Drawing power

`Toon tennis is the latest craze in Japan

Watch out Pokemon, you've got some serious competition from the Prince of Tennis, Japan's top sports comic book and animated TV show.

It's the story of high-school tennis players vying for the prestigious title of Prince of Tennis. The main character is the preternaturally talented 13-year-old Echizen Ryoma, "a self-confident kid who has an impudent way of provoking others," according to one fan's website. The odds-on favourite to become the Prince, Echizen spent his formative years training in U.S., where he won the "American Jr. Tournament" (think of it as a fictious Orange Bowl) four times in a row.

The Prince of Tennis comic book was created by Takeshi Konomi three years ago, and the cartoon has been running on television in Tokyo since 2001.

Its popularity has spawned everything from video games to junior tennis bags that bear the show's characters and logo.

"(Echizen) is a hero to many of the young generation," says Chitose Renge, executive vice president of the Japanese-based racquet manufacturer Yonex, which sells Prince of Tennis-themes merchandise. Renge adds that the cartoon is more than a ratings buster; it's also encouraged Japanese kids to hit the courts. — James Martin