Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Prince of Stride: Alternative
BD+DVD - Complete Series
After seeing an online video of Honan Academy competing in an extreme (fictional) sport known as Stride, Nana Sakurai becomes determined to be a part of the game. But when she gets to the school, she finds that the two runners she saw are no longer members of the team, and while the three remaining boys are willing to let her join as their relationer, they still need two more runners. Nana and another Stride-obsessed first year named Takeru set out to recruit a final member, Riku Yagami, but he's not sure that he wants to join. Still, Nana and Takeru are determined – they're going to bring Honan Academy's Stride team back and make it the best again, no matter what.
If you were wondering, the “alternative” in Prince of Stride Alternative comes from the fact that this 2016 series is based on a 2015 otome game simply called Prince of Stride. That's mildly surprising, because the show itself lacks many of a typical otome game adaptation's hallmarks. Yes, there's one girl surrounded by many hot guys, but romance never really comes up in the story, nor are the boys used simply as fujoshi bait. Even more surprising is the fact that heroine Nana Sakurai isn't a blank slate – she has a personality, worries, and ambitions, and the boys don't treat her like the token female or an object to be won; once she joins the team, Nana is treated fully as a member.
The story itself follows Nana's entry into Honan Academy, a Tokyo high school once known for its strong Stride team. Stride, a fictional sport within the show's world, is a combination of track and parkour, basically the sort of sport no real-world school would ever sponsor because it's a liability nightmare. Races consist of five runners in a relay team, only instead of passing a baton, they slap hands in a high five. While they're running their leg of the race, each runner is allowed (and expected) to use the landscape itself to help them get ahead, with jumps over walls, slides down railings, and acrobatics actively encouraged. If this sounds like it could get everyone into a lot of trouble, it can – and that's where the relationer comes in. The runners may all have to be boys (though we're never told if there are girls' versions of the teams), but the relationer can be female, and that's Nana's position. She uses a tablet to keep track of everyone's positions on the course, tells the next runner when to start moving and how to adjust their speed based on the opposing runners, as well as to prevent collisions between teammates. She's also got a map that lets her know if there's a dangerous obstacle or a wall that hides a major drop, hopefully preventing major injury. As one unfortunate incident shows, however, this only works if the runners listen to her.
The position also requires Nana to have the trust of all the boys, which makes sense in an otome game setting. Fortunately, the anime doesn't overplay this, and while we do see her interacting with all her teammates, the focus is more on everyone learning about each other and building on their strengths. This provides not only character development, but also leads up to a final race where it turns out that we don't actually need the Honan team to win – what becomes more important is that we see the characters overcome their personal hurdles. While this does lead to some corny lines about the “true meaning” of Stride, it also allows effective character arcs for Riku and Takeru, although Heath, Nana, and Hozumi also get good development. Riku's story about how he has lived in his talented older brother's shadow, which led him to stop running for a while, is the most effectively handled, and it's a shame that it didn't get more of a chance to dovetail into Nana's relationship with her father, which has similar elements. Takeru's backstory comes a little too late in the game – episode eleven of twelve – to make him feel as developed, but it is sufficient to explain some of his odder behaviors and his utter determination to succeed.
Even with that late reveal, the pacing of the series is good. There aren't any filler episodes, with even the pool trip fitting in with the overall theme, and there's a good balance of matches and practice. There are too many named characters for comfort, but the only ones we're really required to remember are the boys at Honan's primary rival school Saisei. They show up the most often, and they're somewhat ridiculously in a school-sponsored boy band that's somehow related to the Stride team. (Because they're both about showmanship…?) Fortunately, everyone looks distinct, and Madhouse has done a nice job with the animation – it's smooth and dynamic, and you really get a feel for the speed and power of each runner.
Funimation's dub of the series is very good, with Austin Tindle doing a particularly nice job as Riku. Natalie Hoover's Nana starts out a bit too breathy and high-pitched, but that normalizes as the series goes on. There's a slight overuse of the term “bro” as the series progresses, possibly to show how everyone's getting closer, and the Japanese word “senpai” is used frequently in the English dialogue. More interesting is the fact that the team's faculty sponsor, Mr. Don, speaks in Japanese at times. His character uses specific four-character idiomatic phrases, so rather than translate those into English, the dub simply has J. Michael Tatum use their original language. It's weird and can feel a little off-putting; presumably someone felt that the phrases had no good translation, and it's worth mentioning that in the sub these phrases receive special subtitles in both English and Japanese. There are no extras beyond company trailers included on the release.
Prince of Stride Alternative is a pleasant surprise. It lacks some of the tropes that drag more typical otome game adaptations down, has a heroine with an actual personality who's treated like an equal, and it's just generally a lot of fun. With its fast paced races balanced with character development, this is an entertaining series, even if watching some of those jumps is enough to make you wonder if the characters have ankles of steel.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Atypical otome heroine who's treated as an equal teammate, nice mix of action and story, generally fun to watch
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