Pairing: Sanada Genichirou x Atobe Keigo
Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Spoilers: Spoilers ahoy!
Author: Kim sumeragiskank
Sites: Tamaran Tango
Notes: Much thanks to Mura and Mizu, who I tortured while writing this. This would be my first manifesto, and hopefully it lives up to its potential. *_* 8 pages and four thousand words. Only....an hour or so late ^^;;; Any typos are a result of me being insanely tired and completely unable to proofread anymore.
Tennis no Oujisama, or Prince of Tennis as it is more commonly known among Western fans, is Konomi Takeshi’s story of a 12 yr old tennis prodigy with an exceptionally bad attitude and his school’s team of tennis prodigies' quest for glory in the spectacularly unrealistic Japanese middle school tennis circuit. Tennis is a matter of life and death dramatics in Tennisball Z. Along the way, you meet a large cast of characters from several different schools, all of whom tend to possess their own wacky idiosyncrasies and generally are much more interesting than the main characters. Unfortunately because of their status as rival players, these other people are often not given as much attention as we would like.
It goes almost without question that these characters would be the ones to fascinate me. Konomi creates vivid and intriguing characters and then moves on, leaving you wanting more. Fandom is created around this need to explore and I have always loved pairings and characters on the fringe.
Surprise surprise when one of my favourite characters ended up being the single most popular character in the series according to Weekly Jump polls.
Before we begin, I would like to make it very clear that this is based entirely on the manga. Mention is made briefly in parts about the anime, and they will be explicitly labeled.
Atobe Keigo is the captain of prestigious Hyoutei Gakuen, a private school that is famous for its very large and very proud tennis club and the ruthless way that winning is promoted. Once a player loses a match as a Hyoutei regular, he is immediately removed from the team and replaced. Second place is not an option.
To sum up Atobe in a word, he is a diva. He lives for the spotlight. Proud to the point of arrogance, he is supremely confident in everything he does. Able to silence the entire school with a snap of his fingers and lay the 200 member tennis club quivering at his feet in anticipation, he is beyond charismatic. He is the student council president, the only son of an incredibly wealthy family, able to speak at least 3 languages other than Japanese fluently, an accomplished equestrian, a talented pianist, and hauntingly beautiful.
All of this perfection and arrogance could prove to produce an insufferable ass. And in most cases, it would annoy me as well. However, Keigo is able to enchant and charm. Yes, he is conceited. However, Atobe is able to back up his arrogance with real talent. He IS a superiorly gifted tennis player, the only unbeaten player in the series so far as we know, though there are heavy implications that Sanada has defeated him in the past. He is able to defeat Seigaku's Tezuka, the paragon of tennis who is the main character’s tennis goal. Atobe is a gifted leader who is able to effectively run his team alone while earning their respect and driving them onward to victory. He can be quite ruthless and cunning when needed and knows exactly what buttons to push to get the best results from his teammates and friends. He also has a wicked sense of humour.
Atobe is an ice queen, cold and glittering, proud and unreachable. Or at least he appears to be on the outside. Underneath the shining outside is the fiery core that pushes Atobe forward. He’s passionate with a great zest for life. The challenge is getting him to let you see his hidden depths, so to speak.
To sum up Sanada Genichirou in a word… I can’t. Unless I simply say he is the emperor (Tennis no Teiou-sama?) as he is often called in the series. Sanada is an interesting character, a mess of contradictions who are barely held together in a seemingly stoic, violently passionate young man. He is the fukubuchou - vice captain - of Rikkai Dai Fuzoku Chuu, the defending National champions. He is the leader of his team in the absence of the very ill captain.
Sanada in the manga is a very different beast from the Sanada in the anime, and it is manga Sanada that I love and who intrigues me. It’s interesting to see how he was altered when for the most part, characterization does not change between the two mediums beyond the usual subtle alterations found in a manga to anime translation.
Called the emperor because he is considered the most powerful junior tennis player in the country, Sanada is strong both physically and mentally. Carrying his team on his back or perhaps more accurately, holding the reins to several headstrong players and steering them forward, he is determined to lead them to victory for the third consecutive year. The reason why he is so dead set on this victory is because of a promise he made to the team’s ailing captain. As the boy was rolled off into the hospital, Sanada vowed that Rikkai would not know defeat and would win Nationals again that year. Sanada is often depicted as the very traditional samurai of the series. He practices kendo and is seen practicing with his katana. His hobby is calligraphy. For all intents and purposes, he attempts to act like the dutiful stoic samurai, obsessed with honour and the fulfillment of responsibilities and promises. He promised the captain. He will make that promise come true because it is his duty to do so.
