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Anime Reviews: Princess Nine
With its multitude of relatable characters, Princess Nine is a surprisingly deep sports anime that has sadly been overlooked by many.
Title: Princess Nine a.k.a. Princess Nine Kisaragi Joushi Kou Yakyuubu
Production: Phoenix Entertainment
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/8/1998 to 10/14/1998
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, brief partial nudity)
Summary: Ryo Hayakawa has always been a fan of baseball, from her infancy playing catch with her late father, to the present playing sandlot games with neighborhood guys. With her father's pitching skills passed down to her, Ryo is the star player of the town, attracting praise from her neighbors--as well as attracting the attention of Chairwoman Himuro of the Kisaragi Girls' High School. The Chairwoman offers Ryo a scholarship to attend Kisaragi Girls' High for free on one condition: she must agree to join the baseball team that is to be founded, with the intent of seeing an all-girls' baseball team playing the championship game at Koshien within three years. Both Ryo and Chairwoman Himuro have a long, hard road ahead of them, and with the inherent sexism of the sport propping up at every turn, their Koshien dream proves to be the least of their problems.
The Good: Engaging and simple story; diverse and attaching characters; great music; doesn't require you to like baseball in order to enjoy it
The Bad: Artwork is terrible in some episodes; too much reused animation; later episodes have melodramatic moments
The Ugly: The melodrama is caused by Ryo acting like a stooge
Surprise surprise, another anime I discovered thanks to the folks over at the now-defunct Anime Academy. Man, I feel like I found half of the anime I've ever seen while browsing the reviews there, back when it was actually online. Actually, I wasn't even that interested in the series at first, because I'm not a big baseball fan. It was actually during my 2nd year of high school that I was using the library's inter-library loan system and found Princess Nine on DVD, available for rent immediately. My gut told me to check it out, so I...checked it out, and when it arrived a few days later, I took it home and my eyes were opened. Not only was it good; it was great.
Princess Nine begins as many sports stories go, with a talented athlete from a small town gaining recognition for their skill and is given an opportunity to play with the big boys, overcoming trial after trial to reach their goal. It may be a simple setup, but it's tried and true. To paraphrase a fellow fan of the series, "Princess Nine is not a new and exciting road never taken before, but rather a beloved, familiar road with a few new landmarks." While some may slam the series for not being very original, the series turns its familiarity into one of its strengths: sure, the series rides on famous sports movie and high school series cliches, but it executes every single one of them perfectly, making it a joy to watch even if you've seen the pro-player-joins-at-the-last-minute trope a million times before.
Of course, no sports anime would amount to anything if you didn't have a great cast of characters. Princess Nine features some of my favorite female characters in anime, further reminding me of how shameful it is that no one's ever heard of this series. Ryo serves as our naïve heroine who finds the good in everyone and all that jazz; she's one of the weaker characters, but she has enough development and flaws to make her interesting anyway. Her rival, Izumi, is perhaps one of the most stuck-up, intolerable characters you'll ever come across, and that's why she's so much fun; at times, you just want to reach through your TV or monitor and drop kick her stupid smug face. Takasugi is a fun character, acting as the male hinge of the series' love triangle without even realizing he's in one; he also gives Ryo and Izumi a hard time, and I must salute him for that.
Aside from the main trifecta of Ryo, Izumi, and Takasugi, we also have a mountain of great side characters that flesh out the rest of the cast. As far as the rest of the girls' team goes, we have the friendly but obnoxious Hikaru, tomboy hard-hitter from a Kansai fishing village Koharu, the quiet and very eccentric Yuki, the loud and rebellious Seira, the principal's shy daughter Kanako, the tall and heavyset yet gentle Mao, and professional procrastinator-slash-aspiring idol Yoko. There's also Ryo's mom, who, like most anime moms, lets Ryo do as she pleases and supports her all the way. The team's coach, Shinsaku Kido (a.k.a. Coach Drunk), is always good for a laugh, particularly during the episode "The Girl Stratagem." Funny stuff. And we cannot forget the team's manager, Nene Mori, a rich bundle of energy and goodwill who knows next to nothing about baseball.And then there's Ryo's childhood friend Seishiro, Takasugi's grandfather, Chairwoman Himuro, the principal and vice principal, and oh my God, I need to get on with it.
Aside from the characters, another one of Princess Nine's highlights is its music. Let's not mince words, the music is fantastic. Composed by Masamichi Amano and performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestral score is huge and full of purpose, perfectly befitting the scale of the story. In particular, the titular opening theme showcases some of the best musical moments of the series, but the ending theme, "Passionate Days," is no slouch either, perfectly capturing that high school nostalgia that we get as we grow up. Too bad YouTube doesn't really have much of the soundtrack, because you can bet I would've spammed the hell out of this review with more links. Just trust me on this one.
Oh, and you don't need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this series. Hell, you don't even need to like baseball at all. The series is 75% character interaction/development and 25% baseball, and during the baseball sequences, the characters make it pretty clear what's going on and what they're going to do next so that you folks who don't enjoy baseball can easily tell what's going on.
Now, with all that crap out of the way, let's discuss where the series falls short. First of all, Princess Nine seems to have a really bipolar art director, because most of the time the series looks fine. Nothing incredible, but fine. And then out of nowhere, the art gets all round-ish and shiny and everything just looks awful. It doesn't look nearly as bad in that segment as it does in the series itself, and the bad art seems to encompass an entire episode, so if you start up an episode and everything looks like rounded garbage, I warned you ahead of time.
Another problem that plagues the series is its constant recycling of specific animations. Every time Ryo throws her best pitch, she does the same leg-lifting maneuver. Every time Ryo strikes someone out, it's the same shot of the dude holding his bat out like an idiot. You just wish, after a while, that someone gave Phoenix Entertainment a little bit more money so they could stop doing that crap.
The last problem the series has involves the drama in the final third of the series. Of course you expect tensions to rise and irrational teenagers to do irrational teenager things, but there's a fine line between drama and melodrama. And Princess Nine finds itself on the wrong side of that line a few times too many (as in, 'more than not at all'). And it is mostly due to Ryo and Izumi being complete stooges to each other, which is not new behavior for Izumi at all, but you'd think Ryo would know better. Or rather, that the writers would know better. If you happen to find yourself yelling at your TV screen or your monitor several times during the series' final stretch, I can assure you that it's normal. I did it, too.
Now, some animation flubs and a bit of melodrama are nowhere near enough to keep this series buried in obscurity as it has been. If another great sports anime like Hajime no Ippo can get massive attention, then why can't Princess Nine? They're both among the best sports anime to have ever been made, yet only one gets any recognition. My theory: you're all avoiding it because its cast is primarily young women and you're all sexist and you should be ashamed.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. How fitting. Animation budget issues and a few moments of bad writing notwithstanding, Princess Nine is a wonderful sports anime that reminds us that anyone can be a baseball fan for a few hours as long as the characters keep us invested in the action.