But strangely, it was actually the tennis match right before 98 which really held my interest. Not for the game itself, but for what it showed: Another freshman nearly as good as Echizen, but with a *totally* different attitude. It underscored something for me, and made me both worried and sad. (Yes, I'm worried and sad for a fictional character, so sue me. :) ) I think Echizen still doesn't like playing tennis. Even after Tezuka's "Rah! Rah! Become the team's pillar of strength!" talk, I think Echizen still isn't playing because he likes to play. I think he's still playing because he has serious father-issues, and that makes me really, really sad. That Aoi loves the game so much, and that love showed through so well, really displayed the difference in Echizen.
(Also, I strongly believe that the Nanjiroh characterization has changed since the beginning of the show. Not that the character has grown or changed, but I think they're just writing him differently. He was always funny, but in the beginning there was a very serious element to him as well: He was hard on Ryoma, teased him and pushed him. Now he's just around as a buffoon. What a waste of a good character!)
I feel the end of the series coming. I'm suspecting the Nationals really will be the end of it, and I won't have an issue with that so long as two things happen:
1) Echizen either starts liking tennis, or walks away from the game and doesn't return to it. Honestly, I'd be happy with either of those two; I want *him* to be happy, no matter which trail he has to take to get there.
2) Related to number one, I want him to come to some sort of understanding with his father. Alas, I think this is less likely to happen as it's a) a much bigger thing than just sticking with or leaving tennis, and b) the changes they've made in Nanjiroh's characterization have made this seem like a less necessary thing to resolve.
I really, really like watching a series this way: straight through instead of waiting week after week after week for a tiny little ep (30 minutes long, but really only about 20 of actual storyline).
Oh, I still have Survival Mountain to watch (I wasn't sure where in the series it fit, so I just saved it till the end). And from ep #97: When the old man (ancient man!) coach gave out candy to everyone, but didn't have one for Kaidoh, I howled laughter. Poor, poor Kaidoh! No wonder he has such a hard exterior, the world keeps pooping on him! :) The ep a while back, where he found a lost puppy and the female owner came running up and "saved the puppy from him murdering it" was just as funny.