Prince of Stride: Alternative
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Prince of Stride: Alternative ?
Sports anime: all of the drama, none of the death. This episode saw Ayumu face his demons head on, to mixed results. For a show about an artificial sport, none of the suspense here was manufactured. Prince of Stride: Alternative could benefit from ditching the surface level banter and wearing its heart on its sleeve a little more often.
Hounan Stride Team has its next match against a school called Mihashi, and we spend part of this episode getting to know the Mihashi team members and their dating-sim personalities. (I just found out Prince of Stride was originally a visual novel, and that makes SO much sense!) Prince of Stride is a lot like its predecessor, Prince of Tennis, in that each match features just one rival school at a time. Admittedly, it took about seven seasons for me to keep all of those teams and their members straight, so maybe Prince of Stride's personality shortcuts aren't lazy, just helpful. By telegraphing dissent among the rival school's teammates, it's pretty clear that Hounan is going to beat them through the sheer Power of Friendship, which seems to trump everything else in sports anime.
Another cliché right off the bat—it's time for our hot springs groping episode, and so soon too! I love the way the show's graphic, high-contrast art style conveys new settings, proving that it's not a one-trick pony. Still, I think it's a little early to have the characters engaging in some slippery nude bonding before we've really gotten to know them. Of course single-minded Takeru isn't wearing his glasses and has to feel his teammates muscles in place of seeing them! (He wears contacts for Stride, but shhh.)
Noticeably absent from the festivities is Ayumu, our Redundant Glasses character, who is struggling with a lack of confidence due to his inability to quickly clear “gimmicks,” which seem to be the more parkour-like elements of Stride races. After this episode, I actually feel like I know Ayumu better than any other character because the story uses his doubts in order to scrape beneath the surface of his trivia-adept banter. It's not an especially original premise—all of us sometimes doubt our abilities—but it helps us relate to Ayumu as much as it becomes hard to connect with the focused and confident Takeru, for example. I love how, even when Ayumu gets serious, he doesn't lose his silly side, pulling a fast one over his opponent in Stride with an unbelievable story about his sick sister. (Weirdly, he also claims his sister is figure skater Ina Bauer, a real life person who also has a role in Prince of Tennis. Yeah, it's pretty clear this show wasn't written in a vacuum.)
Perhaps because of the way I related to Ayumu's fear and avowal to push himself, this was the first Stride match where I felt deeply tense every time the athletes had to make a “relation,” led by a hapless Sakurai. Combined with Kei and Yu's dysfunctional, mildly interesting Relationer situation, it felt like Hounan almost never had a fighting chance, which is a hard mood for a sports show to construct. It certainly helps that this team has already lost a bunch—even when they were told there'd be huge consequences for losing. But from here on out, it's going to be much more difficult to create this mood without it feeling as manufactured as the fictional sport itself.
Prince of Stride: Alternative is currently streaming on Funimation.
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