Princess Nine Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2001



What They Say
Led by a hot-shot young "natural", nine young women defy the male-dominated tradition of Japanese sports… not to create a League of their own, but to take on the boys on their own artificial turf and prove there’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t do just as well!

The hallowed stadiums of Japanese baseball become a battlefield as the bats crack, the sweat flies and every hard-earned run becomes another step in the long road-trip to victory! Sizzling sports action and gripping drama intertwine as nine young women come together in the heat of athletic competition to become the Princess Nine!

The Review!
Princess Nine is something of a rarity for the folks at ADV. It's a sports show, something which hasn't typically done well in the U.S. or been given much of a chance, and it's essentially "girls" anime, being focused on a group of young women going into High School on scholarships and participating in the schools first baseball team. While the sports is an obviously big chunk of the show, it's the relationships that are going to make this series what it looks like it will be. Compare that against most of ADV's catalog and it is surprising that it's coming from them.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Throughout the five episodes, we didn't notice any dropouts or other unusual distortions or problems. Dialogue is pretty center channel based, but the sound effects make decent use of the front soundstage and the music from the opening song fills it up nicely as well. We also gave the English language track a good run while doing a few things and found it to be pretty good overall.

Video:
The text you read is me nitpicking. That's all I really can do with this disc. There's some very minor cross coloration along a few edges during the first two episodes but hardly anything after that. There's some slight shimmering around some of the characters eyes, mostly in midrange shots. Otherwise, you've got a solid look transfer here with great looking colors, solid blacks and a great level of detail. While this isn't an outright stunning looking show, it looks great here and looks true to the style it's trying to show. If the rest of the discs in this series look good, I'm going to find myself very easily lost into the show as there's nothing to complain about.

Packaging:
While the cover features Ryo in her uniform that we don't actually see her in, it's a good way to lead off the covers with a good energetic look of her throwing out a fast pitch. With only six discs in the series though, I have to wonder what the remaining volumes will be called since this one is called First Inning. The back cover provides a number of shots of the animation as well as a couple of the menus. Features and episode counts are prominently listed, but no episode numbers or titles; which could be bad if the disc titles don't make continuity sense. The insert provides another shot of the cover on one side while the reverse lists the episode numbers and the episode titles.

Menus:
When the disc starts up, it starts a little montage of animation of the characters and their names flying underneath. At first I thought the show was starting right into the opening, but then realized that this was part of the menu. It only plays during the initial load thankfully, and the menu itself is pretty nice looking with a variant on the front cover. Moving between selections is easy and everything is laid out nicely. One odd error I encountered (on my Apex as well) is that to select the English with Song Subtitles, you have to select English by itself and then you can select this. Thankfully it's all togglable from the show itself, so you can watch it in Japanese with just song subtitles should you want to.

Extras:
As always, this is exactly how I want a disc to a new series to start off with the extras. A clean opening and a clean ending are ideal, especially if you really get into the music and want to have one more run at it before taking the disc out. Both are included here and look great, with the opening having the original Japanese opening. I'm hoping for a clean opening with the 5.1 soundtrack though. 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. I'm glad it was done this way, since subtitling it wouldn't have worked at all.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
From the time ADV had announced their acquisition of this title, I've waited patiently for it. It looked like it had all the elements I wanted in a show. Solid characters with different real world motivations, the inspiration of elders, the powerful presence of family and the feel of the competition of sports. Wrap it up into one series that doesn't contain superhuman powers, aliens or the world ending. Consider me sold.

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, 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, 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 whose now attending the Kisaragi boys school, as well as the baseball star of that school, Hiroki. 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.

So even as this disc ends, we don't have a full team, but we've got the building blocks to a really interesting and very talented team. The characters are interesting and as each of them become more familiar, you want to learn more about them and how they all fit together. The animation is also pretty good, with some solid production values if slightly odd character designs here and there. The eyes are where things look a bit odd at times, but it looks like it was part of a mini trend in the late 90's to do things that way.

With this being an irregular title of sorts for ADV, they've certainly pulled out all the stops for it. A six disc release is now the norm, which it wasn't when this was first announced. In fact, it was originally announced as a nine disc series, a disc for each inning. With the higher episode count, they dropped the price by 10$ from their usual scheme. And they're giving it fairly high rotation in the trailer department and have put out some solid advertising on it. With luck, this will do well and encourage them to try more shoujo or other sports themed shows. It's starting to look like a real sense of diversity in anime is making its way to the US now, and I for one couldn't be happier. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Ending,Player Statistics

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Princess Nine