The 'age difference' argument really bothers me, not just because they're only 2 years apart, but because it seems to indicate, perhaps, a misunderstanding of Tezuka's character. Or perhaps just a willful misunderstanding of the pairing itself. And it is the most frequent argument I see mentioned as to why more people don't ship Tezuka and Ryoma. I can see why it's easy to read them that way, if only because of the height difference. But Ryoma is basically that much shorter than all of his teammates. It's not as if Tezuka's an exception or anything. He's going to grow at some point. And that's just one reason that I feel the 'age difference' argument is primarily an aesthetic argument. I think it breaks down completely in analysis.
One of the things that makes Ryoma so appealing to me is that he brings out things in each of his other teammates that they need to develop, somehow. Tezuka isn't immune to this pattern. Yes, he's fourteen and he acts like he's forty, but this is a character flaw. One of the things that I love about their dynamic, that makes Tezuka/Ryoma mean most to me, is that Tezuka is rigidly inflexible about his duties and his beliefs and his methods of behavior--and then he meets Ryoma and all that changes. He bends for Ryoma, he breaks his own rules for Ryoma, time and again. He goes out of his way to show Ryoma parts of himself that he has never shown most of the other tennis players, because he hasn't seen the things in them that he sees in Ryoma. He's frankly obsessed with Ryoma, in his own subtle stoic Tezuka way.
I think it's easy to see him as a static character much "older" than he seems; but to me there's something very young and very much fourteen about his obsession. It takes youth to be that obsessed with tennis, and especially with another tennis player. Tezuka is still just a boy. Ryoma is his hero, as much as he is Ryoma's. And Ryoma is able to interact with him as only Fuji (and to some extent Atobe) ever really are able to do: he is able to laugh at Tezuka, to tease and be teased by him, to talk with him as an equal without getting lost in the awe and devotion that everyone else seems to feel for Tezuka. He is as drawn to Tezuka as everyone else is, but he also never makes the mistake of putting Tezuka on a pedestal so high he can't climb up there with him. And frankly, Tezuka needs that. He needs someone to see him as he is, as only human, and not as this completely self-made and fully-developed athlete. Because he isn't fully formed. He's still mada mada dane. He is, like Ryoma, constantly in the process of remaking his world and himself and his game in order to move to a higher level. I just rewatched the match from eps 74-75, and I have to say that the guy who would spend all night at a practice range immediately after getting the worst injury of his career, just so he can learn to compensate for that injury and in the process send a message to Ryoma? -- that is a guy who views evolution as one of the mandates of his life, and who wants to give that mandate to Ryoma as well.
There is nothing static about Tezuka Kunimitsu.
They are only two years apart; but if you're talking about perception, Ryoma is very much on his level. He is constantly portrayed as being more mature than the other freshman in terms of his reactions to things that affect them and their teammates, and in terms of ability, understanding, commitment to tennis, he and Tezuka are absolutely equal. When people talk about the age difference, I think they cheat the Tezuka/Ryoma relationship of one of the things that makes it so appealing: the fact that Tezuka is the first person to treat Ryoma as his equal, and not just some bully, or some brat who needs to be crushed. That has nothing to do with age. And Ryoma's response to that is not that of a kid looking up to a father figure. It is that of an athlete going, hey, for the first time someone who can play me competitively is taking me seriously.
Tezuka meets Ryoma, not absolutely where he's at, but just a little higher. And says to him, 'Climb up to me.' And Ryoma does, joyfully and gratefully. That dynamic is not that of a father-son, or even a mentor-mentee relationship. It is a rivalry. I see aspects of Touya Akira/Shindou Hikaru in TezuRyo all the time (and oh, oh, oh, I have been missing Hikaru no Go so much lately) - specifically because of the ways in which Tezuka challenges Ryoma to meet him at his level, over and over again. And if he calls Fuji, not Ryoma, his ultimate rival at the end of the series, it is because Ryoma has already surpassed him: Ryoma now has to be the one to turn back and say, 'climb up to me, Buchou.'
And I think he will.
And I just spent like 45 minutes writing this. Gah, fandom. Ooooh, look, TezuRyo on my flist. FINALLY.
ETA: and practically the first line of said TezuRyo fic is: The first paragraph of Ryoma’s essay reads, “In the future, I want to defeat Tezuka-buchou. I want to become that much better so that buchou can become better, too, and then I’ll have to improve again.”
See? SEE? That's what I'm talking about. SO MUCH TO LOVE. *_*