Movie: For a host of reasons, people seem to like sports of one sort or another, regardless of culture. Some like soccer, others like football and still others like baseball, to list but a few. While I'm not a big fan of sports, even I can enjoy movies based on them, be it Rocky, Field of Dreams, or Rudy, being examples that spring to mind. One sport that both the US and Japan seem fixated on more than any other countries would be baseball. The Japanese got into it back after WWII and as with anything else, they really focused on the sport. This being the case, a number of anime series have been released over the years that centered on the sport, including the subject of this review, Princess Nine: Complete Collection.
The series followed the exploits of Ryo Hayakawa, a fifteen-year-old girl in Japan, who has just graduated middle school. Her prospects for going to high school limited, she's content to work at her mother's bar in order to help the family out. Her father was a big baseball star but died long ago and making ends meet is tough. In a twist of events, she is recruited to play baseball at a prestigious private school on a newly formed girls team. There is a lot of opposition to the team, from the school administration to the students themselves but Ryo doesn't mind any of that as she's chasing a dream of following in her father's footsteps.
Rather than spoil the whole show by detailing all the events taking place during the 26 episode series, I'll just tell you that the show was a whole lot of fun to watch from beginning to end. The themes involved the usual romantic triangle, the competitive nature of baseball, dealing with stereotypes, and a lot of typical stuff you'd expect of an anime series. I think this is the best way to watch anime as well, the whole season/series at once, in order to get a better overview of what takes place. It also allows a continuity that watching a couple of episodes every month or two simply doesn't allow for.
On the whole, the series was a lot of fun to watch and I'm going to rate it as Highly Recommended, kind of surprising to me too since I'm not a big fan of baseball, but it earned the rating by providing a lot of fun for the buck. Sure, some of the anime style itself looked somewhat dated and the subtitles were often contradictory to the dub but it was value priced and the content was solid enough to counter those problems. Here's a breakdown of the discs by episode for fans:
Episode One: Hayakawa Ryo, Age 15
Episode Two: A Baseball Team At A Prestigious Girl's School?
Episode Three: In My Father's Footsteps
Episode Four: Welcome Seira!
Episode Five: Wave Motion Swing!
Episode Six: Catch This!
Episode Seven: We Need You Izumi
Episode Eight: The Future On The Line
Episode Nine: Winners & Losers
Episode Ten: The Kisaragi Nine
Episode Eleven: Aim For Koshien!
Episode Twelve: One Hundred Pitches
Episode Thirteen: The Girl Stratagem
Episode Fourteen: Lightning Ball
Episode Fifteen: Scandal
Episode Sixteen: Exile
Episode Seventeen: Visions
Episode Eighteen: The Gift
Episode Nineteen: Hearts & Diamonds
Episode Twenty: Back In Training
Episode Twenty One: I Hate You, Takasugi
Episode Twenty Two: You're Not Alone, Yuki
Episode Twenty Three: Beauties Vs. The Beasts
Episode Twenty Four: The Kiss
Episode Twenty Five: Field Of Broken Dreams
Episode Twenty Six: Shine, Princess Nine!
Picture: The picture was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, as expected. While generally colorful and clear, the picture had some print scratches and grain with some slightly faded colors at times. There was a bit of aliasing and pattern jitter as well but nothing most fans would base their decision to buy on. I saw the occasional compression artifact, mostly in the first and last disc (perhaps because they each had an extra episode), but it wasn't anything to worry about.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of 2.0 Dolby Digital English or Japanese with optional English subtitles. The vocals were clear and the sound effects, including music, were also well done. I didn't notice a lot of directionality in the audio, with virtually all of it coming from the center channel on my home theatre set up, but that didn't diminish the quality of the show. I liked the English dub a lot but the original Japanese track was better in most episodes. The principle dub voice actors, Hilary Haag as Ryo, Monica Rial as Izumi, and Vic Mignogna as Hiroki, all did fine jobs with the show (as did many of the others), it's just that the translations seemed a bit stiff at times and this impacted the dialogue (not all of the time though, just here and there). The subtitles were not dub-titles and had their own flavor to them, making the replay value pretty solid.
Extras: Over the course of the six discs, all presented in a book style case rather than the fold out style that seems in vogue with the television series released by larger companies these days, there were some solid extras. From the horde of trailers and cover art, to the obligatory clean openings and closings, there were more than a few extras worth noting. The voice actress profiles included on discs three and four were pretty solid. While not definitive in terms of content, they added some real value to fans of anime in terms of getting some background on the ladies behind the scenes. There was also a series of player statistics, outlining the characters in terms of general information. Some of you will enjoy the karaoke feature where you can sing along in Japanese or English or the US trailers included too. Others will like the cooking special offered on disc two or the short featurette providing a historical account of baseball in Japanese. Lastly, there was a single sheet paper insert to provide some minimal information on the show.
Final Thoughts: While I prefer science fiction anime, with all the advanced mech-robots and such, or the sword and sorcery fantasy stuff, this one transcended the limited world of baseball (although baseball fans will appreciate it too) and provided a good deal to the consumer. The technical limitations aside, the stories were often solid and themes interesting with some decent extras to boot.