Fun fact, The Prince of Tennis was the first manga volume I ever bought. I never kept up after volume 1, but that purchase paved the way for my otaku ways. I have respect for the series regardless, so I decided to check out Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide>. (Big thanks to Eleven Arts for the screener review copy!) I was expecting a run-of-the-mill sports film, but what I got was bombastically different. This anime movie was a thrill ride, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Let’s do the Time Warp Again!
Oddly enough, Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide> begins with leading lady Sakuno Ryuzaki going to America with her family. After getting separated from them, she gets lost and accidentally runs into a street gang. For some reason, star tennis player Ryoma Echizen arrives from Japan and protects Sakuno from the punks. After a brief tennis match, the two are transported to the past.
It’s here we find out Ryoma’s father Nanjiro is going head-to-head with a star American player in a tennis match. Ryoma didn’t hear about this game, so he and Sakuno decide to attend. However, it seems that the Echizen family is the prime target for gang violence. In a scuffle, Sakuno is kidnapped, and it’s up to Ryoma and his father to get to the bottom of what’s happening. We’re introduced to a new character Emerald, the daughter of the gang leader, with mysterious intentions for Ryoma. It’s a race against time to figure out what’s happening and how the two can get back to the present.
You Can’t Stop the Beat
…Oh, and if you thought they were going to sing the whole time, you’d be right! Bafflingly, Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide> is also a full-blown musical. We aren’t talking about licensed songs in the background, there’s choreographed numbers and corresponding lyrics peppered throughout. From the opening number I was hooked at how goofy but charming the premise was. It doesn’t help that I watched the English dub where the songs were left in the original Japanese. I wish Eleven Arts dubbed the songs (I mean, if Belle can do it, this movie sure could). The fact that it goes from English to Japanese (with speaking lines dubbed in English) makes this a hilarious presentation.
The songs themselves are performed decently enough by the Japanese voice actors, but it’s the sheer campiness that sells it. One song in the America setting has the characters rapping, and it’s as fun as a Space Channel 5 number. I haven’t been this entertained by a musical film in a while, and the accompanying visuals are icing on the cake. Thankfully, the songs have subtitles even when dubbed, so you can enjoy them wherever you are.
Tennis? What’s That?
In The Prince of Tennis, we get a ton of footage of tennis matches in the series. Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide> has surprisingly few scenes in contrast. I get the whole gang plot wouldn’t make for much tennis time, but we don’t even see a full match! Most of these scenes are packaged in song numbers, but it would have been cool to see more tennis action.
That said, there are unorthodox applications of various tennis equipment used in the film, and it’s all pretty wacky. In one shining example, Ryoma distracts gangsters by serving a tennis ball as it ricochets inside a car. This hits every person in the car except Sakuno for some reason. Tennis rackets and balls are also used in a Home Alone-esque manner, which is hilarious. Expect tennis to be mentioned in everything but an actual tennis match here.
What’s shocking for The Prince of Tennis fans is the use of CGI for Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide>. And honestly? It looks pretty good! I’ve been impressed with CGI anime since Beastars and the new Lupin the Third movie, so I don’t mind it. The models look clean, with action being well-animated. I could see the cartoonish movements with the bumbling henchmen characters, and the tennis scenes were good as well. It doesn’t feel stiff, which is great considering this isn’t an 2D-animated film. If this is where anime wants to take CGI, I would love more anime to follow this direction.
It’s Ryoma’s Party, he can Cry if he Wants to
If you’re hoping for a slew of fan-favorite characters, you best be looking elsewhere. Other than Ryoma, his father, and Sakuno, none of the returning characters get much screentime. Emerald is a nice addition to the film, but I doubt we’re going to be seeing her in other material. It’s a shame, because I was expecting to see more of the Seigaku team than the brief musical appearances. Heck, even Sakuno gets kidnapped relatively early and doesn’t do much for most of the movie.
It’s weird, because there are two cameos from Kunimitsu Tezuka and Seiichi Yukimura that come out of nowhere in the middle of the film. (I appreciate that Tezuka was voiced by Jonah Scott, the English voice of Legoshi on Beastars. Even if it’s only for like a couple minutes.) They’re not relevant to the plot but are still neat additions. However, it’s still pretty cool to see the relationship between current Ryoma and past Nanjiro in his prime. Their father and son interactions were heartwarming and makes for a great character arc.
A Fun Time for the Casual Fan
All in all, Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide> is a fun movie. While not the best anime adaptation, it’s filled to the brim with wackiness. The musical numbers and earnest (if somewhat jarring) delivery make for an anime film that was worth watching the whole way through. This is a great way to introduce newcomers to The Prince of Tennis, and a fun night at the movies!
Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis <Decide> heads to select theaters on May 12 in the United States. You can purchase tickets here. Stay tuned for more anime and manga reviews here on Miso!