The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cinderella Nine ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Though Cinderella Nine is theoretically a sports drama, I didn't really get any sports-action vibes from this first episode. Instead, Cinderella Nine seems modeled on another mobile game-adjacent anime: Love Live!. From its overarching premise to its narrative structure and energetic orange-haired heroine, Cinderella Nine is clearly trying to capture the charm and energy that made Love Live! such a hit. Unfortunately, this premiere is decidedly lacking in charm and energy.
Cinderella Nine's premiere introduces us to four members of its eventual team—the Honoka-aping Tsubasa Arihara, her childhood friend Tomoe, and two prospective team members, Ukita and Nozaki. Over this episode, Ukita and Nozaki each warily approach the girl's baseball team in their own ways, and are ultimately convinced to join by the fun of a practice match. That practice match doesn't really possess any sort of tactical appeal; the drama is pretty much entirely emotional, focused on Ukita and Nozaki each overcoming their own insecurities. If you're expecting the propulsive hooks of a traditional sports property, you'll find yourself seriously disappointed—this is more of a light club drama, somewhere between an ensemble character story and a slice-of-life.
While the overt narrative beats of this episode are pretty routine, the execution unfortunately fails to sell the show's appeal. The animation is fairly minimal, and the show lacks either snappy comedy or inventive direction. Considering the show seems so similar to Love Live! in its theoretical appeal, it's unfortunate to see it fail to capture any of that show's strengths—everything is relayed through bland closeups and flat mid-distance shots, and whatever thrill these girls find in baseball isn't really conveyed through the show's delivery. By the midpoint, I knew not to expect any conventional sports hooks, but their absence wasn't really filled in by anything; the characters were thinly drawn, the jokes were nonexistent, and the show totally lacked visual personality.
On the whole, Cinderella Nine isn't terrible in any way, it's just lacking any real strengths. If you're a huge enthusiast of club shows and enjoy the “building a team” narrative structure, this might be worth a watch—otherwise, I think it's safe to skip this one.
Cinderella Nine is here to fill our “cute girls fight against the student council to get their club formed” quota. This time, the club is a girls' baseball team led by optimist Tsubasa and her childhood friend with no absolutely no other attributes, Tomoe. Prospective members are a tall girl who cracks under pressure and the perpetually terrified and helpless Akane. The first episode doesn't do a great job of endearing the audience to these characters.
Akane's personality type paired with the cat-eared hoodie is like anime repellent to me. She feels like a pandering stereotype of a sad, awkward, and borderline infantile moe girl. This formula might work for some, but it fills me with an overwhelming desire to punt her into the sun. An ensemble cast is quickly soured whenever one of these baby-girls shows up to cower in the corner over things like baseballs, frogs, or dirt.
Cinderella Nine is only minimally concerned with baseball itself. The pick-up game played near the end of the episode with a group of kids is reduced to a snapshot montage where I guess one of the girls starts to figure out how to hit the ball with the bat or something. There's barely any actual animation concerning baseball itself, bringing me to my next point of where this show went wrong. It's ugly as hell. It's not the character designs (when they're on model) that are the problem, although I could take or leave everyone wearing the same tiny lip-gloss smile, it's that the saturation is turned way too far up. Sometimes a show will up the brightness to give the scene a sense of heat in the summer, but this show makes it seem like Japan is about to be devoured by the sun. The grass is TOO green, the sky is TOO blue, and by the time the ending credits roll, everyone's faces are washed out to a stark white.
The art is painful, the small cast includes a character I found actively abrasive, and there's minimal baseball in the show itself. Cinderella Nine is a hard pass.
We've already had a series this season which focuses on boys playing baseball, so why not one about girls playing baseball, too?
