school sports are kind of a big deal in Japan, and after graduation, the overwhelming majority of these characters won’t be able to play their sports professionally, if they’ll even be able to keep playing at all. So there’s some desperation and tension you can draw on that feels real and that viewers can sympathize with. I mean, we don’t do school sports like that, and I never was on a team anyway, but still: endless crying.
Middle school though? Not exactly the end of the world. So players risking long-term injuries and chronic pain seems even more ridiculous. And tenipuri just goes overboard with this like Ryouma and Ryoga in the cruise ship OVA.
Of course, tenipuri is just really over the top in general, a million times more so than Kuroko “I never quite understood Akashi’s split personality thing” no Basuke. I mean, this show has the Demon Child Kirihara, Eiji mysteriously multiplying himself, neither refs nor coaches stepping in when people are bleeding half to death on the court, players’ auras and special attacks blinding people and creating legitimate storms, two (2) separate instances of amnesia, and multiple characters turning into sparkly super saiyajin when they open the door to the zone or whatever it’s called.
Strangely enough, despite all the bodily harm and weird magical shit tenipuri has to offer, Tezuka slapping Ryouma was somehow the most extreme thing to happen. Perhaps simply because it wasn’t as over the top as everything else and thus seemed more real? I seriously didn’t see it coming.
That strangely out-of-place moment aside, tenipuri clearly never had any intentions of being realistic, and after a while you just get used to the overwhelming dickishness, the unexplained phenomena and everything. This post probably would have looked a bit different if I had written it half-way through the anime, when I was still easily shocked because I had yet to reach things like random dinosaur extinction or moonlight saxophone playing. I may have grown increasingly capital C Concerned over the course of this marathon, but I also learned to just roll with it.
I’m afraid this post will make it sound like I really disliked tenipuri, so let me just clarify that that’s not the case. It may be bat-shit insane and I may have watched it a lot (A LOT) more mockingly than I would pretty much any other anime, but I still had an absolute blast. And again, if I had watched it when I was younger I would have been 100 % into it.
Speaking of which, this is actually one point where tenipuri and Kuroko “admittedly running out of things to put in here” no Basuke are very similar: while they may have been intended for a male audience(? honestly a guess on my part), they attracted a female fanbase significant enough to lead to what I, in my uneducated opinion, would consider typical marketing tactics for that target audience - all those character songs and drama CDs, spreads in otome magazines etc.
To end this all on a positive note, let me just quickly (hah) tell you my favourite characters:
1. KAIDOU. My darling, my sweet summer child, who just wants to train in peace. Save Kaidou Kaoru 2k16. I was surprised and delighted by how much I loved him. By the time New Prince of Tennis rolls around his role became a bit less pronounced, but he’s still the number one in my heart. By association I also really love Inui. The two of them will be the death of me, with their romantic sunset declarations of love and/or doubles intentions and their towels of proposal. Be still my heart.
2. ATOBE KEIGO, who is clearly one of the best things ever to come out of this whole show, fuck yeah. An absolute delight in every scene he’s in, with an absolutely beautiful performance by his voice actor, Suwabe Junichi. Every time he did that ‘ahn?’ thing I fucking swooned, man. Atobe/Tezuka will forever be my OTP, for which I entirely blame fishpatrol. My kingdom for some decent Imperial Pair fic, seriously. Stay tuned for Atobe Keigo, secret agent, busting criminal organizations all over the world, fabulously dressed and getting in witty one liners while he’s drinking cocktails on his yacht - coming to a screen near you whenever I win the lottery and get enough money to bribe some animators. (Though any winnings would first be applied to buying that one fancy Atobe figure, ngl.)
3. OOTORI CHOUTAROU, who I once called a cinnamon roll amongst douchewaffles, a description I stand by because it’s fucking hilarious. *high-fives self* Ootori is too good for this show, too pure, a legit nice person, and he and Shishido kinda snuck up on me, but man, do I love them. They have some quality screen time in New Prince of Tennis, where Shishido is fucking ready to fight eveyone, including trained hunting eagles, and Ootori misses his senpai so much. SO MUCH. But eventually they get reunited and uuuugh, be still my heart, I love them so much.
4. KENYA, and wow, there’s someone who didn’t get on this list until the very last second. There’s an episode in New Prince of Tennis where he really gets to shine, and after that I was done. I love him. And well, he’s voiced by Fukuyama Jun. That’s an unfair advantage right there. Side note: I didn’t realize he and Oshitari were cousins, which means I spent a not insignificant period of time low-key shipping them. <.<
Special mentions go out to Mizuki, the hair-twirling, Ishida Akira-voiced, amazing rose-sweater wearing god of #fashion, Jirou, who is much like me in that he is very sleepy most of the time only to get VERY EXCITED very fast, and Fuji “I like watching people suffer” Shuusuke.
And finally, here’s my favourite episodes, in order of airing, most of which are hilariously weird fillers. If you haven’t seen any OVAs, I definitely recommend the newer ones, after the Nationals. They’re ridiculous, but really nicely animated. A++.
1. The beginning of the Kaidou/Inui doubles saga, episodes 54 and following. That scene in the river, man. Just. Wow.
2. The dating ep, 71. Again mostly for the Inui/Kaidou content, but also just generally for the way Inui seems to magically pop up anytime the word ‘date’ gets uttered by anyone ever.
3. Inui’s match against his ex-boyfriend, episodes 122+123, the best thing to come out of the Rikkaidai arc. Featuring what Drae called the ‘towel of proposal’ and a lot of shots of Kaidou looking tense yet supportive in the stands.
4. The Germany episodes, 130+131, featuring the coolest drunk German lady ever, and the very worrying saga of Kaidou being lost in Munich.
5. The one where Kaidou loses his memory, episode 163, aka the one that made me cry tears of incredulity. Amazing.
6. THE CRUISE SHIP OVA. Technically called The Two Samurai, First Game. This is just on an entirely different level, you guys. Holy shit. Dinosaur extinction. And the best Atobe cameos in the world.
7. Episode 2 of the ~Another Story~ OVA, aka bb!Hyotei, in which Atobe stages a hostile take-over of his new school on the first day and it’s glorious.
8. The one where all of Hyotei is hella gay, or even more so than usual: episode 8 of the first Nationals OVA, featuring Atobe jumping into his pool fully-clothed because he got too worked up thinking about Tezuka. And later he throws a bunch of roses at his team. Good times.
9. THE PRINCE OF YAKINIKU, first episode of the National Finals OVA. This has one of the greatest Ootori/Shishido scenes of all time. ALL TIME. And thankfully, Atobe somehow grew back the hair he had to shave off the previous episode.
10. For completion’s sake, episode 3 of the National Finals OVA, because it’s the one where Demon Child provokes Kaidou by hurting Inui and then Inui stops Kaidou from turning into a demon himself with the power of his love.
11. The England OVA (Eikokushiki Teikyuu Shiro Kessen), full with quality Atobe/Tezuka scenes (THE JET SKI) and also the most ridiculous plot you could possibly imagine. Not to mention one particular Fuji scene that is too beautiful to put into words. A+++ pls watch this.
12. Episode 8 of New Prince of Tennis, because that’s the Kenya ep and I love him. <3
13. Episode 11 of New Prince of Tennis, which is chock full of Imperial Pair stuff, and I’m always here for that. It also features Atobe falling on his face, which is hilarious.
14. And lastly, episode 7 of the New Prince of Tennis specials. Because Ootori and Shishido. And pillow fights.
And that concludes my great tenipuri marathon of 2016. Thanks for coming along for the ride.