Princess Nine is already a great little show to begin with. The story of a girls' highschool baseball team struggling against the norm to make it big, it's full of lovable characters, good cheer and excellent sports drama. Not to mention it's very feminist-friendly, as the entire premise of the show is challenging sexism in sports, and very upfront about it (the team's very EXISTENCE is in jeopardy a few times because people in power don't like the idea of a girls' baseball team). Add in an incredibly charming dub by ADV Films, and you have a recipe for success. Directed by Matt Greenfield, it's one of my favorite ADV dubs, with a fantastic cast all across the board and clever, funny adaptive writing. Honestly, it sounds far more natural and down-to-Earth than a lot of the stuff ADV alumni are putting out today at Sentai Filmworks. On with the review!
Note: The one weird point in the dub is that the main character's name, Ryo Hayakawa, is consistently pronounced "Yo" with a silent R. I can't decide whether this was a huge, glaring mistake or if they found they could not fit pronouncing the R into the lip flaps. Either way, it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the dub *that* much, it just might annoy pronunciation purists. Fair warning.
RYO HAYAKAWA (Hilary Haag)-Hilary is one of my favorite ADV dub mainstays. She has a wonderfully high-pitched, scratchy voice that fits her general "type" (peppy young women). Ryo fits rather well into that category, but she also has a lot of doubts and insecurities about herself since, duh, she's a teenager. Her dad was a famous pitcher, and she eventually tries to live up to his greatness with the physics-defying "Lightning Ball" as well as clear his name since he was embroiled in a game-fixing scandal (though we learn that he couldn't possibly have participated willingly since he just wasn't that kind of person). Adding complications is the fact that the star batter of the neighboring boys' school of her school, Hiroki Takasugi (who we'll get to soon enough), befriends her and later claims that he's in love with her. There's a lot of "how could a guy this cute notice a girl like me?" vibes to the relationship, and Hilary plays that, her uncertainty about her father, the relationships she has with the other girls, and Ryo's determination/energy perfectly. It's easily a highlight of the dub.
IZUMI HIMURO (Monica Rial)-This is quite possibly my favorite performance in the dub, my favorite character, and the best work I've ever heard from Monica (who herself says that it really helped her become a better dub actress). Izumi is a fantastic character with many shades to her: she begins as an unequivocal antagonist to both Ryo and the baseball team's existence in general, then a begrudging teammate, and manages to occupy that role and a romantic rival to Ryo for Hiroki's affections at the same time (she grew up with him and feels threatened). That's quite a bit of development, so Monica adopts a bit of a lower, haughty voice for the role, and her acting is just incredible. I can't think of a single moment where she steps wrong: the early moments when she's determined to shut down Ryo and the team, the pain in her voice when she confronts her mother over a picture of Ryo's father in a locket, the easygoing friendship with Hiroki, blunt appraisals of the team's talent or lack thereof, and even some playful meanness when she tries to mess with Ryo's head. But the moment I really knew Monica would be my favorite performance in the dub is in Episode 17, where Izumi has scrambled to get to a hospital after hearing that Ryo is in a life-or-death situation. The mix of anger and sadness as she berates Ryo for giving up on life is AMAZING. It's raw, beautiful and something I've never heard from Monica before. After a scene like that, I couldn't possibly have chosen anyone else for Best in Show.
HIKARU YOSHIMOTO (Cynthia Martinez)-Cynthia's another favorite ADV regular of mine; like Hilary, she has this youthful, scratchy voice, though the hint of a (presumably, given her last name) Hispanic or Latino accent gives it an extra, quite endearing flavor. Hikaru is super energetic, very open about her opinions, and a shameless flirt. Cynthia captures all of these quite wonderfully, and she even gets a little fun with some romance as she becomes interested in Ryo's childhood friend Seishiro Natsume. The scenes they have together are really fun as a result, especially when she asks him out on a date and then plants a surprise kiss on him. It's definitely one of the strongest supporting women performances in the show.
