HANEBADO! exceeded expectations once again this week. The intensity of character and complexity of the plot is consistently outdoing almost every other new anime of the season so far!
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Amazing Follow Up

HANEBADO! followed up this week with an episode even more impressive than the last. Rather than do what most pilots do, which is build up and taper off, HANEBADO! kept active. Like the first episode, every moment was perfectly animated. The music was of a quality you’d normally expect in a movie. Each scene contained fantastic blends of movement, characterization, and plot movement that traps the viewers’ attention. And, this week’s episode introduced a new character while hinting at the main plot. From the little bit we’ve seen so far, it’s almost certain that we have a tournament style arc coming. These sorts of episodes are almost obligatory when it comes to any sports anime or school life.

For the low-winning badminton team of HANEBADO!, this will give us a chance to understand the competitive field and where they stand. Aragaki, however, was the real focus of this episode. We got a taste of her childhood with well-timed backstories and flashbacks. Even these were done well, and the stylistic difference of flashbacks versus the regular show contained aesthetic attention, something rare in a sports anime.

Via the flashbacks from both Aragaki and Hanesaki, we’re slowly understanding the world of youthful trauma and how it relates to sports. We’ve yet to see much classroom activity in HANEBADO!. But that just means that the development on the court gets all the screen time and focus it needs to shine.

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Long Awaited Rematch

The episode began right where last week left off. Following Aragaki realizing Hanesaki had come to her school, the two were poised to have a rematch. Hanesaki is the girl who defeated Aragaki in the opening scene. After losing 21-0, Aragaki changed. For the team, the match was a simple wager wherein Hanesaki joined the team if she lost. But for Aragaki, this was an opportunity. Since her loss, she’d trained every day. Redemption filled her mind, and she even projected that insecurity onto her teammates. But the rematch was cut short when Hanesaki suddenly froze and refused to play. Slowly, we learn why playing hurts her so much. The game brings back age-old pain.

The end of the rematch between the two protagonists of HANEBADO
Hanesaki the moment her trauma forced her to stop. | Image: Crunchyroll

Each stroke, smash, and serve was bringing back painful memories for Hanesaki. During the opening match, we didn’t get any insight into who Hanesaki was until after the match. This time, we got a peek into her mind with flashbacks. What’s done extremely well in this scene is the careful layering of both girl’s mental state during the match. Their play is as much an emotional battle as an athletic one, but both girls are fighting internally. Hanesaki struggles to reconcile her extreme talent with a proper love for the sport. She’s left-handed, has superb flexibility, and is quite quick. Her physical traits make her a natural, so it seems logical that she would have to play the sport. Plus, we saw that her mother is “The Queen” amongst badminton players.

It’s likely that Hanesaki didn’t have a choice but to play badminton in the past. In contrast to Aragaki, who detests everyone ignoring what she puts into the sport, Hanesaki detests being forced into it at all.

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Anger and Appeasement

The focus transitions toward Aragaki; we get to see the way people placate her. Aragaki’s friends encourage her and avoid making her angry. This even goes as far as going easier on her when she’s deep into her slump. That especially was great to see, mostly because we as viewers were able to see when others were acting gently for Aragaki’s benefit even when she herself didn’t. After she exits a scene, HANEBADO! always takes care to show the faces of those around her. The animation quality becomes especially important when subtle movements like a face becoming downcast occur.

For Aragaki, this anger is internal and long growing. From the beginning of the series, it’s quite clear that she has a much taller physique than any of her teammates. Even compared to the men on her team and around her school, she’s large. Things like this carry thematic meaning, but Episode 2 explicated it. People assumed she won via her height. It seemed to give her an edge in the match since she could, in theory, gain a superior vantage point and launch powerful smashes. But, it also made her doubt every one of her achievements.

The flashbacks of Aragaki in HANEBADO
The unique art style of Aragaki’s painful childhood. | Image: Crunchyroll

The teasing she suffered rippled through her life as a source of both comfort and strife. While she despises being “beanstalk,” she finds comfort in what it gives her. As a naturally imposing and strong looking person, she can afford to be aggressive. She can play sports in a way that she considers more masculine and powerful. At the same time, however, she resents the relegation to “basically a boy.” As a female athlete, that creates tension with how she sees herself and seeks to act on the court.

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The Beginning of Growth

As a result of those around her constantly twisting and qualifying her identity, she becomes uncertain of her actions and hesitates. In sports like tennis or badminton, the fear of hitting the net ruins your shot. She avoids the risky and goods shot in favor of the safe and worse ones. The makes it impossible for her to play freely and naturally. She’s consciously aware of the best shot but subconsciously unable to follow through. We see the difference that split second makes after the new coach, Kentarō Tachibana, forces Aragaki to observe it. The PTSD she seems to have makes her approach badminton in a dull, steady drive. Then, Tachibana brings back her passion in a super interesting way.

A reflective moment in HANEBADO!
Brightness returned to her eyes | Image: Crunchyroll

This is one particular combination of tropes that I’m a huge fan of. Tachibana is a classic example of the “great athlete that suffered an injury” and the “aloof but smart sensei”.  He’s tall, like Aragaki, and thus has a literal understanding of what makes her nervous. For Aragaki, seeing someone who suffered from the same comparative malady that she did excel in play awakens her somewhat. She begins to understand that her talent is real after someone better than her recognizes that talent. The aggression that usually scares her teammates away doesn’t affect Tachibana. While he is a bit creepy in his obsession with Hanesaki’s talent, he’s beginning to prove himself as an incredible coach and a well-needed character.

Having him around restricts Agaraki; it means that she also has someone to answer to and can’t act however she wants as captain. He’s already serving as a great guide for her anger and talent. By the episode’s end, her eyes were literally brighter while she played badminton.

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Powerful Momentum in HANEBADO!

This episode quieted one fear of mine. I loved the first episode so much, and it was incredibly impressive. As such, I had significant doubt that the anime could keep its momentum going. This episode achieved such a significant degree of characterization with very direct meaning. We’re seeing the beginning of emotional growth for multiple characters. This is all before HANEBADO! even introduces broader conflicts in the series. As of yet, there is no other school to defeat, and the looming competitions aren’t the show’s primary focus.

By building its characters up this much prior to having major competitive tournament style arcs begin, HANEBADO is covering every base. If the anime were to be 100% badminton games next week, it’d be fine. This is because we have a significant foundation (for Hanesaki and Aragaki) via these flashbacks. Now, adding in the mysterious new character from the end will likely deepen the delightful complexity of that foundation.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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