And here is where the contradictions start. For starters, Sanada rarely acts like the formal young man he seems to be. He’s on rather informal terms with several of his teammates, who more often than not call him "Genichirou." No Sanada, or Sanada-fukubuchou, though Kirihara, the team’s darling second year, often uses fukubuchou as a way to needle Sanada. Sanada himself is very informal and can be borderline rude in his speech, especially in the way he treats the adults he encounters. He is not afraid to verbally bully his elders, as evidenced by his treatment of the tennis reporter Inoue. He refers to Kirihara and Yanagi, another teammate and the boy who appears to be Sanada’s closest friend, as "Akaya" and "Renji." Sanada is always yelling "tarundoru!" his trademark phrase, at his team. It’s a fairly rude thing to be yelling at people.
Sanada is also far from the feelingless stoic he tries to be behind a scowl. He is intensely passionate, and one look at his eyes in almost any panel reveals this. He’s so passionate and feels so deeply that he can be quite violent. Sanada has a nasty temper and he’s not always capable of controlling it. When Kirihara plays Echizen Ryoma, the main character, in an unofficial match and then loses, Sanada not only backhands Jackal, the teammate supposed to be watching Kirihara, so hard the taller boy goes flying across the court, but Kirihara as well. This is the boy who Sanada praises to Inoue, who he calls by his first name and who gets away with verbally annoying Sanada. Sanada hits Kirihara so hard the boy has bruises on his cheek weeks later and has to cover it with a bandage. Bottomline, Sanada got so pissed off he snapped and started slapping around his teammates. He abused his power and furthermore, managed to mostly get away with it. It is not until Yanagi loses to Seigaku’s Inui that Sanada is reined in himself. Yanagi is Sanada’s close friend, an equal in terms of tennis and leadership. He realizes he does not want to hit his friend, in spite of his glaring loss, and it is Yanagi who forces Sanada to follow through with his actions. For the good of the team Sanada has ruled with a heavy hand and he cannot afford to play favourites now. Kirihara prevents him from hitting Yanagi, and Sanada realizes a bit what he has done.
Sanada is a very proud young man and does not tolerate weakness in those around him. This is not a boy who seeks the spotlight like Atobe, but rather does not care that it is on him one way or the other. He won’t shy away from it and will certainly use it to his advantage, but he does not actively seek it out. His pride also gets the better of him in the manga as it is that pride which leads to him losing to Echizen Ryoma. He does not take the boy seriously and actually views him in contempt. Because of this, he does not realize until it is too late that the boy is the main character and therefore has tenigod skills and needed to be treated as a serious threat from the very beginning of the match. While shamed, Sanada does not let his loss break him and he still vows to win the Nationals.
I will be the first to admit that this pairing is based more on speculation, interpretation, and extrapolation than any blatant evidence in the manga, though I feel that there is plenty there to get the ideas flowing.
What do we know of Sanada and Atobe and their interaction in the manga?
It’s first mentioned during Atobe’s match with Tezuka. Atobe enters the court with dramatic flair and proceeds to strip. No really, he whips off his jacket like an expensive dancer, tosses it into the air, and poses. The crowd goes wild. We see Sanada, Kirihara, and Yanagi watching the match from the stands. They have in fact only appeared to watch Atobe play Tezuka. Kirihara comments that it’s quite an impressive display even though it’s not Nationals. Sanada’s response is terse as it generally is, but it and the expression on his face says a lot.
This is our first clue that Sanada knows Atobe, though it is logical both know of each other. They’re both young tennis stars who are quite famous in the circuit. Sanada suggests here though that he knows Atobe personally.
And he does. Every year, there is a special Jr. Senbatsu selection camp held where the most promising young tennis players are invited to attend. The previous year, only 4 second year players went to Jr. Senbatsu.
Sanada and Atobe were two of those players. They know each other and have spent camp time together. And the way that the camp is seen in flashbacks through Sanada and Sengoku Kiyosumi, another one of the four second years chosen, these second years pulled together to completely devastate the older camp goers. A lot speculation can be made on what exactly happened at Jr. Senbatsu that makes Sanada show up to watch Atobe.
I love the expression on Sanada’s face as he says that Atobe is acting how he expected. Instead of the usual grrr face Sanada likes to wear, he’s much more... amused. Open.
Sadly, Sanada and Atobe have never met face to face on screen in the manga, so all we have are snippets of one watching the other play tennis, or one thinking of the other.
