If you have ever watched cross country or track events on TV during the Olympics, you know that the scene is extremely competitive. A team of only a dozen or so athletic people represent an entire country, and honor is determined by the outcome of their single match. These men and women have trained for months, maybe even years, and all of their hard work is demonstrated against other people on the field who have done the same. The only glimpse that the audience receives from watching these competitors from the comfort of their televisions is sweat, blood, and raw talent; nothing can be seen about what happens in the minds of the racers or the conversations among the team.
Different anime series in this genre such as Kuroko’s Basketball and Ace of The Diamond have noticed this problem and made creative plots that will give the audience an imagination of missing events, but in doing so they completely take away the realism from the sport. Mellow-dramatic sop stories and impossible romances between players cloud the vision of the viewer, and they never know what really happens. Not to mention the superpowered, adrenaline-pumped ballers that can somehow accomplish God-like dunks without even lifting up a finger, and it becomes very apparent that these type of shows have been “anime-fied” way too much. It’s almost like I’m watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z or One Punch Man instead of a game of basketball, and these are common problems that I have always had with sports anime in the past.
Prince of Stride: Alternative, however, is special in that it breaks away from these typical sports anime clichés and gives the audience, something that is very reminiscent to my own days as a cross country runner. Most importantly, the series gets into the heart of racing, the emotions and bonds among the team, and the friendships that blossom from competing. Giving this anime my personal stamp of accuracy approval (mostly), let me walk you though exactly why I was pleased with this show and mention some of the flaws that I noticed.
First and foremost, I wanted to walk you through the basic story of Prince of Stride: Alternative, and this plot may sound familiar in a lot of other anime that you have seen. A group of high schoolers live in [Insert Generic City Name], Japan where they attend [Insert Generic High School Name], joining the sport of [Insert Sport Name], participate in the [Insert Sports Tournament Name], and have incredible adventures along the way. This is the success formula to any sports anime, and I am not surprised at all that Prince of Stride: Alternative decided to follow this pattern. It does bother me somewhat that the series didn’t take any major risks with their plot, including some crazy element that is completely different from the normal, but I am none the less pleased with what we got. Besides, it is how the show develops from this major plot cliché that makes me savor this series, and it does this very well.
Characters are another strong suit to this show, and I do not mean in the sense that they are given any real depth. Each person is given special attention with qualities that don’t make them perfect human beings like in any other sports anime; the entire cast has weaknesses that make the races they run challenging. Riku Yagami is always doubting his own running abilities by comparing himself to his successful older brother Tomoe, Nana Sakurai has complications with learning how to accept her father back into her life when he had abandoned her at a young age, and Takeru Fujiwara struggles to work together with his teammates because he is so fixated on becoming the fastest Stride runner. There are other characters in Prince of Stride: Alternative that have similar attention, but are more or less personality quirks such as Ayumu’s insane obsession to become the king of shogi. Characterization in this anime is obviously not as great as a masterpiece like Fullmetal Alchemist, but it does show that the runners are not invincible. I believe that this is needed in a genre where characters normally appear to be without any flaws, and it accomplished what it needed to accomplish in comparison to other sports anime. In the same breath, I wouldn’t go watching this series for the characters because you will be sorely disappointed.
Animation is another of Prince of Stride: Alternative‘s greatest strengths that made this series extremely enjoyable for me. With colorful palettes, vibrant running scenes, and fluid transitions, Madhouse does not disappoint with this show, having a reputation for creating fantastic animation for other series such as One Punch Man, Hunter X Hunter 2011, and Death Note. This helps to foster more imagination for what running is actually like, and I feel that, for the most part, Prince of Stride: Alternative was very accurate. In fact, I cannot stop thinking how beautiful the animation is for this show, and that the producers really did put a lot of love into the series.
The soundtrack impressed me just as much as the animation, as a majority shines the brightest during the Stride races. High energy tracks are the most memorable, and really got me pumped to see the competition among high schools! For a track that appealed to me the most, I would immediately point to the show’s opening, “Strider’s High, which will immediately give you an impression of what to expect from this anime!
What does set this anime apart from other sports shows, however, is that an entirely new sport called Stride is introduced. It’s a clever blend of track, cross country, and parcour where a team of five participants run unique relay races across different courses. One player from each team runs to a specific point on the track, tags hands with another teammate, and continues the process until the end of the race, giving each member a chance to run. These can vary depending on the location of the race, as it can occur on the busy streets of Tokyo to the inside of an average high school, making each race fresh in its own right. Obstacles such as stairway rails, gaps in between buildings, and city walls allow for a huge parcour influence in Prince of Stride: Alternative and it makes the show that much more exciting to watch! Although there are certain moments in the races where they are “anime-fied”, they do not go overboard with it, and the realism of the sport is still intact.
Out of everything that has been mentioned, the aspect that I loved the most was that this show explores so many different themes. Many of them are the classic locutions that your parents tell you while you are growing up to give you some sort of morals such as “Never give up, even when the going gets hard” or “Give everything 110%”, but I discovered something even better. I’ve learned the importance of surrendering everything that we have to God, even our own feelings, whether we feel like it or not.
While looking at the different characters in Prince of Stride: Alternative, it becomes very apparent that some live their entire lives according to their emotions. Riku Yagami is a perfect example of this, as he always compares himself harshly to his older brother Tomoe and makes decisions based upon those feelings. His low self-esteem about his running abilities leek into different areas of his life, and he is always cautious about what he can achieve. Other characters have similar issues that trap them within themselves, and they choose to walk through their lives in despair. Takeru Fujiwara works hard at his training to become the fastest Stride runner in the world and his heart is hardened from the friendship extended to him from his teammates. Even Kyosuke Kuga had an incident with the Honan Stride team two years prior to the story and was forcefully punishing himself for the actions of other runners.
And if you have watched Prince of Stride: Alternative completely through, you understand that these guys had miserable, depressed lives by living according to emotions. I would argue that the way of the world is to live every second of time by what we feel instead of the truth. Ever argued with someone else and forgotten why you were arguing? Logic would say to stop, but your emotions tell you to keep on going, even if you have no idea why. Point being, emotions can lie to us and cloud our thinking. Still not convinced? Just watch the United States political debates for 2016 and you will understand exactly what I mean.
“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
But the Bible tells us to not live by the world’s standards. Just like in Prince of Stride: Alternative, we cannot heal from the wreckage that our own emotions have done until we come to terms with them. These Stride runners with such terrible lives had some rough conversations with their teammates and had to really confront the lies that were binding them in chains. Spiritually, we have to do a complete 180 with our thinking, and solely rely on God’s Word for how we make choices. A “renewal of our minds” must take place and we have to deny ourselves daily, surrendering our emotions to Jesus Christ. We cannot live by our emotions anymore because it will leave us broken and hopeless; luckily we serve a God that specializes in picking up the pieces.
Overall, I feel that Prince of Stride: Alternative was a great series, and is one that I would recommend to people who are interested in seeing a sports anime that actually is similar to the sport that it is representing or want something new to enjoy. Being closer to real life and including some powerful Biblical themes, I will definitely rewatch this anime in the near future. The show is free to watch currently in HD quality on Daisuki.net with a free account, and it is probably the best way to view it. I gave Prince of Stride: Alternative a score of a seven out of ten on myanimelist.net and you can take a look at my profile from here.