In 1973, Osamu Dezaki (“Space Adventure Cobra” 1982, “Golgo 13” 1983) took the zero-to-hero sports shojo written by Sumika Yamamoto about high school freshman Hiromi and made a 25-episode TV animation series. Six years later, the successful Nippon Television show was put on the big screen by the same director. Being one of the best-selling shojo manga of all time, the tennis drama is a groundbreaking story that puts a strong female character in the lead and can be seen, together with “Attack No.1” (1969), as a precursor of future anime.
“Aim for the Ace!” tells the story of Hiromi Oka, a high school student, who joins the tennis club because of her admiration for senior student Ryuzaki. Ryuzaki, spoken by famous voice actress Masako Ikeda (“Galaxy Express 999” ), is the best player in the team and in the course of the film Oka gets the chance to play double with her. Despite Oka’s anxiety, the new trainer Jin Munakata believes in her talent.
Throughout his career, Osamu Dezaki developed a highly distinctive style. His signature were pastel-chalked freeze frames, that became an important element for dramatization and cliffhanger moments. As animator for “Belladonna of Sadness” in 1973 (although he left the project later on) and “Astro Boy” (1963) Dezaki went on as an director and wrote the cult anime “Black Jack” in the 90s. Together with production designer Akio Sugino, who also worked with Dezaki on “Golgo 13” and many other projects, and Shichirou Kobayashi (“Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro” 1979, “Angel’s Egg” 1985) he created this melodrama mainly focused on a female audience.
Oka, constantly under pressure to meet the expectations of her classmates and coaches, is a very likeable character. Her struggle is presented in a convincing manner and the audience feels for her. The other characters are pretty shallow and, obviously caused by the 88-minutes length of the film, not as profound as in the anime series. This also reflects the somewhat thin story line and a clumsy love story that appears forced due to the target group of the movie – young teenage girls.
The retro 70s-anime look works well and the former stuttering animation technique of the TV-series is replaced by a bright shining flow of colors and forms. Nostalgia and the unique eye-catching style are definitely the charme of “Aim for the Ace!”. On top, a powerful framing, a funky soundtrack by Koji Makaino (“The Rose of Versailles” 1980) and intense matches heat up the innocent plot. This may not be considered a masterpiece by any means, but nevertheless “Aim for the Ace!” is an important stepstone for the industry showing its influence in many different productions of the following decades and even till the present day.