OP: 「ストライド」 (Sutoraido) “Stride” by OxT (Masayoshi Oishi x Tom-H@ck)
「ON YOUR MARK 運命のはじまり」 (ON YOUR MARK Unmei no hajimari)
“On Your Mark – The Beginning of Destiny”
It’s like they made an anime for high school me. I couldn’t be happier.
Prince of Stride Alternative follows Sakurai Nana (Hanazawa Kana) who has just moved from the quiet countryside of Hokkaido into the bustling, fast-paced, and ultra-bright neon city of Tokyo in order to become the manager of Honan High School’s famous Stride club. Or rather, formerly famous, as she quickly discovers that the club has fallen from its once prestigious status into now near extinction. On the way, she runs (not a pun I swear) into fellow first years Fujiwara Takeru (Okamoto Nobuhiko)—a quiet and offbeat individual who happens to be a prominent Stride athlete of his age, and Yagami Riku (Kimura Ryouhei), a remarkably amiable and athletic guy who’s got an apparently muddied history with Stride.
Runnin’ and Jumpin’
Okay, so just what the hell is ‘Stride?’ Well, this first episode doesn’t do much in the way of explaining the ins and outs of the activity, but from what the viewer can gather, it’s a highly-competitive team-based sport which combines the structure of Track & Field sprint relays, the tempo-varied endurance of a Cross Country race, the calculated efficiency of a parkour course, and the flashy acrobatics of freerunning. All four of which I partook in during my four years of high school. I love it.
It’s no secret that this show is tryin’ to buy its way into the recent renaissance of contemporary sports anime—from Kuroko no Basket to Haikyuu!! to Yowamushi Pedal, and so on. But one of my first fears going into the anime was that unlike all those shows, Stride—which the whole series will revolve around—is a fictional sport. Did I trust that these writers had the snuff to not only create an entire sport—but one that was engaging and complex—at least enough for a fictional television show?
Though we have yet to be provided a more in-depth explanation on all of Stride’s inner mechanics and tinier details, the barely two minute snippet we got at the episode’s conclusion was seriously enough to convince me of Stride’s potential for intensely captivating action. It dug deep and rekindled the adrenaline-pumping excitement of racing—the anxiety before the start, the cheers from onlookers, the wind in my hair, the shortness of breath. I would’ve jumped outside and went for a run if it wasn’t dark, cold, and raining. The fluidity and accuracy of various vaults and other technical moves showed that the animators certainly did their homework. But of course, you don’t have to be a former runner to get swept up in the dazzling flips and sprints of Stride—the races are expertly framed and presented.
With all these fancy new sports anime in the past few years—one of which making a sport as seemingly unfit for the explosive spectacle of Japanese television as cycling into one of the most heart-pumping, adrenaline-inducing watches in recent memory—I was wondering if any of my running-based activities would eventually get any love with anime. I toyed with the thought in my head, but never seriously thought merely running had the chops for a successful modern sports anime.
And now here we are.
Though the show has just barely started, there’s a lot of promise with ‘Stride,’ and the kind of excitement which could come from watching it play out. It’s not unlikely that—if the show follows up on its promise for engaging action—Prince of Stride Alternative could spark a cultural movement in running and parkour in much the way that Yowamushi Pedal did for biking across Japan. Though I think I’m getting ahead of myself—we’ll just have to wait and see how this quality of the show plays out.
But of course, what is a sports anime without its characters? An absolutely imperative key to the success of sports anime (or any show, for that matter) is not only found in the hysteric blitz and rousing extravagance of its sports matches, or races, or whatever, but equally from the unexpected depth and memorable nature of its characters. Does Prince of Stride Alternative fit the bill in this regard?
There’s not much to go off as of now, but the flashes of quirks and personality from the characters definitely show promise. Many of the characters fall victim (as of now) to stock character roles, but only barely so. What I appreciate is that no person overdoes their trope or defining characteristic, which leave a lot of breathing room for future development and complexity—even the traditional comic relief finds a way to be a tad different from the rest. I’m hoping that as the series continues, each member of the main cast grows and deepens as characters—I see particular potential with Yagami, and his seemingly tattered past with Stride (concerning his brother, a former competitor, apparently?), which suggests more to his over-eager and friendly exterior.
I have another particular concern with Sakurai, the character though which we observe the show’s events. After the first episode, she left pretty much no memorable impression—an affliction which is unfortunately not uncommon to many shows based on visual novels. She might serve as little more than a stock cutout through which the viewer could insert themselves into the show—not a trait I like to exclusively define a member of a show’s main cast. I have a hard time pinning her as the show’s protagonist. Hopefully as the series progresses, Sakurai becomes more developed, and can stand her own as a character among all the runners. Maybe some further exploration of her love of Stride (which is enough to make her cry, apparently) can prove beneficial to her depth. I do appreciate, however, that unlike most other sports anime, the ‘female’ character is directly involved with the sport, albeit on the sideline.
As impressive as I did say the action was, the rest of the animation unfortunately does not prove nearly as noteworthy. Despite an eye-catching palette, Prince of Stride Alternative’s backgrounds are nearly static, character models barely emote, and movement is sometimes awkward and choppy. The show can’t compare to the presentation of its fellow sports-anime brethren—it’s almost unrecognizable as a Madhouse production. Again, like I can say for any apparent flaw in an initial episode: I’m hoping it will get better. If anything, the Stride races are sufficiently impressive in animation—arguably where it truly matters. That OP is bumpin’ doe.
As it stands, Prince of Stride Alternative has the potential for an intensely memorable show. Looking past all of my sports-experience bias, the show proves it can provide some exciting and worthwhile action. In terms of characters and quality of animation, it has a lot of catching up to do in order to be mentioned in even the same breath as many of the shows it aspires to be—but even many of those series took a few episodes to get on their feet and start running (HA HA EY O). As the newest entry in recent years of quality sports anime, Prince of Stride Alternative—with the help of improved animation and greater development of its characters—can hopefully come out as one to remember.