「夏の終わり – 超えて」 (Natsunoowari – Koete)
“End of Summer – And Beyond”
Was not expecting to feel all the feely-goosies that I did.
Prince of Stride Alternative ended this week in spectacular fashion. Seriously, this finale was maybe actually too good for this series. Instead of focusing primarily on End of Summer’s closing race between our beloved Honan and familial rivals Kakyoin, the series unexpectedly opted send off our characters with retrospection and nostalgia. The bulk of screen time was relegated to all the preparation and training the team was undergoing for the upcoming race. This allowed for the show to really hit home the whole point of stride, as well as the whole message of the show, really: the adoption of your teammates’ wills. It’s not about the advancement of the self or dealing with your personal problems individually, but the unity of every member of the team—taking on each other’s emotions (good and bad) in harmony. That’s what it is to be a team, and really, what it is to be a group of friends.
Naturally, then, the narrative took the perspective of Yagami, who learned this lesson more than anyone during the show’s run. The whole episode really just reinforced his character arc, and charted his growth from an insecure little brother who holed himself up in the shadow of his older sibling, to a confident and assured team player. When Fujiwara firmly insists that Yagami take on the role of anchor for the final race—to the rest of the team’s approval—it shows a significant progression of character, for Yagami is finally able to stand up against the skeletons in his closet thanks to his new found comrades. Not only that, though, but the moment also reinforces the greater importance of considering each other’s will’s and feelings over the most assured method of winning.
In fact, many minutes were dedicated towards playing clips from past episodes—an effect which others might expect to get grating, but actually never did thanks to clever and appropriate usage. I found myself surprisingly emotional as characters retraced past events which strongly conveyed the distance these characters have come and grown. It’s really been a long, rough journey since the first-years first set foot in the club room. The whole episode was chock full of sentimental callbacks—really getting across the finality of the series, and reflecting back on not only the hardships these characters have faced, but also their various successes, and the blossoming of their friendship.
I found the structure of the final race to be especially effective in this regard. I was initially disappointed that the match wasn’t more fully fleshed out like last week’s, but quickly became enamored with its narrative grace. The race was framed around Yagami’s conversation with Tomoe, as they waited for the final segments of the race to begin. In some really elegant and profound scenes, Yagami (who can now comfortably speak with his brother) provides his reason for racing. Stride is fun, yes, but more than anything else, it allows for him to connect with his friends—to unite their emotions and wills, for they will always be there for one another for their personal issues and problems. A friend is never alone in his suffering.
While all this is being said, shots of each Honan racer are provided, both in the past and during the race, to affirm the progress and coherence of not only their teamwork, but their friendship as well. When Fujiwara bolts in the penultimate leg of the race—displaying more emotion than he ever has when he pronounces the debt he owes Yagami for introducing him to his stride—I couldn’t help getting a little emotional myself over the bond between our first-year duo. The episode’s final scene did not depict a roaring, celebratory victory (even though one likely occurred), but instead opted to show our main cast in their natural habitat in a callback to the show’s very first episode. A powerful way to come full circle while still conveying Honan’s impressive growth, both in skill and in camaraderie
Prince of Stride Alternative’s conclusion infused me with more emotion and sentiment than I thought I even had for the show. While it disappointedly dedicated little to no closure for Sakurai—the show’s purported protagonist early on—it integrated its primary message into the plot cleverly enough for a poignantly emotional finale. Besides the aforementioned cased, all of our characters were given enough time and attention for an appropriate, well-deserved sendoff.
When I first decided to take on Prince of Stride Alternative I didn’t know what to expect. It was a Madhouse sports-show production which concerned many of the sports I passionately partook in during my years in high school, so of course I was hyped. At the same time though, I had my reservations that the show would ignore all the things I love about sports anime (spectacular action, amazing characters) in favor of aimless manservice.
While I’m entirely thankful it didn’t go down the route of the latter, I’m afraid to say that it didn’t quite reach the level of excellence I was hoping for. I’m not going to lie, this show was by no means perfect, or even excellent. Personal character development was often poorly executed or just neglected entirely, some narrative arcs were pulled off poorly or inconsistently, and despite a pretty color palate, the animation was often janky or jilted during dialogue scenes.
However, whenever Prince of Stride Alternative succeeded, it truly soared. The show convincingly portrayed a lovable friendship and team dynamic, some character arcs were especially resonant, and most of the races were excellently rendered with hastened visuals, persuasive animation, and some rock-solid tracks. The show had all the elements of a phenomenal sports show—just at half-baked degrees. The potential was there, it just needed more nurturing. If anything, the series would have benefited immensely from just more time—more time to develop characters, more time for ambitious storytelling, more time for lengthier and more intricate races, and so on. Maybe then, it could’ve sat toe to toe with some of the heavy-hitters of the recent renaissance in sports anime. This is admittedly disappointing given my strong interest in its central sport.
It’s been a long, bumpy road, but I honestly would be remiss if I didn’t mention how fulfilled I feel by the show’s end. Maybe this is just the effectiveness of the finale talking, but I really feel like I’ve grown with these characters—taking on their emotions and feelings like I myself was a member of their team. Perhaps all that really matters is that I feel bonded to these fictional individuals in a way I did not realize by the time all was said and done. As it stands, however, Prince of Stride Alternative is an imperfect, but seriously enjoyable watch—and maybe that’s all that it really needed to be.