Ryoma sometimes sends him letters from America, but more often he sends Tezuka magazine articles. The magazines have Ryoma’s face on the cover and pictures of Ryoma’s matches on the inside.
Sometimes Ryoma will critique the articles, or just parts of them. When he does, Tezuka always knows that he’s getting Ryoma’s own copy, not just any copy bought from the newsstand. Either that or Ryoma adds the remarks just for him. Either way, Tezuka reads through the articles over and over again, and feels a rush of happiness every time he does.
Once a reporter writes that Ryoma comes off as an arrogant, spoiled brat. Only to him is scribbled next to the line in Ryoma’s handwriting. A few choice letters in the reporter’s name have been changed every time it appears, making it an obscenity. Tezuka wants to laugh when he reads this, and feels that he shouldn’t.
Another article quotes Ryoma as saying tennis in America is better than tennis in Japan. WRONG is written next to that one, all in capitals and underlined twice. Ryoma sends Tezuka the next issue of that magazine, turning down a page and circling one of the letters to the editor on it. It’s a refutation of the article. It says that not only is tennis better in Japan, tennis magazines are better in Japan, and tennis reporters are better in Japan. It’s followed by a profuse apology from the author of the article.
Tezuka feels as though he shouldn’t laugh again, but this time he does anyway.
He also brings out a pen and circles several passages in the original article, and sends the magazine back to Ryoma. These are the passages that refer to Ryoma as a “rising star in the pro tennis community,” “one of the finest young talents of the era,” and “a match and more for all players his age, and most above it.”
Ryoma sends it back with just one word written above the article’s title: Che.
“Echizen?” Of course, he knows who it is without asking. He’s surprised, though, to hear the familiar voice on the other end of the phone line at ten o’clock at night.
“I’m calling long distance. Dad says I can only talk for fifteen minutes.” Ryoma sounds disgusted.
“That’s sensible,” says Tezuka. “Long distance calls are expensive.”
“I make most of the money now.”
Tezuka remains silent because there is nothing proper to say to that. Tezuka still holds to traditional values regarding parental respect, but he wants to hear Ryoma’s voice for more than fifteen minutes.
“Anyway, I have to ask you something,” says Ryoma. “My mom said I should ask someone I trust. I think she meant Dad, but he’s an idiot. No one would trust him.”
“I see.” Tezuka shouldn’t be glad that Ryoma trusts him more than Ryoma trusts his own father. He takes a deep breath in an attempt to rid himself of the feeling. It doesn’t work.
“Everyone’s always asking me for autographs,” Ryoma says bluntly, not being arrogant this time, just relating the facts. “So last time when I was out and a group of girls came up to me, I told them I was Horio, with two years of tennis experience.” He pauses, waiting for Tezuka’s reaction.
“That’s unethical,” says Tezuka.
“Because people recognize you, and you shouldn’t lie to them.” Tezuka hears a snort on the other end of the phone. He adds sternly, “Tell them the truth.”
“What, that I don’t feel like signing hundreds of stupid autographs?” Ryoma asks.
“Yes,” says Tezuka, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He’s glad Ryoma can’t see him through the phone line. He wants to tell Ryoma to phrase it more diplomatically, but he is encouraging Ryoma to be honest.
“That’s what mom said, too,” Ryoma says. Tezuka thinks he can hear Ryoma rolling his eyes.
“Do it, Echizen,” says Tezuka, using the voice he uses when he’s ordering someone to run laps.
“Fine,” says Ryoma. “My dad said I should get the girls’ phone numbers, you know.”
“That would be unethical too.” More unethical is Tezuka saying it’s unethical, and he fights an internal battle with himself before saying it.
“I thought so,” says Ryoma, sounding satisfied.
Ryoma Echizen: Tennis Star or Compulsive Liar?
This is what the headline reads, the next time Ryoma sends Tezuka an article. It says that there are now three documented cases of tennis player Ryoma Echizen lying to his fans, and questions the true meaning of the mysterious alter ego “Horio.” An arrow points to this passage and Ryoma has written The next great Japanese tennis player next to it.
The article goes on to list the times when Ryoma has lied to fans looking for an autograph. The last date is three days after Tezuka had talked to Ryoma on the phone.
Tezuka raises an eyebrow at this and is about to write something, until he sees another note from Ryoma at the end of the article. I already ran laps, it says, and is underlined three times.
Good, Tezuka writes after it, and as an afterthought adds How many?
Ryoma sends it back again. Most people would say it’s a waste of postage. Tezuka wouldn’t. Below Tezuka’s note is written, How many would you have ordered me to do?
Fifty, Tezuka replies, though he wouldn’t.
In response, Ryoma sends Tezuka a different magazine. It’s by a reporter who’d gone to Ryoma’s house, only to find Ryoma running, time and time again, around his house. When the reporter had questioned him, Ryoma had said, “I’m running laps.” The reporter had asked him if it was part of his training.
“No,” Ryoma had replied. “Because Buchou told me to.”
The rest of the article wonders if this “Buchou” falls into the same category as “Horio,” whoever he might be. An arrow points at this part, and Ryoma’s handwriting says, I wouldn’t do laps if Horio ordered me to.
Written at the end of the article is I had to do twenty more, to make it fifty.
Tezuka can see Ryoma’s grin even though they’re on different continents.
“Isn’t it strange?” Inoue asks Tezuka thoughtfully. They’re both at a junior high tournament, Tezuka there just to watch and Inoue there to report, as always. He and Shiba cover some high school tournaments now, though. They’re as much a part of the Seigaku team as any of the regulars.
“Hm?” Tezuka glances away from the match. “What is, Inoue-san?”
“Thinking of Echizen-kun as the new American superstar.” Inoue shakes his head and laughs. “Not that I’m surprised he made it so far. It’s just odd reading about him in all of the tennis news from over there, don’t you think?”
Tezuka is going to agree, to be polite. Then he shakes his head too, recalling what he’d told Ryoma about honesty. “The magazines are different. Echizen isn’t.”
He can still order Ryoma to do laps, and Ryoma will still listen.