Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another 70s shoujo title? Why, yes.: The Ace wo Nerae! movie

The Ace wo Nerae! (Aim for the Ace!) movie is Dezaki Osamu's second adaptation of Yamamoto Sumika's popular Ace wo Nerae! manga, which ran in Margaret (same magazine that ran Futari PocchiRose of Versailles, Oniisama E, Claudine...! and, much later, Marimite) from 1973 to 1980. Ace wo Nerae! has gotten a dizzying number of adaptations, including a drama. It has the least yuri out of the old titles that I've reviewed, but it's good and has some subtext, so why not check it out?

Ace wo Nerae! is about Oka Hiromi, a first-year who has just joined her high school's Tennis Club along with her best friend Maki. Hiromi's idol is the Oneesama-like star of the Tennis Club, Ryuuzaki Reika, nicknamed "Ochoufujin." (You can see her looming behind Hiromi in the picture above.)

Their school gets a new tennis coach, Munakata Jin, nicknamed "Oni coach" because of how tough he is on players. When he tests all of the players to choose the elite handful that will represent their school in future competitions, he chooses Nanako Hiromi, to the chagrin of Misaki Aya Kyouko, the girl who expected to be picked for the last spot.

Everyone, including Reika, makes it clear that they don't think Hiromi deserves to be chosen. Hiromi tries to quit, telling Munakata that even if she tries her best, she isn't good enough. Munakata challenges her to run 5km every morning before school. If she's willing to do that, he'll acknowledge that she is trying her best, and only then will she be able to back up her argument. Seriously, this man is such a scary bad ass that he could give Tsukikage Chigusa a run for her money.

So Hiromi trains and trains and decides that she does want to prove herself. In a game against another school, she finally convinces Reika and everyone else that she belongs with the elite players.

Reika and Hiromi compete for spots on the tennis team that's going to represent Japan in an international competition taking place in the U.S. Reika easily qualifies, but Hiromi's position is still dubious. Hiromi can represent Japan if she beats Reika in a game. They both give it their all in yet another wonderful display of competitive bad assery, but no surprise, Hiromi wins. Reika gracefully loses, looking forward to competing alongside Hiromi.

Here, Coach Munakata tells his half-sister Ranko why he went out of his way so much to help Hiromi. I might be a horrible person for doing so, but I giggled at his reason. But when I got over the soapiness of it, I thought that it was sweet. I will also admit that when Munakata died from his terminal illness after writing a letter for Hiromi to do her best in the international competition, I wasn't able to keep a dry eye- especially since he never told her about his illness before saying goodbye. Hiromi flies to New York with Reika, and the credits roll.

Yuri? "Flying to America" is code for Happily-Ever-After in Japanese lesbian fiction. I don't object to applying that interpretation here. lol The random suit Hiromi wears on the flight doesn't hurt either. The scene in which Hiromi gets roses for Reika, complete with an apology note (sealed with a red heart-shaped sticker, if I remember correctly) is also subtexty. My favorite bit o' subtext, however, is Ochoufujin shouting that giving her all in her final game against Hiromi is her way of expressing her love. (She uses the word "ai.") The subtext isn't a major ingredient in Ace wo Nerae, but it adds a nice garnish.

Since this movie was directed by Dezaki Osamu, who also helmed Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E, it has a lot of the same visual flourishes as those two titles. Ace wo Nerae!'s soundtrack also sounds an awful lot like Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E's. In Oniisama E, I saw the aural similarity as a nod to it being by the same creator as RoV, but here... maybe it's a homage to RoV as Dezaki's earlier work? Maybe Dezaki thought that he had found the ultimate dramatic shoujo soundtrack in RoV's? It works well for the drama in Ace, so it isn't a negative. Just a little surprising.

But. The point is that this is a great sports movie. A cast of likeable characters pouring themselves into the sport that they love while the strains of dramatic music highlight their GUTS and DRAMA = good times. I've seen a couple episodes of the original Ace wo Nerae! TV series, but decided to switch to the movie for the nicer visuals. While the movie is great, its story could use a little more room to breathe. But the movie, of course, doesn't have that luxury by virtue of being a movie adaptation of a hefty chunk of a long series.

In any case, if you like classic shoujo or competitition-themed series, you should try Ace wo Nerae!

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: B+


Rosa_Gigantea said...

Thank you for reviewing this. Dezaki is a master and he makes great use of his typical directing style in this movies. Like the split-screens and the dream time scenes / images. One of my favourites :)

Katherine Hanson said...

@Rosa_Gigantea- Glad you liked the review! :) I like Dezaki's style also. It compliments the emotional opulence of Ace's story very well.

Anonymous said...

I knew Ace wo Nerae as the thing Gunbuster parodied in its first episode, before Anno and company realized replacing tennis with big robots wasn't instant comedy gold and took the series in a more dramatic direction. I guess I'll have to check it out now if Dezaki and yuri subtext are involved.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Anon- *Starsky voice* -> Do it.