This week has been a big one for anime fans in the UK, with the launch of the streaming service Funimation in this country for the first time.
For many years, Funimation did not stream in the UK or Ireland. If they announced that they were going to stream a new show, the news was met with disappointment in this country, as we had to hope it would be stream by another website. The problem was that often the website would be inferior in quality. It was even worse if no-one streamed the series at all, because it just promoted piracy.
But now we can finally watch all the shows they have on offer. The website contains many series previously covered in this column, including Ouran High School Host Club (No. 3), Junjo Romantica (No. 5), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), Hellsing (No. 27), Fairy Tail (No. 52), Fruits Basket (No. 55), Strike Witches (No. 72), Baka and Test (No. 78) and Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (No. 94). Plus there are other recent series, which is what I’m covering today.
When Funimation announced their plan to launch in the UK around February, my plan was to compare a series they were going to stream but not accessible via them, with a version of the same show streamed via a different service that was available. This was a slightly difficult task, partly due to due Funimation delaying their launch until April, something that annoyed many fans as Funimation had previously said they would launch in March.
The series I have picked is Prince of Stride: Alternative, a sports series that was available in the UK via streaming service Animax before being released on Funimation. However, it is a rather loose definition of “sport” given that the sport in the series is fictional. The series began as a series of novels simply entitled Price of Stride, created by Shuji Sogabe in 2012. It has been also turned into a video game, a manga, and an anime that ran between January and March 2016. It features an interesting mix of bright animation, nice music, and great character design, the latter of which is especially good because of the fan base, the same fan base of shows like Free! (No. 17) and Haikyu!! (No. 116): people, mostly women, who think that all guys on male high school sports teams are gay.
The series revolves around the sport of “stride”, which is best described as a parkour relay-race. It involves two teams of six players: each having five runners, and the “relationer”, whose communicates with the rest of the team via ear pieces. The race starts with the first runners setting off, and then their relationers telling their second runners to go off at the right time so that they meet up. The teammates then must high-five each other. After that the first runners stop, the second runners continue. The relationers then tell the third runners to set off and so on, with the fifth crossing the finishing line. Not only to the runners have to out-run their competitors, they also must deal with obstacles by performing “tricks”, and figure out which route to take, as there are several paths you can run.
Nana Sakurai is a girl who loves stride and one school team in particular. As a result she moved to Tokyo to study at Honan Academy to join its stride team. Upon arriving at the school she meets two other students who also seem to be interested in the sport: Riku Yagami, who is seemingly always cheerful and whose speed impresses all; and stride-obsessed Takeru Fujiwara, who is cool, calm, collected, and has the odd habit of grabbing people’s legs to see if they are good at stride too. However, then they try to join the school’s Stride Club, they notice a problem. The club is not as grand as it used to be.
There are now only three members of the once great Stride Club. Well, to be strict, there is only two: third-year team captain Heath Hasekura, and the cute “Trickster of Honan” Hozumi Kohinata. The “third” member of the club, Ayumu Kadowaki, is actually the sole member of the school’s “Shogi Club” (shogi being a board game also known as “Japanese chess”), but as the school as a rule of closing down any club that has fewer than three members, the three guys are members of each other’s clubs to keep them going.
The guys have a race to decide to whether the newbies deserve to join. The end result is a tie and so the Stride Club ends up having its required six members, with Nana becoming the relationer. The club’s aim is to win a nationwide stride contest called “End of Summer”, but before that they have other difficulties: the club used to have another member, Kyosuke Kuga, but he had fallen out with the team and now they have to figure out how to get him to join the club again. They also have to secure sponsorship for the team, and then there is simply the problem of trying to win their races. Their main friendly rivals are the “Galaxy Standard” team, who are so popular that they have a side-line as a pop idol band (they even perform the anime’s end theme). Worst of all is the problem of Riku living in the shadow of his older brother Tomoe, probably the greatest stride runner ever.
The positives of Prince of Stride include the quality of the animation from studio Mad House. It is bright and colourful, making it a pleasant thing to watch. You also have the soundtrack that makes for good listening, and then we get onto the main characters themselves. As mentioned earlier, sports anime like this tend to attract people who are into gay fiction, and there is plenty to titillate the fans. Not only do you have the guys working out and odd occasional glimpse of flesh, but when they do finally find a sponsor it is for a fashion-line run by Heath’s sister, so you get to see the guys dress up, and in Hozumi’s case even being forced to cross-dress.
The main flaw of the story though is that because the sport is fictional, you don’t connect with the characters as much as you do with a sports anime set in a real-life sport. It just isn’t as dramatic as other sports anime. To give you an example, recently when watching Haikyu!! the central characters managed to win a important match, and when they did I fist-pumped celebration. I was ecstatic about watching a fictional sports team win, in a sport I have never actually watched with real-life players, either on TV or radio. It is hard to get the same emotional connection when people are playing a game that no-one actually plays anyway. Therefore, Prince of Stride is a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole it is worth a watch mainly because of the production.
Now let’s move onto Funimation’s handling of it. While there have been some teething troubles with the launch, actually watching the video is wonderful. Animax’s main problem (for they are many) is the quality of their videos, which often pixelate badly and result in terrible quality. There doesn’t seem to be any such problems with Funimation. You can also easily skip forwards and backwards in 10 second intervals, and has a range of video definitions to suit your computer. It also offers a nice range of prices, so you can go for cheaper service offering just the subtitled versions of the shows, or a more expensive option offering shows dubbed into English if you prefer it.
The best thing though is simply the fact that Funimation is now available. We have waited for years for it to arrive on our shores, and now we can watch tits shows, as wells as give our money to a service that we actually like.
Prince of Stride: Alternative is available to stream on Funimation and Animax.