What They Say:
In the male-dominated sport of baseball, one group of high school girls is about to turn the world upside down! Ryo Hayakawa, daughter of a legendary pitcher, has been chosen to lead the ”Princesses,” Japan’s first-ever all-girl baseball team. They don’t want to play in a separate league – they’re taking on the boys at their own game. And their goal? None other than Koshien, the national high school baseball championship! But for all the challenges they face on the field, the hardest battles are the ones fought behind the scenes. They’ll have to overcome prejudice, endure weeks of hard training, and work their way through romantic rivalries if they ever want a chance to make it to the top!
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get a trio of tracks that definitely works well for the show. We get the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the previously created English language track, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The series also got a 5.1 mix back in the day which is encoded at 448kbps. There’s not a lot of additional clarity or depth to it when it comes to the baseball side but it does add a few nice moments to it and overall presents a cleaner and clearer presentation. Though baseball is the game of the day here, it’s not one that really has a lot of intense moments to it as it’s more about the dialogue and the sounds of the moment than anything else. The forward soundstage is pretty nicely done overall and the layout of dialogue and placement has its good moments along the way. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1998, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. It’s spread across six discs in a five/four/four/five/four/four format that gives everything a good bit of space to work with. This presentation is working off of the remastered materials and overall it’s definitely an improvement, especially since we get the original opening and closing sequences and the like. The show is one that is certainly showing its age and isn’t exactly the cleanest piece around in some ways, but the big improvement here is the minimalization of the cross coloration issue that was a lot more noticeable in the previous edition. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments where cross coloration shows up, more noticeably in the first couple of episodes before it tapers off even more, but it’s greatly reduced from before and overall we get a cleaner and more solid presentation here throughout. It’s definitely a show from 1998 though in standard definition so it can go only so far.
The packaging for this release gives us the six discs inside a standard sized DVD case in litebox form with a hinge in the middle. It’s all tightly packed but it’s easy to work with and get the discs out. The front cover gives us the white baseball background with the red stitching across it that helps to define it nicely while down the middle we get the array of nine girls and all their distinctive personalities with what makes them who they are. It’s bright, colorful and definitely a great piece of artwork overall. The back cover goes with more of the white as the background which makes it easy to read the premise and breakdown of the features that are included with the release. There’s some good shots from the show included here and we get a large full image of Ryo in the middle of a pitch which, while awkward in its perspective, definitely works nicely to give it some intensity. The bottom has the standard technical grid and also the nice nod of where you can preview the first episode of the series as well. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is really, really nice as each menu gives us a different piece of character artwork that shows the main players in their normal form and in their uniform which is done in bright, clean and solid colors that are very appealing looking. The right side gives us the menu navigation strip going down with red, white and blue designs that’s strong in its look while the static image to the left has a white background to let the character artwork stand out, especially as the background image is done with a pink hue. Navigation is simple and language selection a breeze as it moves about and episode selection works nicely as does the navigation for the extras for each volume.
Princess Nine had a whole lot of extras with its original release and it looks like just about everything is ported over here. We get a lot of the usual pieces here include the welcome clean opening and closing sequences, some music clips and a pretty fun video with the Warsaw Philharmonic that showed the creation of the score. Also included is the Player Statistics section. I had figured at first that these would be your usual character bios, but I’ve been proven wrong! The eye-catches for the show feature a superdeformed version of a particular play with a black section that lists their vital statistics, including hobbies and other things. These were translated for the show itself, and with the brief time they’re shown, they’re hard to read all of. That’s what’s included here, as well as a smaller block of video showing the original Japanese language eye-catches. There’s a good round of interviews with the original staff, profiles on the actresses and even some karaoke material. I also liked, against my better judgment, the oden cooking special and the history of baseball piece. Add in a great look at the original Japanese cover art and with all of this spread across six discs, there’s always something new to check out.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I have no idea how it truly performed at the time, Princess Nine was one of those defining series of the early anime boom at the start of the century that ADV Films brought over. It had a lot of appeal in being a sports show filled with girls that brought in a lot of great English voice talent at a time when more and more dubs were gaining fans and acceptance. With only a few sports shows coming over, it felt like a niche within a niche but it had a lot of popularity from a small segment of fans that extolled its virtues. And it definitely has a lot to like, flaws and all, as it’s a product of its time and country of origin as well. Across the twenty six episodes, we get a lot of baseball, a lot of good if small character stories and a definite approach to romance within the ranks of baseball players (from different sides) that helps to keep interesting without often dominating in a hugely distracting way from the core goal of getting to Koshien.
The show is centered around 15 year old Ryo Hayakawa. She’s the daughter of a famous baseball player who made it to the Koshien, sort of a world series for the High School leagues. She only knew him a short time before he passed away at the age of five, but long enough for him to teach her pitching and the basics of baseball, something she was naturally gifted with. Since his death, her mother has been running the Oden bar, and she’s pledged to help her run it once she graduates middle school, opting to skip high school and doing what’s right by her mother. Things change though when Ryo helps out in a game between her team the Wild Cats and the Dolphins. Though she can’t compete in the league games, she still plays the other games, and she’s brought in at the ragged end of this match to help out an exhausted pitcher. While her help in the game wouldn’t have done more than to help the team, this time she was being watched by the chairwoman of the Kisaragi schools. She apparently knew Ryo’s father in the past, and it’s her intention to start up a girls baseball team to compete at Koshien, something that’s firmly against the rules.