After appearing very dramatically at the Kantou tournament finals to watch Rikkai play Seigaku, Atobe is obviously disturbed by Sanada’s loss to Echizen. We even get a lovely shower scene where Atobe is gloriously wet and naked and thinking about Sanada.
The only piece of direct interaction that we are given is a skit contained in volume 20.5. 20.5 is an informative fanbook written by Konomi that provides a lot of information on the various teams and players. It also has a very amusing interview with all of the captains of the teams met in Prince of Tennis. Because his captain is ill, Sanada appears for Rikkai.
What follows is extremely funny and made me scream, "Yes!" Sanada and Atobe snarking at each other in full glory. One of my beliefs behind the pairing is that the two of them rather passionately get on each other’s nerves and drive the other to distraction. Imagine my delight when I found them doing just that in an official source.
The translation I used were translated by Kyoh and borrowed from her site - Minus Zero
The captains are asked to pick the best match from the series and it is asked on what qualifications they should determine the best. Tension is suggested as a qualifier.
Sanada: Well then, that excludes our games. Our games are of high level but there is no such thing as "rivalry" with Rikkai.
Atobe: Hmph, it just means you guys are only capable of playing boring games.
Atobe: In any case, no one disagrees with the fact that my game with Tezuka wins the "best match" right?
Sanada: How can you call that a best match! Injuring oneself during the game is what you call a shameful player!
Atobe: You totally lack romance. That's what you call drama.
They fight like an old married couple.
So where exactly did this pairing come from for me when there really was not anything blaring signs at me as there was for my other Tenipuri OTP, ToriShishi? Please see gekidasa's absolutely wonderful manifesto on them.
It began for several reasons.
The first is that for me, seme and uke dynamics are extremely important. Just because I like Character A x Character B does not mean I will like Character B x Character A. There is often too much of a difference in interpretation between the two that I cannot reconcile them. And I am very set in my ways when it comes to interpretation.
Atobe had been driving -me- insane due to the fact that I could not find the right partner to gel with him. I adore Atobe and to me, he is an uke. A very commanding, bossy, pushy, high maintenance uke. Absolutely none of my options had that spark that I was looking for.
And then Sanada happened and I was struck with quite a fit of fangirl lust and in one of my random moments made the throwaway comment, "Wouldn't Sanada and Keigo look really hot together?" The seed was planted and from there it grew. The pairing is about speculation and the fireworks that the combining of these two explosive ingredients would produce.
Atobe needs someone who is a challenge to him and even says so in his character song Cross With You. He is worshipped by his classmates and is the darling of his world. His partner needs to be someone who is as confident as Atobe is, someone as intelligent and talented as Atobe is. Not only is this necessary to be able to deal with Atobe's own arrogance, but do you really believe he would settle for someone who was not as great as he? Or at least as close as another mere mortal being can come, perhaps. Sanada is proud, he is quite intelligent, and he's considered just as good if not better than Atobe at tennis. They are already on common ground there. Along with a challenge and someone who makes him react, Atobe needs that person to also be able to indulge him, pamper him. Sanada, when he is not slapping them around, is actually rather indulgent of his team. They are a group of very strong personalities and all come off as being off their rockers. He never actually tries to change Kirihara's destructive tendencies or improve the boy's behaviour. That is the way Kirihara acts and that is perfectly alright with Sanada. Provided there is no losing, of course. The slapping was not for his appalling behaviour that was displayed during his match with Echizen - Kirihara purposefully tries to ruin Echizen's knee - but because he lost. Sanada has a track record of being able to handle his quirky teammates and often is quite fond of Kirihara. I think it is in him to be indulgent of Atobe and provide him with the attention he wants and needs. You can see the beginnings of this in "As expected of Atobe." Sanada is not exasperated by Keigo's behaviour. He knows that that is just the way Atobe is. Tezuka, the boy Atobe is playing against, is very disapproving of Atobe's flamboyant entrance. Sanada is not out to change his insane teammates and he would not be out to change Atobe. He is honest and blunt and takes people for who they are, not who he wants them to be.
Sanada has a very dark, dry sense of humour which is comparable with Atobe's own. They are both able to hold their own in verbal sparring and I think the sparks are there. Sanada is temptation for Atobe. Getting under his skin would fast become a hobby. Once Atobe does manage to provoke him, Sanada is going to explode because he is so passionate and has that barely controlled temper. (And carry Atobe over his shoulder to the nearest available flat surface, of course) Here again is that challenge that Atobe needs. Sanada will always keep him on his toes because Atobe cannot push him around the way he does everyone else. Sanada may also prove to be too much for Atobe to handle which could lead to all sorts of fun. On the flipside, Atobe is quite amusing and fun, and part of the fun of letting go is finding someone who provokes you perfectly. Sanada would find someone intriguing and enticing in Atobe. There is a back and forth give and take of provocation here and the resulting tension would lead to highly charged snarking. This tension quickly becomes sexual. The more time they spend together, the more they rile each other up and before you know it, they're making out against a wall.