That being said, this is an entirely different type of baseball series from Mix. While that one is showing signs of being a light drama, this one is already looking every bit like a natural continuation of the “cute girls do sports” approach that has been cycling through various options for the last decade or so. Unlike some of its predecessors in the genre – Taishō Baseball Girls. and Princess Nine in particular – the girls in this one aren't looking to make a statement or break gender barriers by forming a team. They aren't looking to compete against the boys, either. Instead they are looking to operate within their own league. (The opening narration comments that there are now 30 high schools in Japan with girls' baseball teams.) Furthermore, while the photo shown in the closer strongly suggests that lead girl Tsubasa was a member of a champion youth baseball team, she doesn't show any indication yet of aiming for anything bigger than just having fun. If that remains the case then this could remain a nice little low-key series.
The set-up for this approach is already being established through the first episode. Nozaki clearly has some ability, especially once she gets the proper glove for being a southpaw, and her timidity is fully relatable; when I first started playing little league, I also had real trouble working up the nerve to swing the bat at first. Watching her eyes almost literally open up to the possibilities and joy of playing baseball was a delight. Painfully shy Ukita, with the signature “I'm still immature” animal ears hood, is more of a work in progress, but seeing her getting involved even a little is also heartening. If the series continues to found itself in warm moments like this then that could also contribute mightily to the series being a success.
At least some conflict does seem to be on the horizon, as Tsubasa didn't exactly get off to the smoothest start with the Student Council, but beyond them the greatest conflict the series is likely to face for the foreseeable future is getting some more standoffish members to join. I'm also a little bit concerned about the girls being shown playing in skirts (with spats underneath) instead of trousers in the opener, but that's a quibbling point. Overall, more appreciation for the “cute girls do cute things” genre is probably going to be required here than an actual appreciation for baseball, but either on those merits or as an intro-to-baseball story, the first episode doesn't fare badly.
One thing you can say about spring season 2019 – it's a good one if you like baseball anime! Cinderella Nine is the third title to debut in as many days, and its definitely got the lowest barrier to entry, being a completely stand-alone story. It's also almost aggressively bright, both in tone and artwork, making it feel kind of like Love Live! the Baseball Story. This also distinguishes it from the other two girls' baseball series I'm familiar with, Princess Nine and Taishō Baseball Girls., both of which are much more serious in general than anything about this first episode.
That's not to say that this is just a festival of perkiness. Tsubasa's thoughtless action – essentially storming the stage at the end of a student council-run meeting to introduce first years to all the available clubs on campus – has done her exactly no favors, and the president seems inclined to hold a grudge. That she'd do so after having handed the problem off to the teacher in charge, who then gave Tsubasa and her friend Tomoe permission to form the team, indicates that she's the sort to carry a grudge. While she may not ultimately be able to stop the group, she certainly can make things unpleasant for them. That might make the dedication of Akane and Yuki, the potential recruits, waver, especially since Akane is afraid of the ball and not sure if she can actually play the sport and Suzuki has soured on team sports in general. Tsubasa's enough of a cheery powerhouse that I doubt she'll let one nasty person stop her, though, and her enthusiasm is clearly contagious. I suspect that Yuki's middle school acquaintance Suzuki will catch the bug from her since we seemed to see her sitting next to the president at the end of the episode.
Most of my concerns stem from the opening scenes, which show a game in progress. While I wouldn't let them deter you (or me) from watching further, I wasn't pleased to see that the girls' baseball uniforms consisted of short skirts with shorts underneath and sailor suit-style collars. While they're cute outfits, they're also totally unsuited to playing the game – flapping ties and mini skirts aren't going to help you play any better. While I don't think girls need to hide their gender to play a traditionally masculine sport, I also think that maybe a little common sense would be helpful here. (And holy crap, girl with long hair, at least tie it back!) This may seem like a silly complaint, especially since the show is perhaps more geared towards cuteness than fidelity to the sport, but I still would find it distracting, and that's a problem.
As of this episode, however, Cinderella Nine just looks like it might be bright, cheery fun about high school girls playing baseball. I can't think of anything wrong with that.
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