This leads to the chairwoman, Himoru – she of the hair that can hold beer cans, bringing in more girls through scholarships into her all girls school to play and learn. She’s picked up an amusing coach, whose usually somewhat gruff and mostly hungover but has a really interesting style to him. We also have a couple of love interests for young Ryo, one in the form of a childhood friend named Seishiro who is now attending the Kisaragi boys school. The other is the baseball star of that school, Hiroki, who himself comes from a wealthy family and has all that you could imagine from it but without the annoying factors other than being too confident in himself. Hiroki was there during one of the dustups with Ryo and some people trying to harass her. After seeing her pitch, he’s quickly fallen in love with her and already declared himself to be her boyfriend. All to her great surprise.
During the first five episodes, we’re introduced to Ryo and her immediate group of friends and potential enemies, such as Izumi, the tennis superstar and daughter of the chairwoman. We’re also introduced to two more girls who’ve accepted the scholarships to come to the school and play. We also follow the coach as he goes off to scout out another one, the rebellious Seira, whose quickly become my favorite character. And we even see Ryo gain some good confidence and head out on a plane to try and scout out another girl. While the entire first half isn’t given over to this, we’re introduced to the eight players that fill up the team beyond Ryo and get some of their minor stories. Most of what we get are admittedly archetypes without a lot of depth, characters that are known by their key point or interest. But it’s enough to give them personality as they have to deal with being part of a team and the larger rivalry that exists between Ryo and Izumi as their relationship takes a solid subplot along the way.
That rivalry has its annoying moments along the way, but much of it can simply be attributed to youth and teenage inexperience with dealing with others, especially when it comes to jealousies and rivalries in love. And first loves at that. Ryo’s not going out of her way to get into Izumi’s way, but with Hiroki practically courting Ryo at many times in addition to being playful with her in his names for her, it’s not hard to annoy Izumi. But the relationship between Izumi and Hiroki isn’t what most people tell Ryo it is, it’s not a pre-planned engagement and everything is a given. The two are almost like brother and sister, but Hiroki’s not entirely sure which way he wants to go, and Izumi’s not entirely sure she wants to give him up.
This leads to an interesting encounter that ends up leading to Izumi taking Ryo on directly. She issues a challenge to her that if she wins at hitting Ryo’s pitches with a baseball bat, she’ll leave the school and the team will be disbanded. This will let Izumi have Hiroki back to just herself and things will be right with the world again. The time that Izumi spends training over a couple of days to learn how to hit, and with some eventual coaching, is very engaging. It provides the moments of “youth going to the extremes to win” that is going to show up more and more in the series. Izumi’s drive is furthered even more when she starts learning some of her mothers secrets and the relations with others.
As one can expect with a show like this, a lot of what factors into it is the storyline about the girls playing baseball in the boys league, or rather just playing baseball at all when many think they should stick to softball since that’s something girls can “handle” better. The chairwoman faces a lot of opposition internally in the school as you’d expect and has to win over people there, including her own daughter in a way as the two have their own issues, but she also has to get other schools to play against the girls team and take them seriously. And to get the school accepted to compete with the goal of Koshien. Sometimes it gets to be a little too simple or weirdly complex at other times, but mostly it’s done through two things. The force of will of the chairwoman to see the dream made real, for herself and for Ryo, and what Ryo herself does by motivating the team and pushing them for so long to play against the boys teams and hold their own. There are some real nail biter games in there that helps to bring out the various girls skills, but as Ryo takes on the captain role she has a lot on her shoulders to make all of this work.
Honestly, baseball is not my sport of choice. I can appreciate it on a technical level, but watching American professional baseball leaves me feeling like it’s pretty empty. Anime sports stories are a different beast though since it’s all about the character and team journey more than the game play, but the game play gets plenty of appropriate attention here. It’s not as hugely technically oriented as series that have come since are like, but it achieves the goals it needs to since it’s more about the sum of the parts rather than the individual pieces. Watching the games play out here, the practices, the struggles and the heartache that goes into it, you can completely get invested in it and enjoy it for what it is rather than thinking it’s just a sports show. Princess Nine does a lot right and only stumbles in a few small ways here but that’s mostly just the passage of time and wanting to see relationships play out a little differently than they do.
Princess Nine is an important series to me in a lot of ways but I haven’t revisited it since the singles originally came out a decade or so ago. Going back into it in marathon form here over a couple of days reminded me exactly why I loved it the first time and why it does work. It blends the various parts of what it is to be a part of a team, the dreams that motivate you, the rivalries that exist whether you want them to or not and the bonds that form with your teammates. It adds in some good back story to the past and how this is taking a different dream to a new level, the adults that want to help and those that want to hinder and it brings it all together with a lot of nicely done baseball that never feels drawn out or problematic. The cast may not be the most fully fleshed out, and how could it with twenty-six episodes and so much to do as it covers the first year of a team’s existence, but it does what it can in a very good way and continually delights. And even now, I still long for a second season to be made to give us another year with the girls and to see their dreams move forward. But until such a dream itself happens, this release is a dream unto itself. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening & Closing, “Kaseki no Machi” Music Clip, “Passionate Days” Music Clip, Warsaw Philharmonic Video, “Music Selections” Music Video, “Dream Stadium” Music Video, Sound Staff Interviews Parts 1 & 2, Player Statistics, Oden Cooking Special, A History of Baseball in Japan, Voice Actress Profiles, Karaoke With Princess Nine, Original Japanese Cover Art Gallery
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Lucky Penny Entertainment
Release Date: April 1st, 2014
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.