Sunday, January 30, 2011

Anime Review: Princess Nine

And now here’s part three of this baseball anime blog: Princess Nine.  You might want to check out parts one and two before you read this one, especially if you want background info on this show.
Keiko Himuro, the supposedly cold and unapproachable chairperson of Kisaragi Girls High School, has a hidden agenda which leads her to a controversial plan: form a baseball club for her all-girls school and have them compete in the national tournament which is traditionally all boys.  To achieve this she begins to recruit super players to bring to this new team, her eyes mainly on Ryo Hayakawa, an amazingly brilliant pitcher who regularly strikes out grown men.  As the team of young girls begins to form Ryo and her new teammates set their sights set on one unified dream: to make it to the finals of the tournament at Koshien Stadium within three years.
This anime is in many ways the perfect opposite of Big Windup! as far as a high school baseball cartoons go.  Aside from the fact that the club in this show is all-female Princess Nine focuses on characters over the sport itself and grand sport spectacle over great details and analysis.  As a result the games go much, much faster here.  If I recall I don’t  think any game lasted more than two episodes (As opposed to the eleven episode monster present in the other show).  This is mainly a good thing.  The series is significantly better at grabbing and maintaining my attention and lacks the strong stretch of tediousness present in Big Windup!  There are other side effects as well.  For one, because we don’t go into every minute of their games there are plenty of episodes left over for character development, but more on those episodes’ effectiveness later.  It also kind of sacrifices any real chance to view their opponents as more than the nameless, faceless opposition that Oofuri went to such great lengths to avoid.  I wish there was a middle ground between the two show series in this regard because it seems like one does too much focusing on them and the other doesn’t do enough, but at the end of the day if it creates more opportunity to get to know our actual protagonist I’d go with the latter.
A better show would have been "The Princess of Tennis"
I really like the opening song “Princess Nine” by Miki Nagasawa and Mami Kingetsu.  Shut up, I don’t why.  I just love listening to it.  I even liked it when they play a kind of “midi” version of the chorus during the eyecatch during the more melancholy episodes (So sad, yet so beautiful…).   I spent hours the other day trying to get a copy of the full version to no avail.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to find a song from an anime that ended thirteen years ago.  I’ve depressed myself…I want that song so badly!!!
The animation is dated as hell and looks pretty awful by today’s standards, but that shouldn’t be too surprising since it originally aired in 1998.  I can tell you honestly that it doesn’t look much worse than Kaze no Stigma did despite coming out nine years earlier.  Still this show suffers from a large amount of speed lines to simulate movement and tons of stock footage, especially in regard to Ryo’s pitching and ESPECIALLY when the show reaches its final stretch.  In keeping with its arcade unrealism format the character designs standout more than last time many of the characters designs are purposely bright and just about everyone has a hair color impossible for most Japanese people and also most human beings in general (“You gotta have blue hair”, and all that).  That’s fine.  I’m not one to shy away from such weirdness in anime, plus it helps me to tell the characters apart.  However their uniforms are…odd.  They basically all wear shorts, sometimes drawn as daisy-dukes, with leggings underneath that still leave exposed leg as opposed to every other baseball team in the show.  Now I looked it up and it seems that their gear is some kind of combination of softball and baseball uniforms (I guess.  I’m still not 100% certain that’s true at all) so I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that about the half the team were softball players before the series starts but considering the large amount sliding into bases these girls do it’s a wonder they have any skin left on their legs at this point.  Also their uniforms happen to be pink.  The only girls in the in the league wear pink.  Yeah.  Tellingly their coach wears a different uniform altogether.
Like Spider-Man Ryo only cares about what makes her feel better
Now as I said before there’s lots more space for character development here due to the lack of time consuming black holes games.  So of course they don’t use the time properly.  I mean, why would they?  It’s not like we as viewers are expected to give a shit about the characters we’re watching.   Oh wait…
Basically some of the girls on the team get shafted as far as development goes, sometimes is warranted but mostly not.  If any show would have benefited from a more ensemble cast approach it would be this one.  Unlike Oofuri the writers seem to make a token effort to establish personalities traits for the main cast right away.  The problem is that we barely focus on them enough to consider them more than just two-dimensional figures.  It’s not all bad; Izumi Himuro, Keiko’s daughter and genius tennis player, comes off very well.  She’s deeply flawed but is clearly a complex person that we genuinely feel sorry for and end rooting for throughout the show, despite her confrontational personality.  In fact if I were to say anyone should have been the main character of this show it should have been Izumi: that would have been a far deeper affair than we got.  Ryo obviously got the most screen time, but more on her in a minute.  Our attention is not given to a lot of the other girls which is a shame because some of them seemed kind of cool.