If Atobe has a partner who challenges him and can be considered his equal, what does Sanada get out of being with Atobe? Sanada is a very take charge boy who reaches out and takes what he wants. By force, if necessary. ^o^ Sanada needs someone who can handle his temper. Atobe is a strong enough personality that he is not going to be cowed by someone who likes to yell and get his way a lot. Atobe likes that too and is not afraid to fight back. Both are very intense young men who would be able to meet the other's passion with their own. Sanada also needs someone he can protect. Big strong samurai need someone to serve and protect. Keigo is a big boy and capable of taking care of himself. However, this does not mean that he would not enjoy and benefit from someone taking charge, placing himself in someone else's hands for once. The problem with that before was finding someone Atobe would trust enough to be vulnerable for. It would take time for it to happen, and the person involved would have to prove themselves to be worthy of the honour. Sanada could easily do this.
And in spite of how different they seem - attention seeking diva Atobe and cranky jerk Sanada who hides behind his baseball hat - these two have enough in common to find common ground in between all the sexy sniping. They're both proud, both strong leaders for their teams, committed to excellence. And once either is smitten, he will be lost.
There are also the purely physical reasons that make this pairing something HOT. There is a lot of tension between two boys who are incredibly passionate, physical people. Both of these boys are incredibly gorgeous in complementary ways. Sanada is tall, broad, obviously strong, the kind of guy you know you'd be able to wash laundry off his stomach. He's got lovely tanned skin, jet black hair that is either covered up by the hat or running free in a weirdly uncontrolled and very traditional haircut. It's hard to explain but damn it is sexy. He has a very sharp nose and generous mouth that isn't pretty because it's always scowling. He's got dark eyes to go with his hair to make him the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. Atobe is slender and graceful with hidden power. His features are fine and aristocratic and he can be extremely pretty. His light brown hair is always styled perfectly and in an interesting move, Atobe is the only character in the entire series who does not have brown eyes. Atobe's eyes are a very clear blue. His skin is pale and creamy - hello porcelain complexion. They're dark and light all wrapped up into gorgeous packages. There is also a height difference that makes Atobe the perfect height for kissing Sanada. 5 centimeters. Just enough to make it work but not enough to make it a pain in the neck. They're just GORGEOUS together, and SanaAto is all about the hunger and sparks which are often best expressed physically.
The anime presents a different Sanada, one who is more bumbling and grumpy than violent and intense, and I was very disappointed in its portrayal of my favourite character. However, Anipuri completely blew my mind with the random SanaAto fanservice it provided.
During a selection camp for an international invitational, Sanada and Keigo bitch at each other. Constantly. They get into a spectacularly gay match against each other and end up frustrated they can't finish. It's a case of tennis blueballs that gets worse when they realize they have to play doubles. Together.
Two strong singles players are often not meant to play doubles, and they really suck at first. Sanada and Atobe are unable to quit their bitching at each other....until they remember a fateful night where they both went to a concert. A small Latin ensemble played tango music and they were swept away, sitting so close and yet so far away from each other in the audience.
They remember this love for the music of passion and by playing tennis like THEY ARE DANCING THE TANGO TOGETHER; they are able to win their doubles match.
Yes, that is psychotic crack. I do not use it for any sort of serious characterization, but omg, it was like my birthday and Christmas all at once.
SanaAto is a very small fandom, and because I am very particular about how my babies are treated, the fandom is made even smaller. Tamaran Tango is a shrine to the pairing run by myself, gekidasa, and muzivitch. The fanfic section contains some of the best SanaAto fanfic out there. More can be found on Mizu's personal fanfiction site, Lemon, with a Twist of Pr0n. I recommend anything written by her because it is most sexcellent ^o^
As for Japanese fandom, it is also a small, niche fandom with very dedicated fangirls. I own several SanaAto doujinshi and it is popular enough to have spawned anthology doujinshi and events. It's even made its way into doujinshi done by such big name doujinshika as Love Potion No 9.
There is also a nice selection of fanart to be found, but due to Japanese fanartist's wishes to not be linked publicly and my own reservations towards sharing links, I won't post any here. If you are interested, you can email me and I will send them on along.