SEIRA MORIMURA (Kelli Cousins)-Kelli is one of two main actresses in the show who doesn't appear to be doing anime dubs anymore, and that really makes me sad. She was always a highlight of dubs she appeared in, and could get into wildly different headspaces (look at her calm, measured but still very emotional Kino in Kino's Journey). Seira is the "bad girl" rebel of the team, so Kelli gets to have a lot of fun with her brash, profane and angry personality. Yet she's also quite good at handling her moments of vulnerability, such as when we learn that Seira comes from something of a broken home. It's not my favorite performance, but it's very strong, often funny work.
YOKO TOKASHIKI (Tiffany Grant)-Tiffany is another one of those actors who very rarely seems to make a wrong step in her acting choices. Yoko arguably has the most selfish reasons for joining the team: she wants to become a famous model, and sees the team as a stepping stone, so at first she has absolutely no idea what she's doing, leading some of her teammates (especially Seira) to ridicule her. Tiffany brings a funny, bratty energy to Yoko in the early stretches, yet even she gets some more nuanced stuff later on as she comes to realize that these girls have become her friends and she wants to help them do well. Tiffany handles all of this extremely well, getting some of the funniest lines and scene-stealing moments (hearing her chirp lines like "And shoe contracts!" is delightful). Very strong stuff.
KOHARU HOTTA (Kira Vincent-Davies)-It's kind of funny to me that the two times I've brought up Kira on this site, it's for affecting or playing up a natural Southern accent to signify for a US audience that this character is from a different part of Japan. In this case, it's Koharu, who's from a fishing town in Tosa on the island of Shikoku. What's interesting is that it's not just a repeat of her Osaka from Azumanga Daioh: Koharu is lower and rougher, so her accent shifts in that respect as well. She's one of the bigger tomboys on the team, and Kira does a nice job with giving that energy and life, as well as her self-doubts when Ryo initially asks her to join the team and later when her dad gets sick right before the big, final game. Not my favorite stuff, but good work nonetheless.
MAO DAIDOJI (Shelley Calene-Black)-A larger girl from the judo team who Ryo recruits to be catcher, Mao is a very shy girl for her size, and Shelley gives her a soft, quiet voice to provide that contrast vocally. Still, Mao does get to break out of her shell as time goes on, so Shelley does very well portraying that growing self confidence. Excellent, low-key work.
KANAKO MITA (Aninda Praptiningtyas)-...well, that's a mouthful. Kanako joins the team early on, but there's a problem: Her father is the principal and one of the chief opponents of the girls' baseball team at first. So she ends up disguising herself, and Aninda does a good job balancing her enjoyment of being on the team with the fear and frustration of having to play in disguise. She's inevitably found out, of course, and it's here where Aninda does her strongest stuff, first apologetic for deceiving her father, then righteously angry as she stands up to him about shutting down the team. For the rest of the show, it's solid, but Aninda achieves greatness in those two scenes.
YUKI AZUMA (Margeaux Balch)-To my shame, I initially kind of wrote Margeaux off because in a lot of the early episodes, Yuki is just the quiet oddball of the team who talks to her alien doll friend (yes, really), and so she doesn't get a lot of lines. She does those well, but it's easy to not notice as much as the high-energy antics of nearly everyone else. Then Episode 22 (out of 26) happens, and we learn that Yuki is handling with some major issues like an attempted suicide (due to girls on her previous team growing jealous of her popularity and mistreating her) and abandonment problems. Margeaux gets to go all out with paranoia, grief and then finally acceptance as her teammates reassure her that she doesn't have to face things along. It's quite impressive, though it's still mostly just solid otherwise.
NENE MORI (Jennifer K. Earhart)-Eghh. To be honest, I am REALLY not as fond of this performance as a lot of the others. Remember how I said Hilary and Cynthia were high-pitched? Jennifer is "so high pitched only dogs could probably hear it". Her work as the self-appointed team manager and sports manga junkie can be really shrill and annoying at times. Still, she gets some funny stuff too, especially when Nene has to get on the field so they have a full team and fails epically at it. Just...be warned.
