When I first started Princess Nine, I was warned by others that it wasn’t overly concerned with baseball as it was with drama. Part of this is correct, as nearly all of the girls’ individual narratives have little to do with the actual sport of baseball. However, in a more nebulous way, Princess Nine has everything to do with baseball, because baseball in Japan is tradition. In fact, there’s a funny little quote attributed to the Japan Tourism Organization that Japanese people are often surprised to discover that the United States considers baseball its “national pastime.”
A lot of what Princess Nine aims to achieve is rooted in overcoming deep seated notions of tradition or family. Instead of looking at the series through a strictly feminist lens – it is girls playing baseball against boys, after all, so this option is rather easy – perhaps it would be better served with the framework of tradition above all, and what breaking preexisting tradition, or perceived familial obligation, entails. Hint, this also has a little to do with that aforementioned feminist lens.
“If you are so determined to promote women’s status, why not do it somewhere else?”
-National High School Baseball Association, Princess Nine, Episode 11
The primary battle of Princess Nine takes place not on the baseball diamond but in boardroom meetings, as Chairman Keiko Himuro battles against the National High School Baseball Association for the girls’ right to play. The Association cites tradition as the primary reason for not allowing girls into the league, saying that it would disrupt their longstanding customs of high school baseball. As a prestigious institution, the Association claims that a girls team would only cause an unnecessary media circus, all for a team that, to them, exists more as a publicity stunt than a legitimate baseball team. The men of the Association follow this up by telling Chairman Himuro to pursue her interests elsewhere.
Putting aside the fact that this is a fairly prevalent sentiment if a woman tries to challenge a longstanding status quo – you could do so much more good for women’s causes elsewhere, not here – what’s most entertaining about the Association’s assumption is that they’re wrong. Chairman Himuro actually established the baseball team for her own selfish and deeply personal reason, a far less valid one than furthering women’s rights. She believes that her girls are just as good as the boys, but it’s all in pursuit of righting a wrong against a man that she loved.
However, as the head of a distinguished girls academy, Chairman Himuro is more than well aware of her duties and, for the most part, handles the tricky balance between her personal ambitions and presenting the best possible face for the school.
Her dedication to tradition is also reflected in her daughter, Izumi Himuro, who initially sees the baseball team as an eyesore unfitting for such an illustrious institution. Izumi is upfront about her disgust at the uncouth nature of the baseball team, even after joining it herself, and sorts people by “winners” or “losers” in her mind. Additionally, she attempts to repress her own emotions frequently – another result of her upbringing – often turning her nose up at any of her teammates’ attempts to be cheerful rather than cold-hearted and realistic. Tradition and image are always at the forefront of her personality, which makes her awkward and unable to communicate with others. Typically, this would sort her easily into the tsundere archetype, but Princess Nine manages to escape this by giving Izumi realistic, albeit melodramatic teen, turmoil.
Ryo Hayakawa inherits her father’s gift of pitching, but is also burdened with his tainted legacy. Back when Hidehiko Hayakawa was a rising professional player, he was accused of purposefully fixing a game, and subsequently banned from baseball. The fallout from this accusation envelops his daughter who, as his offspring, is immediately shunned due to the perceived actions of her father. The Parents’ Association wants her expelled from their precious Kisaragi Girls High School.
As previously mentioned, Izumi had already objected to someone like Ryo attending her school, as the prevailing sentiment regarding Kisaragi Girls High School is, again, one of tradition. It’s an academy where girls are taught, in the words of the Board of Trustees, to be good wives and mothers. Needless to say, the establishment of a baseball team is frowned upon, and the opposition swells in number when her father’s reputation is unearthed and plastered above every newspaper fold. Ryo accepts her father’s burden as her own, and much of her character arc involves learning more about her deceased father through baseball.
Other members of the Kisaragi Girls High School baseball team also struggle with their own ties to tradition and familial obligation. Outfielder Yuki Azuma was bullied by classmates, and told by her parents to stop being so selfish and think of how her actions reflected poorly on them – in spite of the fact that it was in no way Yuki’s fault. Kanako Mita, daughter of the school’s president, is raised by her father to be the perfect lady. For the first half of the series, she disguises herself, just so she won’t be recognized by her father and told to quit. Seira Morimura doesn’t want to become a “useless adult” like her parents, and is initially presented as a delinquent, trying to escape these thoughts. There is very little girls-vs-boys sentiment throughout the series, and it focuses more on how breaking new ground with this baseball team affects their individual views and treatment by society at large, starting with their closest family members.
It’s important to note that Princess Nine doesn’t always get it right. The central romance between Ryo Hayakawa and star batter Hiroki Takasugi is nauseating at best and detrimental to both Ryo and Izumi’s characters at worst. Parts of the series are infuriatingly overdramatic and require either a concern for the characters or an incredible suspension of disbelief. Yet, Princess Nine is hardly an “anything you can do, I can do better” battle of the sexes, and when it comes to actually playing baseball –although it’s no Ookiku Furikabutte, which goes pitch by pitch – it mostly gets it right.