Kunimitsu Tezuka (手塚 国光, Tezuka Kunimitsu) is a fictional character in the manga and anime series The Prince of Tennis created by Takeshi Konomi, who described Tezuka as the character with whom he has the least in common. In the story, he is introduced as the strict and serious captain of Seishun Academy‘s (“Seigaku” for short) tennis team who enforces order within his team, often forcing its members to run laps. With his all-around tennis style and advanced techniques, Tezuka is considered to be a National-level tennis player by many of the other characters.
Tezuka encourages the series’ protagonist, Ryoma Echizen, to develop his own style of tennis, leading the latter to consider him to be both a mentor and a rival. Throughout the series, Tezuka continues to constantly struggle with the pain in his left arm that was caused by an injury inflicted upon him by an upperclassman two years prior to the main storyline. However, he is often willing to sacrifice the use of his arm in order to defeat his opponent and lead his team to the National Tennis Tournament. In addition to appearing in the series’ other media, including musicals, films, and soundtracks, different types of merchandise have been released in his likeness, including figurines and jewelry.
Tezuka’s character has been well received by readers since his introduction, having ranked in the top five most popular characters in every Shonen Jump character popularity poll of series. He has also remained in the top 10 in the annual Valentine Chocolate Recipient rankings Takeshi Konomi releases in the manga, in which readers mail in who they want to send chocolate to. In publications on manga and anime, however, his character has received mixed reviews. Reviewers comment on his lack of originality, and that the impossibility of one of his techniques is part of why the story seems idiotic. Though one reviewer questions his likability as a protagonist, his personality is praised, with one seeing an example of his devotion as one of the highlights of the series, and another commenting that he is a good captain who is properly motivating the main character.
Parts of Tezuka’s history are revealed throughout several flashbacks in the story. Three years prior, when he was still a relatively unknown tennis player, Tezuka easily defeated the Junior Tennis Tournament’s runner-up, Genichiro Sanada, and played evenly against the champion, Seiichi Yukimura. Upon his entrance into Seishun Academy nearly a year later, Tezuka was already a better tennis player than most of his upperclassman. However, when his teammates found out that he is left-handed even though he played against them with his right, they viewed him as arrogant, leading to a jealous teammate injuring his left arm. Despite having made a promise to Shuichiro Oishi that he would lead Seigaku to the Nationals, Tezuka decided to quit the tennis club because he did not want to be on the same team with people who used their racquets to hurt others. Still, because of his skills, he was recognized by then-captain Yūdai Yamato, who wanted Tezuka to become Seigaku’s “pillar of support,” and entrusted him with the dream of going to the Nationals, which convinced Tezuka to stay.
During that same year, Shusuke Fuji defeated Tezuka in a private tennis match, but Fuji was displeased with the outcome after finding out about Tezuka’s injury, promising to play him again after his arm heals. Over time, Tezuka secured a regular spot on the team despite being a first year, and by his second year, he became the team’s vice-captain and defeated Hyotei Academy‘s captain during a tournament. Despite not being at full strength due to his injury leading to chronic problems, and his sealing of a powerful technique that required the use of his left arm, Tezuka eventually became known as a National-level tennis player. He was even invited to an elite tennis training camp, but because his arm problems returned, he declined the invitation without stating his reasons to the organization.