HANEBADO! Episode 1 Review: Suddenly Badminton is Badass
Animation
Characterization
Story
Summary
Combining strong music, amazing animation, and a compelling pair of main characters, HANEBADO! proved itself within mere minutes. This is an anime you absolutely need to watch this season.
94 %
Outstanding opening!

TOHO Animation’s new series HANEBADO! just premiered, and fans are impressed. The summer season is just getting started as Spring anime wind down with their final episodes. HANEBADO! is the season’s earliest sports anime and one of the first overall.

As a preface, anyone who loves sports will certainly enjoy this anime. The immediate reaction most people will have is to the animation quality. Movement is fluid, images are crisp, and every detail is precise. Even something as minuscule as a bead of sweat appears with absolute precision. While the episode could’ve done without the brief fan service, the story is strong. HANEBADO!’s opening episode used strong visuals, a recurring theme, and emotional appeal to break out into the season.

For those unfamiliar with HANEBADO!, it’s adapted from an amazing manga series on an underappreciated sport. The anime follows two rival badminton players and their unique perspectives on the sport. First-year student Ayano Hanesaki has an incredible natural talent for badminton and effortlessly dominates her opponents. Third-year Nagisa Aragaki, who the episode mainly focuses on, lost a championship match to her and has trained hard ever since. HANEBADO! follows the duo as they, their club members, and their Olympic-quality Coach mold the school team into championship material.

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The Tragedy of Loss

The series opens with a badminton sequence that rivals the best shonen series in terms of animation quality. For any anime, those first seconds are like an opening statement. Fans have dozens of shows to look through. So, the first impression truly makes or break a series. HANEBADO! put all the card on the table and left them there. Crisp hits of a shuttlecock alternate between both players.

In a flashback to six months before the episode’s time, Hanesaki and Aragaki are battling it out. Both girls are incredibly quick and agile, making sharp movements to expertly respond to every hit. What’s important to note is who this first scene focuses on. We don’t see Hanesaki’s face much at all, and usually only catch the tail end of her hits. On the contrary, every bit of Aragaki’s wind up during the volley is visible. We can clearly see her facial expressions and intense concentration.

HANEBADO! and its crisp movement.
The moment of concentration prior to a solid hit. | Image: Crunchyroll

Eventually, between crisp slow-motion moments around each racket swing, the anime presents its central theme. Aragaki’s voice in the background questions herself, asking why it is she plays the sport. Despite the obvious passion of the scene, her flat voice almost sounds like regret. This is the moment where this first scene tricks us. The camera focused so much on Aragaki’s strong hits and effort that it’s almost obvious that she’d be winning. Before her last powerful shot of a rally, she winds up and gives a satisfying hit. It seems like she’s hit a game-winning smash. But, the birdie lands out-of-bounds.

Natural Talent vs. Hard Work

Slowly, Aragaki’s emotion radiates out from the screen and seeps into the viewer; this isn’t strength, it’s a struggle. We don’t see the same desperate competitive drive on Hanesaki’s face because it literally isn’t there. Every strong smash Aragaki dishes out is easily returning. The effort isn’t being skipped because the return is effortless. As Aragaki herself puts it, she hits and hits it, but it keeps coming back. Finally, we see the score. Aragaki, despite the appearance of a strong performance, is losing 20 to zero. Finally, Hanesaki finishes her off, sweeping Aragaki 21-love. All the while, the violin the background rises in pitch, crescendoing in a delightful cascade of worry that climaxes in silence and failure.

Aragaki is extremely expressive as a HANEBADO! protagonist
The shock of loss fills her face in milliseconds. | Image: Crunchyroll

Finally, we see Hanesaki’s face as she looks over a magazine cutout featuring her own image. The words next to the photo refer to her as a “prodigy raised by the Queen herself.” She’s just dominated a match, but she’s crying and mentally questions her own involvement with the sport.

Those first three minutes alone were incredible. It seems strange for an anime to accomplish so much in so little time. Already, HANEBADO! has set the groundwork for the anime: frustration. There is frustration at trying hard and winning, but there’s also pain in being the prodigy. While these types of characters aren’t broadly uncommon, they’re very rarely both women or this well written.

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Finding Meaning in Competition

The rest of the episode sets up the beginning of a sports-style underdog story with a neat twist. Usually, sports anime start off with some issue like having lost a star player or having always been bad. In this case, The badminton team has no new recruits due to its captain, Nagisa Aragaki, the girl who lost in the intro. She’s known around school for literally terrorizing her teammates. This isn’t too far off either. She spends the bulk of the episode’s first half mercilessly drilling younger players and screaming at them. In her mind, the route to any success will come from working extremely hard. She believes her loss from the flashback was because she didn’t work hard enough, and she projects that same insecurity onto her teammates.

HANEBADO! students are practically shaking just watching Aragaki
New recruits are so frightened that they leave tryouts. | Image: Crunchyroll

Eventually, after some more exposition, we learn the team has two new unique opportunities. First, they’ve hired an alumnus to serve as a coach. He qualified for the Olympics before sitting out due to injury. Second, Hanesaki inadvertently reveals her talent to said coach but is reluctant to join the team. The last scene of the episode is the set up for an exciting rematch between Hanesaki and Aragaki.

If the latter wins, Hanesaki will join the team. The competitive enthusiasm foils nicely with the reluctant talent well. From what we’ve already seen of this high school, it’s certain that a lot of focus is on clubs and sports rather than academics. Both girls are clearly on their own journeys to find meaning and significance however they can. Their match in the next episode and in those to come should be an entertaining look at finding that meaning.

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High Energy in HANEBADO!

As far as opening episodes go, this was incredible. Kazuhiro Wakabayashi, the sound director for BUNGO STRAY DOGS and PRINCESS MONONOKE, handles the music and score for this series, and it shows. The delicate alternating between intense music and total silence bookends important scenes nicely. Action on the court lines up perfectly with rises in the music. Plus, it gives the anime a solid flow and reinforces what is meant to be felt emotionally with every scene. A lot of exposition comes from this in combination with deliberate dialogue and amazing facial expression. The first episode was just one school day and really only one badminton match. In that short amount of time, HANEBADO! did quite a bit.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few shots here and there where fan service was a tad much. But that’s nothing in comparison to the incredible animation and great start to the story. I’m excited to see what’s next in HANEBADO!. It’s an incredible start to the summer anime lineup and should be the first show on your watchlist.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

2 Comments

  1. Ben

    July 22, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    But pretty sure she knows whoever the lady is in the picture xD will watch and wait to find out.

    Reply

  2. benny

    July 22, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Correction, The picture ( of the prodigy ) Hanesaki is looking at isn’t a cutout of herself. You can see the person it refers to was a more mature woman, the same one who exited the tournament hall before that scene.

    Reply

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