Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Hanebado

Original Run: July 2, 2018 - October 1, 2018
Number of Episodes: 13
Genre: Sports
Based on the Series Created By: Kousuke Hamada

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Hanebado. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

In badminton, competitors must have lightning fast reflexes, rock solid stamina, and the fortitude to stand against strong opponents. It is a sport anyone can play, but only a few will ever master it.

That said, a person would have quite the advantage if they were trained by the world’s best player since childhood.

Ayano Hanesaki (voiced by Hitomi Owada) is the daughter of the former world champion. Therefore, badminton has been her life. Or, at least, it was.

Upon entering high school, Ayano chose to abandon her passion and no longer wishes to compete. To her dismay, Ayano’s desire to give the sport up for good is challenged when she meets the members of her school’s badminton club and its ace captain Nagisa Aragaki (voiced by Miyuri Shimabukuro).

After some resistance, Ayano once again picks up her racket. However, the reason she put it down in the first place continues to haunt her already damaged psyche.

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Series Positives

In all the anime I’ve seen, I’m surprised by badminton’s lack of representation (along with table tennis). Admittedly, I’m not entirely clear how popular the sport is in Japan. Although it may be unfounded, my impression is, it’s decently big. At the very least, there have to be more professional Japanese players then there are American ones — probably.

Regardless, when starting Hanebado, it felt like it was our long overdue badminton-centric sports anime.

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I had an absolute blast with this series. It was a ton of fun. Be that as it may, my god, it had a ton of problems. If you sat me down and listed off every single issue with Hanebado, you wouldn’t hear me arguing. Nevertheless, I still liked it; I liked it a lot.

Hanebado had the misfortune of only being thirteen episodes long. With everything it tried to pack into its limited space, it could have filled double the runtime with room to spare. To this series’ credit, it never had a moment or subplot that was individually bad. However, some things were far more interesting than others.

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For a sports anime — more so than most other types of shows — the animation cannot be lacking. During a match, a meet, or a tournament, there is constant movement, intensity, and struggle. To put it bluntly, for a sports series to really work, it needs to be able to get a non-fan excited.

For someone who knows badminton, they already appreciate the effort players put into each game. After all, competitors are running at a full sprint constantly, they need to make split-second decisions, and they must employ perfect hand-eye coordination to a small, fast-moving target to stand any chance at returning an opponent’s shot.

Badminton takes as much dedication as any other sport.

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Therefore, how do you convey that to someone who only knows badminton as a simple backyard-barbecue activity instead of the Olympic-grade event that it is? I’m not sure if there is an answer to that question, but Hanebado did a pretty damn good job at giving one.

Every single match in this series — and by the end, there were a lot — had me glued to the screen. The journey from beginning to end may have been all over the place (more on that later), but the ride itself was outstanding. Then, as luck would have it, that thrilling sensation which permeated throughout this show culminated into a frighteningly awesome (you’d be surprised) climax.

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Along with quality visuals, Hanebado, like any other decent sports story, found a balance between developing its characters off and on the court.

Outside of competition was when this show’s players were at their antsiest. Some were going through debilitating personal slumps, and others were going through…much worse.

When it came time to play, Hanebado was one of those sports anime that didn’t do things for recreation. Every match had something on the line. In turn, the characters always needed to pull out their A-game.

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To illustrate their desire to win, most of the players in this series could contort their face into a glare that screamed, “I’m going to murder you now, and I will enjoy every second of it.”

Speaking of murder, that segues me into the two best aspects of Hanebado: Nagisa Aragaki and Ayano Hanesaki. Depending on which character this series decided to focus on, we got two vastly different shows.

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With Nagisa, Hanebado was the sports anime one might expect.

For most of her life, Nagisa had only thought about badminton. She loved the sport dearly and put everything she had into becoming the best. Her efforts weren’t for nothing.

Nagisa was a highly skilled player who was always a significant contender in tournaments. The highest levels of badminton were within her reach. The downside to this was her ambitions made her narrow-minded. She had a play style that she risked everything on. When her go-to strategy failed, she quickly spiraled off course.

