Pride of Orange: Anime Review

The past couple of years have had a wide array of new sports getting represented in anime forms, some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog – like Sk8: The Infinity, Re-Main, and Sport Climbing Girls. Well, this year we had not just the first hockey anime (which is a surprise right there), but it’s also the first girls’ hockey anime (and potentially the first girls’ hockey TV series – full stop), with Pride of Orange.

The Junior team of the Dream Monkeys from Pride of Orange

Pride of Orange is another of the mobile game-influenced anime series we’ve gotten in the past few years, in this case, one of two series from this past season that are made for a mobile game that isn’t out yet. The show is based around the Nikkō Dream Monkeys – a girls’ hockey team in Division B. Several girls from the local high school’s embroidery club decide to take on some free hockey lessons put on by the team, and decide to join – Manaka Mizusawa, her younger sister Ayaka, Riko Saginuma, her close friend (with some heavy queer subtext) Naomi Takagi, and Kaoruko Yanagida. They’re later joined by Yu Kiyose, a girl from another team – Kushiro Snow White – who originally moved to Nikkō to get away from hockey, after experiencing some burnout. She ends up working through it and finding the environment she’d been looking for with the Dream Monkeys.

All of that said, the show does not put its best foot forward. The show starts with a flash-forward with our protagonists, now playing as part of the Japanese national team, winning a world championship against Team Canada, ending with a post-victory Idol musical number – which I think might actually come across as poor sportsmanship. This is followed up by a very slow build up over the first half of the series. Yu, in particular, doesn’t come up until the second half of the series, where the show feels like it’s finally taking the hockey part of the premise seriously, turning into a real sports anime.

This isn’t to say the hockey itself isn’t portrayed well. The show does a great job of getting a lot of the rules across, and presenting the game in general. The sounds of hockey come across amazingly – the scrape of the skates, the slap as a puck is stopped by the stick, and then launched again – all wonderfully executed. Additionally – the animators and character designers do an excellent job of resisting the urge to reduce the profile of hockey pads to emphasize the girls’ figures – they look in hockey pads like anyone else does in hockey pads – like a brick shithouse – even if girls hockey (in Japan) doesn’t have body checking.

That said, having heard about how hockey is played from listening to Jeff Bakalar on various Giant Bomb podcasts, I feel like there should be more smack-talking, to provoke body checking in order to get a power play, though I don’t think that would fit with these girls. The animators do tend to cloud or otherwise opaque the visors of the girls, leaving us relying on the dialog to inform us who is being passed to or is passing the puck, with only a couple of girls having their hair outside of their helmets to indicate who they are.

Also, we only get about 3 games played over the course of Pride of Orange – an exhibition game, a preliminary match, and the finals to determine who will advance to division A. With the show only having 12 episodes in length, that does fit, but it does lead to my final little piece of baggage. Specifically, with this show being based not on a manga, but a mobile game, and one that is being released soon, it means that unlike – for example – Love Live, the show’s goal is to get you to play the mobile game, so while the ending is somewhat satisfying, it literally ends on a card asking you to continue the story with the game. Considering the game has no English release as yet, and since there’s also no sign that we’ll get an additional season (something Love Live has received multiples of), this is tremendously frustrating.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very glad I watched the show. However, this doesn’t have the level of lasting appeal to it I think that something like a Yowamushi Petal or a Haikyu has, due to the short length combined with the rough, slow start. This is a real shame, as it gives this feeling – particularly considering that (for example) Sk8: The Infinity has already gotten a stage play and is getting a follow-up project – that women’s sports series are getting short shrift. I can’t help but feel that if this show had been made as a two-cour series from the start, with some additional matches to the story, it would have fared better.

Pride of Orange is currently available for streaming on Funimation.

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