This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby John Playtis, Oct 17th 2004
Though Ryo Hayakawa's father died when she was very young, he taught her one important thing: how to throw a mean fastball. Nowadays the fifteen-year-old is a sensational cleanup pitcher in the local sandlot league. Yet someone has higher plans for the girl. It is during one game where she catches the eye of Keiko Himuro, the powerful Chairwoman of the Kisaragi Girls High School. Keiko is known for challenging the system and wants to start the first girl's baseball team in Japan, with the goal of winning the High School Baseball Championship, Koshien, using Ryo as the team's centerpiece. But there are other reasons behind her desire to do this as well. It is up to Ryo and eight other girls to use this opportunity to rise to the occasion and seize their dreams.
If there is one thing that plagues the sports genre in general, it would be that most entries in it suffer from half-hearted writing that utilizes the same tiresome clichés and formulae. It gets to the point where you can predict the entire plot and characters from just looking to see if it is in the sports genre. Princess Nine is the exception, and proves getting there is half the fun.
Princess Nine's storyline reads like a cross between two of the better American baseball films, A League of Their Own and The Natural, but has some distinct differences to it. Immediately the girls versus boys element is noticeable. It also utilizes the ever popular, exceedingly complicated high school love triangle found in a lot of anime set in high school. Another is that it is full of twist and turns uncommon with the sports genre. The story uses most of the genre's conventions, but it fleshes them out to make something seemingly original. Aside from these, Princess Nine also gives a well crafted critique of the inherent sexism found within Japanese society.
Like the story, the characters initially seem to be stock, but it is through good writing that they are given life and chemistry and made interesting. At the center of this is the tomboyish, emotionally naïve, and very talented Ryo; her rival on and off the field, the equally talented Izumi - who also happens to be the chairwoman's daughter - and Hiroki the genius batter for Kisaragi High School, who is at the center of Ryo and Izumi's rivalry and feelings. The rest of the girls' team is made up of the ever energetic Hikaru, a former Junior High Softball MVP from Osaka; Yuki, a seemingly catatonic yet talented left fielder who finds strength in her doll Fifi, whom she believes is an alien; Hokaru, the backwoods talent from the fishing village of Tosa in Okinawa who has a devastating swing refined through fishing; Seira, an ex-track and field star turned juvenile delinquent; Yoko, who sees the team as a means to an end to attain idol status, but instead draws Seira's ire; Mao, a big and soft-spoken type who is the only one who can catch Ryo's fastballs; and Kanako, a talented shortstop and the principal's daughter, though she plays behind his back. The team's manager is Nene, who believes all she needs to know about baseball she read through manga, and the ever drunk Coach Kido round out the team. The supporting characters include Ryo's mom and her childhood friend, Seishiro, who provide her support throughout the series.
The biggest problem with the series is with its animation. In the first third of the series an astute viewer will notice the animation is wildly inconsistent in certain episodes, and the show gives the impression that it had a low animation budget. Regardless, the animation makes due with its low budget and provides a nice sense style during baseball games, skillfully reuses some footage, and cleverly utilizes animation shortcuts. Character designs are plain but good regardless.
Princess Nine's music is mostly symphonic, and is some of the best background music you will hear in recent anime because it captures the mood of the scenes very well. Unfortunately it also appears there was a limited music budget and some songs are generously reused.
Voice acting is good on both sides. The dub adds in a little bit of minor profanity and localization, but is highlighted by strong performances, especially with Hilary Haag as Ryo.
The extras on the ADV release of the series contain not only the standard clean opening and ending, but also the cover art of the original Japanese release and a lot of helpful cultural notes that explain various elements of the series.
Princess Nine is highly recommended. Regardless of its animation problems, it provides a refreshingly enjoyable take on a tired genre while providing an uplifting and motivational message.
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