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Nagisa’s story was about her learning how to diversify her move sets. She could no longer afford to be predictable. For her, understanding badminton required more forethought, not brute strength, was vital.

At the end of this series, Nagisa had grown into a far more formidable challenger. The path she took to get to her next level would have made any sports anime worth watching. Nagisa was the time-tested character type that allows this kind of story to be meaningful.

That said, it wasn’t Nagisa who made Hanebado a one-of-a-kind beast.

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When the focus was on Ayano, that was when this series shifted from sports to psychological-horror-lite. I am not joking, Ayano could be downright terrifying. This what-the-hell-am-I-watching feeling made Ayano the best thing about this show.

It is important to remember that a character with bad personality traits is not the same as a bad character. Ayano was rude, cocky, and looked down on everyone who she perceived as lower than her. This was by design, and this series revolved around her poor attitude.

Adding to that, this was the type of character Ayano became.

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I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a sports anime showcase the rise of its – I’m just going to say it – main villain. There came the point where the once soft-spoken, friendly Ayano snapped. From then on, her descent into further and deeper madness straddled the line between tragic and absurdly entertaining.

Hanebado was at its most interesting when Ayano was its focus. Her story was well-defined. There were reasons why she became the way she did.

Unfortunately, this was a double-edged sword. When a series has as strong an element as Ayano, the stuff surrounding it quickly become irrelevant. I wish Hanebado had realized that.

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Series Negatives

Hanebado only started to get really fun after episode three. Before we reached episode four, there was a ton of avoidable nonsense to get through.

For example, Ayano was dead set on not joining the badminton club. Instead of bothering to ask why she wanted to ignore the sport she had an overwhelming talent for, everyone ignored Ayano’s concerns and assumed that forcing her to get on board was best.

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Once that was out of the way, this series could finally move on. The problem was, rather than moving forward in one direction, Hanebado decided to do everything.

At times, this was a sports anime. Other times, it was a person’s fall to madness. Then it was a screwball comedy, a school-life show, a teenage romance, or a family drama. Hanebado had difficulty with sticking to a mood.

There was a scene where a character was lamenting on her disappointing performance. She had talked a big game but was unable to follow through. After some self-reflection, a teammate came in to comfort her friend. It was a touching moment when suddenly — LOL, let’s have touchy-feely time in the girl’s bathhouse.

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Branching off from that — with the sole exception being Nagisa’s storyline (barely) — if there was something not connected with Ayano, it was hard to care.

For instance, an unbelievably crucial development occurred in Ayano’s life. It drastically changed the path she was going down. One could argue it was among the most critical turning points of the entire show. Naturally, this was the perfect time for Hanebado to back-burner this, and instead, focus on the badminton club’s male members who I didn’t even know had names.

Yes show, that was the right call. Thank you for that.

Lastly, this series had an incredible talent of making its cast look like oblivious buffoons. Hanebado would make a scene so crystal clear for us, the audience, but since the characters weren’t privy to the same information we had, there was always an awkward disconnect.

A blind person could have seen Ayano’s sudden transformation into the emotionless husk of her former self. Her mannerisms, choice of words, and actual physical appearance changed. Nevertheless, her teammates, including Ayano’s best friend since childhood, failed to notice the switch until it was far too late.

If I’m honest, part of the reason why Hanebado was so entertaining — beyond the exciting badminton matches and Ayano — was due to its utter lack of awareness.

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Final Thoughts

There were a lot of good things in this series. Fun matchups and interesting characters helped define this show as a stand out sports anime.

However, this was by no means perfect.

There were plenty of moments when this series wanted to do as much as possible but failed to realize it had overextended itself well beyond what could — or rather, should — be handled.

All that notwithstanding, at the end of the day, it would be a lie to say this show wasn’t a blast. And do you know what? I would love it if we got a season two.

Hanebado is one I definitely recommend.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Hanebado? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

Post Editor: Onions

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