Princess Nine is a sports anime featuring teenage girls in high school, and is therefore most definitely not the type of television show I usually like. But something about the trailer tugged at my heart, and hinted at something deeper than the usual adolescent story. After many years, I finally got around to seeing it. I watched all 26 episodes in a marathon one weekend, and I cried and cheered. This show is something special.
At a girls' high school in Japan, the chairperson of the board of trustees starts a baseball team and launches a fight for equality. She wants girls to be allowed to compete against boys, as equals, in the national baseball tournament, but this idea meets with considerable resistance and prejudice. The central character, Ryo Hayakawa, is a 15-year-old pitching phenom who throws one of the meanest fastballs anyone has ever seen. The series follows the colorful cast of characters who make up the new baseball team, and follows the team's struggle to overcome one obstacle after another, sometimes fighting each other, sometimes fighting the rest of the world for their right to play.
The series does an outstanding job of portraying the incredible drive and sheer willpower of both Ryo and her rival, Izumi Himuro. These two characters are the unstoppable force and the immovable object of Princess Nine. The colossal inner strength of both girls drives the entire story and is a sight to behold, as is their increasingly complex relationship.
High school drama is almost always written at the high school level, for a teenage audience. Also, sports stories are usually predictable. Combining the two would therefore almost certainly be a double date of boredom and agony for me. But Princess Nine is much more than a juvenile story about teen angst and prom dates. Yes, there is the obligatory love triangle among the three main characters, but the series delivers so much more.
For example, Izumi, who seems to be the school snob at first, fights tooth and nail to get the new baseball team disbanded. In a typical high school drama written for young teens, this situation would merely consist of a one-dimensional spoiled brat throwing a hissy fit, being the villain simply because the story needed one. But in Princess Nine, the spoiled brat turns out not to be a spoiled brat at all, and is one of the most fascinating and three-dimensional characters in the show. Izumi's reasons for destroying the baseball team are perfectly plausible, as she is actually acting out her rage towards a mother who doesn't seem to love her. The way that particular storyline plays out is riveting and is totally character-driven, and is completely unexpected.
In fact, Princess Nine constantly surprised me, rarely going where I thought it would. It has a few cliches and eye-rolling teenage moments, but overall, it delivers big, every single episode. As the story progresses, the chairperson's true motivations for creating the baseball team, and her mysterious connection with Ryo's past, are slowly revealed.
I'm also impressed by the way the writers introduce the team slowly, a few members at a time, instead of trying to force the viewer to know them all at once. Each team member is given the spotlight at least once; each has her own story; each is so well defined that even the casual viewer can tell who is who at a glance. By the time I watched the final episode, I could recite their batting order and field positions.
Almost everything about Princess Nine is shown, not told, and that's fantastic writing. The viewer can feel the powerful bond being forged among these nine girls. In the English dub, the actresses voicing Ryo and Izumi are absolutely perfect. The characterisation is deep, the drama is compelling, the writing is outstanding, the animation is good, and – despite my aversion to the predictability of sports stories – the characters are so much fun to root for as they win one game after another against incredible odds. The batting order and field positions logically fit each girl's skill, yet the batting order and field positions are also perfectly arranged by the writers to create the rousing baseball action sequences and the drama in each game, which is an incredible orchestration of detail. And there's a lot more than baseball going on in this show.
But my favorite thing about this series, besides the writing, is the music, which always fits the scene perfectly. By turns, the music is beautiful, haunting, rousing, and grand. Sometimes it makes me want to tap my feet and dance along. The music just makes me feel good, and it makes the show much bigger than the confines of a television screen.
This show moves me to tears a lot, and sometimes I'm not even entirely sure why. There's just something about this show which resonates with me deeply.
Princess Nine is one of the most beautiful, uplifting and feel-good stories I've ever experienced, without once getting saccharine. The editing and pacing are almost perfect. Episodes 8 and 9 contain some of the finest television I have ever seen, and anyone who makes it to the end of episode 17 with dry eyes needs to check with his cardiologist.
Princess Nine was canceled after one season, which is a real shame, as the writers had planned a three-year story. After all this time, it's extremely unlikely it will ever be renewed, but it practically cries out for a second season.