For example Yuki, a near silent former softball star who may or may not be insane, was frustratingly underused until way late in the show and then she faded quietly back in to the background where she came from.  Weak.   In their debut episodes a large deal was made about the recruitment of Seira, a former track star turned delinquent, and Koharu, a talented batter who’s the one person on the team who really played baseball beforehand, but after they join they pretty much do nothing but add background noise, especially Koharu who seems to only have a personality when the camera is on her for more than three minutes at a time…which is almost never.  In fact she has an important character moment within the last two episodes which is supposed to help create tension for the final game. Too bad the show didn’t bother to make me give a shit about her before that episode; otherwise I might have actually been invested in it.  Another girl, Hikaru basically does nothing but spout encouraging words and play straight man to her more interesting/quirky teammates but then, near the finale, she does something I thought was so weird and unique for a Japanese high school anime that I immediately found myself far more interested in her story than the main plot-Oops, the show’s over, sucks to be me.
An entire episode was dedicated to Seira's recruitment
She then does dick all for the rest of the show
So if we don’t spend ten to fifteen minutes hearing long bouts of baseball strategy being mumbled by the main characters every damn episode then where did the free space go if not to develop the cast?  Why it went to the Love Triangle between Ryo, Izumi and Izumi’s best friend Hiroki that was the main focus of the series, of course!  “But Beta,” you no doubt are asking. “If this is a sports anime why would they dedicate so much time to something that’s not the sport in question?”  Hell if I know.  If I were to guess I’d say it’s because they’re girls and, despite a major theme of this show being about overcoming sexism, the writers couldn’t help but write their protagonist as a character defined by her feeling for a dude.  Yay feminism?
The main problem with this is that far too much time is dedicated to it.  They really needed to pull it back quite a bit because it steals a lot of time away from other cast members.  It isn’t wrapped up into two minutes before the show ends meaning the final game, the climax we’ve been building towards the last twenty-four episodes, is second fiddle to Ryo’s boy problems.  Hiroki was actually kind of neat though because, unlike many males in anime, he was completely upfront about his feelings for Ryo from pretty much the second he meets her and never dances around it.  Izumi too is pretty alright partly because of her complexity as a character and therefore her actions are pretty much understandable and fascinating, if questionable.  No, the weak link is Ganmo-chan Ryo.  The main reason this plot goes on as long as it does is that the girl just seems to refuse to believe that Hiroki’s feelings are genuine, despite the fact that he repeatedly tells her to her face how he feels and repeatedly shows displays his affection.  Gah!
Yeah, get excited Hikaru!  You're an important main-
Oh wait, no you're not.  My bad
Speaking of Ryo she sucks the big one.  She’s not as bad as Ren Mihashi but she’s still pretty damn annoying.  There’s the “Love Triangle” bullshit for one, but also it her character.  She is hot-blooded and extremely proficient in a skill that is essential for the team to in; those traits are important for a protagonist of a sports anime.  But unfortunately she’s a very weak willed and selfish little girl.  One time she and Izumi had a batter duel (Izumi on bat, Ryo pitching) with the agreement that if Izumi could avoid getting struck out then the baseball club would dissolve.  However Ryo, sensing that Izumi hated her because of Hiroki, gives her an easy pitch because she felt bad about the whole thing.  So, despite it screwing over her teammates and their dreams she willingly allows the club to be dissolved because she was afraid she had hurt Izumi’s widdle feelings.  Sorry Hikaru and Yuki but it looks like you two just lost your expensive baseball scholarships.  Enjoy dropping out of high school (Izumi later gets the team reinstated).  Much later Ryo spends the last two episodes moping about her love life and goes on to pitch the worst she’s ever done leading her team to a very bad spot score-wise.  It takes TWO DIFFERENT STERN PEP TALKS to get her to wake the hell up and play the damn the game.   You suck, Ryo!  You are the opposite of a Strong Female Lead you weepy asshole!  You’re selfish, you’re a pushover, and you end up defining yourself by a man.   Why wasn’t Izumi the man character again?
Also the ending was disappointing.  It ends in a way that left me very unsatisfied.  I wish there was a dénouement to end things, or at least some actual falling action.  As it is its Love Triangle Resolution-Game Making Play-Credits.  No epilogue?  No sequel either, which really sucks because I think that this is one of those shows that would have greatly benefitted from an additional twenty-six episodes.  That would have likely solved a lot of those issues I had with the show.  Oh well.
Also Izumi has mommy issues.  Just throwing it out there
Phew.  All that said I really did enjoy this show more than I thought I would.  When I was a kid I hated this show, but it grew on me over the viewing.  It has a lot of major problems that keep it from being a particularly good anime but it was still pretty fun to watch.  It certainly was much easier to watch than Big Windup! , especially considering it’s a little on the older side.  Its main character is upsetting, its “Will They/Won’t They Plot” takes over the show, and it might actually be sexist.  Even so it’s something I can stand watching without any real problem, which makes it the clear winner in this little exchange between baseball shows.  The lesson is apparently that being really frustrated is still better than being really bored.
I give Princess Nine 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.

-Some neat, if underutilized, characters
-Decent pacing
-Awesoem theme song!
-Bad main character
-Terrible romantic sub plot actually the main plot
-Dated animation in conjunction with additional problems
-Not enough character development

1 comment:

  1. I've seen the ending summed up very nicely, actually: those who never give up can never lose. Quite lovely, really. I'm not sure if I would call it a masterpiece, but it's absolutely an excellent show, well worth watching.


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