Princess Nine comes in just below my favorite sports anime of all time, Ping Pong the Animation. What puts it above more popular titles such as Haikyuu or Kuroko no Basuke?
Simply put, girls.
Obviously a huge part of the show has to revolve around the fact that it’s a girl’s baseball team, not softball team, but the extent to which Princess Nine capitalizes on its all-female protagonists is amazing. Princess Nine highlights and then conquers the patriarchal perspective on sports in general that women are inherently worse.
Before you call me a bra burner, let me clarify something— yes, it is true that women will tend to be worse at sports and be less physically strong because of biological constraints and societal pressures, but this does not mean that a best-of-the-century female baseball player cannot go toe-to-toe with male baseball players.
The underlying conflict of the show, particularly throughout the first half, is not Ryo versus her opponents or herself or anything like that, but overwhelming individual talent versus biological and societal differences between men and women. The Kisaragi Joshikou baseball team is comprised of multiple girls who possess amazing talent worthy of rivaling many of the top male baseball players, and at their head is Ryo, whose ability is equaled only by her pitcher-of-the-century father, and it is their struggle against the patriarchy (smash the patriarchy!) that lies as the backdrop to its narrative.
When they are given the opportunity to participate in Koshien, this conflict largely becomes relegated to the background as we are hit with a level of inter-character drama that I can’t say I’ve seen in any other sports anime to such an extent, but which really makes me question how much Princess Nine truly is a “sports anime” in the way we think about. With the first nine episodes of Princess Nine going without actually seeing a baseball game, and beyond that only showing four baseball games across about six of the twenty-six episodes, Princess Nine makes its clear priority the romance and drama over the sport itself, something that comes both as a welcome relief since so many sports anime concentrate so purely on the sport, and as a hindrance to the gravity of the games themselves, since they are built up so little as to make their ultimate outcomes seem, at times, predictable and/or unrealistic. It is a wonder that the impairment of the Kisaragi Joshikou baseball team being all girls is not enough already, and that they have the time between practicing to have so much drama at all. The combination of these two makes Princess Nine seem, at times, a bit too “anime” in its presentation of the overall story, but this is largely unnoticeable by the effectiveness of the drama that is taking the place of the sports.
This kind of storytelling, which balances being undeniably about a sport with being overwhelmingly not just presentation of that sport, is incredibly distinct— if it has been done before to the extent it is done here, I have not seen it, and generally I’m a huge sucker on gender commentary stuff sooo you know go that.
Speaking of being a huge tsundere toward feminism because I totally am a liberal cuck while pretending to not be one, I have zero issue with the arc of Ryo and Izumi playing worse because they are lovesick at the ending. This is because, A. People are lovesick in real life, regardless of gender, so it’s believable, B. It’s kind of awesome to see a sports competition come to a head with romance, because this wouldn’t be possible without there being an openly same-gender relationship or having a female team competing against a male team on even ground. It’s fucking great.
Being done on the subject of freshmen in high school, it isn’t surprising that Princess Nine is largely a coming of age story. Izumi’s ultimate decision at the end to give up her pretend-relationship with Hiroki and to admit defeat in the battlefield of romance to Ryo, is a powerful demonstration of character development, maturity, and the strengthening of her friendship and rivalry with Ryo. She, ultimately, is nearly as much a main character to Princess Nine as Ryo is, largely because her character growth is so intricate in contrast with Ryo’s fairly common arc of becoming strong without any man to help her and just becoming strong in general really. Because her and Ryo’s screen time overwhelm those of the other girls, it would already be difficult to fault the show for making the other teammates so cliché and seemingly unsuited to baseball.
However, giving them their own spotlight, I have only criticism to give. After all, how is it remotely possible that an aspiring fashion model with no pension for physical fitness could, even after a couple months of intensive training, come close to the aptitude that the best baseball teams in the nation have? How is it possible that a girl whose time is largely spent pursuing academics and who has repeatedly been turned away from baseball by her father, can still be one of the best catchers on the team? I’ll believe that Mao got good because we saw her training at catching really fucking hard, but it seems all Yoko had to do to prove herself as a worthy teammate was take baseball seriously for one moment. For that matter, though, I think it would’ve been nice to see everybody, Ryo included, training a little harder than they did. Izumi seems to be the one putting in the most effort in training and it was also shown that she was an extremely fast learner and already physically fit, so how did she ultimately end up as just a heavy slugger and not by far and away the best hitter on the team?
There was a storytelling technique I saw here that was never precisely predictable, but extremely awesome to pick up on. Whenever one conflict is happening, another is, always. They come in pairs and they come strong. When the press come at Kisaragi Joshikou and Ryo because of her father’s scandal, she ends up hospitalized too. Both the conflict with Kisaragi and Ryo are happening at once. When Ryo and Izumi are hung up on Hiroki, Koharu also struggles with her father’s poor health. This is constant throughout the show, and something I may try to use myself.
This has no cohesive point about Princess Nine, as you can tell. I just have a lot of specific thoughts that aren’t worthy of their own posts but that all make me excited about Princess Nine in general. Cheers!
P.S. Can you tell by the pictures etc that I really love Izumi?