Animation
Characterization
Story
Summary
This week in HANEBADO, we saw a bit more of Hanesaki's past and learned why she struggles to play badminton. Now, everything is finally coming together to create a developed set of protagonists. All around, this was a fantastic episode.
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Fantastic Growth

HANEBADO is showing us week after week that it fully intends to hold a high standard. Oftentimes, newer anime tend to buff up animation and story quality to hook people. After the first episode, those sorts of anime devolve into messy exposition and general sloppiness. But not HANEBADO. Every smash, hit, and volley still looks as crisp as ever. On top of that, the story is getting increasingly more complex and satisfying. This week we saw HANEBADO’s unique style of flashbacks. Rather than simply show the entirety of a memory, the anime shows pieces. Each time something triggers the memory, we see more and more pieces. Eventually, once the context is clear, viewers have an idea of what the entire memory references. This technique makes the exposition of the show feel fluid and dynamic even if it takes up the majority of the episode.

Last week, Nagisa Aragaki changed when she realized the cause of her slump. Kentarō Tachibana managed to show Aragaki that her value comes from her hard work, not unearned talent. This realization was a simple step with big effects; Aragaki’s mood completely changed once she understood the problems with her approach.

Since her and Ayano Hanesaki are the two protagonists of the series, it makes sense that this week we’d see Hanesaki’s awakening. But her pain goes even deeper than the first two episodes hinted at. Aragaki simply suffered a tough loss. A competitive drive also contorted her usual passion, so it was only a matter of extricating the two. For Hanesaki, her pain is linked to the destruction of her family and the loss of her mother. This episode made the depth of that loss quite clear. But it also showed us that Hanesaki and Aragaki both have strong supportive networks to turn to.

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New Characters and Old Trauma

Episode 3 brought a new character, the pink haired Kaoruko Serigaya. Interestingly, Serigaya is the first stereotypically ‘anime’ character in HANEBADO. She got her big reveal at the end of Episode 2, screaming that she loves herself into the crashing tide. This episode, within seconds of storming into badminton practice, she’s ridiculed them for a shabby gym, shifted into full tsundere mode at the mere sight of Tachibana, and challenged Hanesaki to a match.

HANEBADO new character Kaoruko Serigaya
Kaoruko Serigaya shortly before destroying Hanesaki in a match | Image: Crunchyroll

At the beginning of their match, however, it becomes clear that something is wrong. Thus far, we’ve seen several levels of play from Hanesaki. There was the absolute perfection she showed while defeating Aragaki at nationals. There was the panicked nervousness behind her still impressive play a few months later. And there is the general proficiency and excellence she shows in practice. In all those instances, a common thread of things throws her off.

Initially, it seemed like badminton in general just affected her. But with the introduction of Serigaya, we finally learn why she’s been struggling. After Hanesaki‘s mother, known as the Queen of badminton, saw her lose in a game to Serigaya, she left their home. Hanesaki‘s mother hasn’t been back since and we’ve seen little in the way of an explanation for the exact reasons behind her departure. But today’s episode at least heavily implies one thing. There is some degree of unknown and extraneous history behind Hanesaki‘s family. It’s unlikely that seeing her daughter lose a single match would make a mother leave, but that doesn’t matter. Hanesaki blames herself for her family falling apart and feels like she can never be good enough.

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Familial Complications

After the loss to Serigaya, Hanesaki trained endlessly, thinking that once she was at the top, her mother would return in response to her increased skill.  And now, little things make her momentarily fall back into that traumatic headspace. Many people will recognize this as “triggering” where moments in badminton that mimic those of Hanesaki‘s match against Serigaya bring forth trauma. Against Aragaki, when the shuttlecock fell to her side after hitting the top of the net, it mirrored almost frame for frame the way Serigaya beat her. To make matters worse, the pink haired girl seems to habitually make use of mind games to defeat her opponent. The rematch likely made her feel so mentally out of control that she was once again forced into feeling the waves of trauma all over again.

HANEBADO shows past trauma and contextualizes it with flashbacks.
Hanesaki‘s happy disposition toward badminton as a child | Image: Crunchyroll

It’s rare enough for anime to examine issues of mental health, let alone sports anime. But this phenomenon that Hanesaki is going through is all too common. She doesn’t have every bit of detail surrounding her parent’s departure so she blames herself. To her then, the love and care for badminton that was linked to her love for her mother twisted. In the same way that Aragaki struggled to dissociate her two issues, so did Hanesaki, but to a much greater degree. Hopefully, this isn’t the end of this exploration, as it’s a very inventive way to understand Hanesaki and exactly what makes a ‘prodigy’ good at their sport. Plenty of watchers in the real world likely understand that constant success doesn’t come easy. When parents are involved, there can be a lot of deep-seated issues involved as well.

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The Truest Love of Badminton

But the episode really shined with the ending. Surprisingly, it was Aragaki that ended up being able to help Hanesaki out of her slump. It was mentioned a couple times toward the end of the episode, but the two really aren’t all that dissimilar. Aragaki is someone that Hanesaki had defeated on the climb toward greatness. For that climb, Aragaki must have seemed like a stepping stone to be conquered on the way to some goal.

HANEBADO and its constant emotional confrontations make for amazing exposition.
Aragaki and Hanesaki love badminton more than anyone else in HANEBADO, even if they won’t admit it | Image: Crunchyroll

For Aragaki, she felt the weight of becoming that stepping stone and yearned to change. But both girls were still operating in a strange mental state of conquering those around them without regard for their own love for the sport. Rather than let their passion guide them toward competitive success, they forced it. In doing so, they both actually ended up performing worse than their best and hurting themselves all the while doing it.

For the series long term, we’re slowly learning about other schools. Serigaya is a student at another top badminton program elsewhere. Now that Hanesaki and Aragaki are entering a better mental state, they’re finally ready to look outward. HANEBADO has timed its exposition such that each event moves the tensions of the story from internal to external. Initially, it was all about reconciling the match that opened the series. Now that the team has united their passion and drive, that energy can go elsewhere. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing even more explanation before the story branches out to other schools and students. However, if the anime keeps up this spectacular pace and style, it’s likely those stories will end up just as complex and wonderfully fulfilling.

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A Satisfying Saga in HANEBADO!

This episode had some of the least actual badminton playing, but still was incredible. That alone is a testament to the way that HANEBADO creates a great anime. On top of being led by a nearly entirely female cast, the story is complex and layered. We’re seeing characterization at a level that decades-old anime take several seasons to get at. This isn’t some lazy 6-minute backstory just for filling time. HANEBADO is setting the bar for exploring a character incredibly high. The anime times and integrates flashbacks so well that it feels like I’m watching two parallel stories rather than the main one and some extra. The information we got today was somehow both deep and subtle. The series shows rather than tells, allowing the viewer to make natural connections and move upon the path of exposition in a way that feels just like thinking.

Today’s episode was just as good as the last. Many still have doubts about HANEBADO’s staying power in terms of animation quality and intense storytelling. But it’s been three weeks, and I’ve remained excited and impressed every week. This is showing out to be one of, if not the, best new anime of the summer!

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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2 Comments

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    July 16, 2018 at 11:12 pm

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