Princess Nine

Princess_NineI don’t care about baseball. Sports in general, on the TV or often in real life, leave me cold. This isn’t a remnant of some geeky-high school inactivity rationalized as personal superiority. I was team captain while on Junior Varsity for Water Polo and Swim1, and made Varsity my Junior year. But in general sports just do not interest me – I fast forward through the sports jokes in Monty Python. So my criticism of Princess Nine should have some weight: It needs more baseball.

This is an anime sports show, a popular genre in Japan represented in the U.S. by this show and by the whacked-out (and very enjoyable) sf-sports show, Battle Athletes: Victory. And, despite anime’s vaunted originality and audaciousness, these shows are just as formulaic as any sports movie – underdog wins it in the end, that sort of thing. A star athlete gets their moment to shine against adversity. A rag-tag team of misfits. Princess Nine hits all the bases.2

The plucky underdog here is Ryo Hayakawa, the best girl pitcher in her crazy island nation. She’s also cute and modest, and wants nothing more than to help out her mom in their corner restaurant. Madame Himuro from the Katsurugi School for Girls, a prestigious finishing school with an all-star tennis team, lead by Himuro’s daughter, Izumi, has other ideas for Ryo. She wants to star a girl’s baseball team at her school, and she wants them to compete in the boy’s league all the way to Koshien stadium, where the Japanese school league baseball championships are played.

Princess Nine had a lot of room to make some very common errors, but it seemed to steer clear at every point. There’s a male baseball hero who could’ve been the male jock jerk, annoyed that Ryo is horning in on his territory – except he’s a pretty decent guy, and when he sees her pitch he knows she’s great, and likes her for it. The tennis star whose limelight Ryo is inadvertently stealing could have been a nasty-bitch rival, but she’s shown having deeper and less shameful reasons for resentment. The characters in Princess Nine aren’t immensely deep, but there is more to each one than the cursory, sitcomy structure lends itself to.

A sitcom is the most apt comparison for Princess Nine. It has no more ambition than to be a decent TV show. It doesn’t have the filmic scope of Cowboy Bebop or the philosophical pretensions of Evangelion, nor does it seem to find the need to fill the lack. Princess Nine is content to introduce us to characters and tell stories about them.

The problem (and it is a slight one) comes with the stories it decides to tell, and the level it pitches them at3. In the first five episodes on this first disc, baseball is played in the first. The rest of the time, we occasionally see Ryo throwing things or going to practice, but there is precious little baseball. The main of these episodes is very low-key conversations about feelings – strangely tepid confrontations between Madame Himuro and the board who don’t want a girl’s baseball team, small moments of indecision for Ryo, when she doesn’t know if she wants to leave her mom. These things are fine, but the emotional aspect of the show could use more buoying by action. There’s a wonderful image in the opening credits of Ryo covered in dirt with a smile on her face and tears running down, creating a clean streak down her face. Why does she love the game so much? Maybe if we saw her play it we’d know.

And I’m sure the problem is rectified in the volumes that follow. The show is fun, the show is pleasant, the show is good. Since so many other don’t even make those marks, I can’t see holding against it that it isn’t brilliant. Good is good enough.

1Yep, speedo sports. I’d feel m
ore comfortable revealing this if this wasn’t the same week I was putting up a big David Bowie feature, complete with fashion criticism. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m not gay. Why I feel the need to confess this to the entire cyber-world is my hang-up, and nothing to do with you. Perhaps I am just insecure about recommending a show called Princess Nine.

2Excuse the pun.

3Again, excuse the pun.
Rating: B

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email