Boy vs. Girl in the World Series of Love
Hey, I've got a home opener to go to, so let's keep this short.
Ryo Hayakawa is a seemingly ordinary junior high school girl. She's stopped dreaming of high school, and she's planning to drop out and help her widowed mother run the family oden bar. But Ryo has a secret — a devastating 130-kph fastball that can strike out men twice her age! One day, she's approached by the Chairman of the prestigious Kisaragi Girl's High School, who shares her dream with Ryo — to put together a girl's baseball team that can take on the boys and win the National High School Baseball Championship!
Working with the Chairman and her misbegotten drunk of a coach, Ryo quickly finds nine new teammates: Hikaru and Yuki, two softball MVPs who just want to keep playing; Seira, an Olympic-class sprinter who's become a street tough; Koharu, an intimidating batter who used to play on boy's teams until she developed; Mao, a straggler from the judo team who may be the only girl capable of catching Ryo's pitches; Kanako, who plays baseball in disguise so she won't be found out by her parents; Yoko, who may only be joining the team to jumpstart her career as a pop idol; Nene, the energetic manager who learned everything she knows about baseball from Shonen Jump; and the Chairman's daughter, Izumi, a tennis prodigy who can't stand all the attention this common girl is getting from her mother and her putative boyfriend. If she wants to make it to Koshien, Ryo has to has things out with Izumi — and deal with the mysterious secret from her past that may destroy her love of baseball!
Watching Princess Nine has become sort of a pre-season ritual around here. Some time during the last week of spring training, I dig through my video collection, warm up the DVD player, and watch the entire series over the course of five or six days. Truth be told, though, Princess Nine isn't all that original. In fact, for the most part it's just a huge pile of shojo and shonen clichés.
But strangely, the shojo clichés and the shonen clichés actually work well together — the emotional highs and lows of the character's relationships actually intensify (and are intensified by) the dramatic highs and lows of a good baseball game. You wind up with overlapping love triangles, which drive the intra- and inter-team rivalries. You wind up with players whose crippling emotional problems render them physically unable to play baseball. You get baseball duels on the beach at dawn. You get a girl's team that are the ultimate underdogs, fighting against prejeudice at the same time that they battle boy's teams. You get the unlikely spectacle of a batter and pitcher, pushed to their physical and emotional breaking points, declaring their mutual love as they face off on the baseball diamond.
Oh, and did I mention that it's about ten cute girls who play baseball? Never underestimate how far a cute girl can go. And if one of them isn't exactly your type, well, you've got nine others to choose from. And maybe Ryo's mom if you're into that type too.
For that matter, there's plenty of baseball here as well. Perhaps not as much baseball as I'd like, but they manage to squeeze in three or four complete games over the course of a 26-episode series, including some close games as well as some blow-outs. You get to see the girls pulling off the hit-and-run, the squeeze play, the hidden ball trick, and even a rare triple play. That's more than most baseball movies manage to do.
Plus, it's also got a tremendous soundtrack, performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, that does a great job of underscoring the themes of love and competition that run through the series. In fact, it's so good I always load it up on my MP3 player when I head out to the ballpark. Like today.
Anyway, if you like cute girls, emotional highs, and baseball, it's hard to go wrong with Princess Nine. That's why it's one of my favorite things.
Update: Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
An ugly, ugly game. It looked like amateur hour for both teams.