SHINSAKU KIDO (Andy McAvin)-Kido is a very familiar type: the drunken coach who nonetheless has a lot of insight and wisdom about baseball. McAvin manages to breath life into this stereotype by capturing Kido's various moods: he can be cynical yet wearily accepting, a harsh taskmaster, and an absentminded fool. It helps that McAvin is just genuinely funny in the role, especially during a brief period where he attempts to stop drinking because he's attracted to Ryo's mother. Next to the team and a couple performances we'll get to shortly, he's probably my favorite.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
KEIKO HIMURO (Kelly Manison)-Kelly is another actor who hasn't done anime in several years, and I miss her a lot too. She was always good at capturing different moods for women characters, and that extends to her work here. What's interesting is that Keiko, Izumi's mother and the chairperson of Kisaragi Girls' School, is largely a very quiet, reserved person, so Kelly barely speaks above a whisper for a good chunk of her lines. Some might call this dull, but I think it's a very interesting choice, since it makes the audience work harder at figuring out just what Keiko's real motivations are for starting and supporting this team. It's very good, subtle work, and she gets to play around with Keiko's headspace a little more when we see a younger, far less calm version of her in a flashback.
HIROKI TAKASUGI (Vic Mignogna)-Next to McAvin, this is easily my favorite male performance in the dub. Vic is just so naturally sweet, charming and funny as Hiroki that you can't help but fall in love with him, even when he acts like, well, a dumb teenage boy. What I like is that while his basic personality remains the same, Vic makes subtle shifts in his performance depending on who or what he's talking about: he tries really hard to needle Ryo with the nickname "Tofu Girl" even while he's praising her, has a natural banter with Izumi, and a keen mind when he analyzes other players' moves. But my favorite scene is easily one of his last, where he unexpectedly declares his love for Ryo to an entire baseball stadium *right in the middle of the big game*. It's a hilarious, touching scene, and Vic completely tears into it. Vic has done perhaps more emotionally complex or funny roles since this early work (my personal favorites are Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist and Tamaki Suoh from Ouran High School Host Club), but that doesn't take away from the fact that he kills it as Hiroki.
SEISHIRO NATSUME (Chris Patton)-To be perfectly honest, I almost feel like this is a miscast. Chris is always at his best when there's something odd, sinister or mean about his male characters. Look at roles like Fakir in Princess Tutu, Sousuke Sagara in Full Metal Panic, Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist, or Creed in Black Cat. There's something "off" about each of those characters, and so for him to play such an ordinary guy like Seishiro threw me for a loop. He's not BAD or anything; in fact he's quite good, especially during the aforementioned flirty moments with Hikaru and a scene late in the show where he calls out Hiroki for not recognizing his part in Ryo's current misery. It's just kind of weird for me to hear him do such a straight-arrow role like this (even his male lead Ayato in RahXephon has a certain odd, almost mysterious quality about him).
SHINO HAYAKAWA (Christine Auten)-Ryo's mother who runs an oden restaurant, Shino is in many ways a standard "mother" character: very encouraging, sweet and kind. It's no great stretch for Christine, but she does quite well with it, and with later stuff like remembering her husband. A solid effort.
PRINCIPAL MITA (John Swasey)-As noted above, Mita is one of the principle (heh) opponents of the girls' team through much of the show, so John brings a deep, gruff voice and arrogant heft to the party. He does a good job softening Mita as the show goes on, especially in a crucial scene where he outlines why his mind has changed and the girls' team needs to exist. From there on, he gets some funny scenes where he becomes an embarrassing proud papa for Kanako, cheering her on at games.
VICE PRINCIPAL KODANUKI (John Gremillion)-For whatever reason, John decided to add a lisp to this little weasel of a character. I'm not sure why, but it does make his scenes a good deal funnier, especially when he is mistaken for a pervert after the girls discover him outside their locker room, or when he's gobsmacked then supportive of Mita's change of heart. It's good comedy work, and further bolstered by the fact that John also plays Ryo's father Hidehiko, where he completely shifts to be a warm, loving and honest paternal figure.
The rest of the show is quite handily filled out by ADV stalwarts like Rob Mungle, Brett Weaver, Jay Hickman, Jason Douglas, Mandy Clark, Marcy Bannor, and the late Mike Kleinhenz. Overall, in addition to being a new favorite show, this is easily one of my favorite dubs by the old ADV Films crew. Even when it sounds weird or just straight-up goofy, it's utterly charming and lovable, just like the show itself. I highly recommend the show and dub to anyone who has interest in a good sports story, or even just a show about a bunch of teenage girls who go up against the world.