The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
I made a few jokes about Hanebado!'s choice of sport in the run-up to this season, mostly because my experience with badminton is exclusively as a silly backyard sport to be played at barbecues. I'm impressed, then, that this opening episode was able to sell me on its competitive elements as quickly as it did. Right from the opening scene, it's clear that this series has its sights set on being a serious high school sports drama, rather than a “quirky club does nothing” comedy. It's able to deliver on that ambition for the most part, but there's room for improvement in a few areas here.
As I mentioned, the opening scene makes for a strong and effective statement of intent. Having a protagonist get his or her butt kicked in a middle school tournament is a common enough starting point in sports anime (Haikyu!! in particular comes to mind), but it's a popular plot device because it works. The loser has an obvious motivation in wanting to improve and settle the score, but the effects on the winner can be intriguing as well. Once the show moves forward into its “present day” content, Nagisa quickly becomes the driving force behind the story, pushing people away from the school badminton club with her relentless focus on winning. It's reasonably compelling stuff, but I'm more interested in the emotional floodgates that open in the final scene for both Ayano and Riko. I want to know if Ayano's past victory over Nagisa is what drove her away from the sport, or if there's something more to it. At the same time, Riko's sudden outburst after playing the quiet voice of reason throughout the episode makes me wonder if she might be hiding some personal demons of her own. Depending on how these characters are developed, there could be some strong dramatic potential here.
My concerns with this episode are mostly related to its tone. As much as I like stories that have some emotional bite to them, it feels like Hanebado! is cranking the tension up too high, too often. When scene after scene builds up to some cutting indictment of a character's personality or an intense admission of personal weakness, those moments start to lose their impact. The show needs at least a little down time to let its characters be regular people. At the same time, this episode's one big play for comedy isn't terribly encouraging. The “somebody mistakes the coach for a creep” joke has been done to death, and its cartoonish delivery here is completely at odds with the rest of the episode. If Hanebado! wants to be immersive in its storytelling, it will need to find more natural outlets for humor.
There's enough potential here to bring me back for another episode, and even with its handful of flaws this premiere is still pretty good. The main challenges for Hanebado! in the coming weeks will be developing its characters from emotional time bombs into likable protagonists and settling on a single, effective narrative approach. If it can check those boxes while maintaining the intense and kinetic feeling of this episode's badminton scenes, it should be well worth a look for genre fans.
Based on its strong staff and the previews highlighting its opening match, my expectations were pretty high for HANEBADO coming into this season. I'm happy to say this episode easily surpassed them, and made a strong case for HANEBADO being the first must-watch show of the season. From its fluid animation and great use of lighting to its relatively naturalistic and gracefully conveyed story, HANEBADO's first episode is a nearly perfect premiere, and tells a coherent story all by itself.
HANEBADO puts its best foot forward with a dramatic flashback, where we see our two heroines Nagisa and Ayano compete in a competitive badminton match. The animation all through this match is so fluid and realistic it almost seems uncanny, but the sequence also shows off HANEBADO's relentlessly active, purposeful direction. The physicality and unlikely brutality of badminton is emphasized through swooping shots that follow the momentum of the ball itself, as well as compositions that consistently emphasize the muscle strain of every movement. The sequence is executed so well that I have trouble believing HANEBADO has any chance of maintaining this standard going forward, but it's an exemplary sequence in its own right, and a strong statement of purpose for this show.
After that, the rest of this episode jumps six months ahead, to a point where Nagisa has been totally demoralized by her defeat and Ayano has given up on badminton entirely. The show doesn't oversell any of its emotional points; we learn of the current circumstances of our heroines' lives through the natural drama of club recruitment day at their school, with Nagisa's fraying relationship with her team offering a natural and very believable hook. These scenes are no less beautiful than the opening, if less luxuriously animated; HANEBADO's use of light and color is phenomenal, and its compositions always balance natural beauty against the dramatic needs of a given scene. From the lush colors of their school's flowers to the alienating saturation and long shots of their gym hallways, every mood HANEBADO strives for is captured perfectly through its visual storytelling, and solidified through fundamentally sturdy dialogue and plotting.
HANEBADO's first episode even finds the time to set up a clear thematic emphasis on the cruel nature of talent, but any exploration of that will have to wait for future episodes. For now, all I can say is this episode gets an easy, emphatic recommendation. I had quibbles with a couple choices, like the weaker comedy sequences and the new coach's apparent role in the narrative, but this episode was a beautifully realized little character drama. Definitely give it a shot.
I went into Hanebado! hoping for a stylish and well-animated sports drama about the trials and tribulations of playing badminton, and that's more or less what this series premiere delivered. The efforts of director Shinpei Ezaki and the folks at LIDEN FILMS are apparent in the fluid, exciting snippets of matches that we catch throughout the episode, leaning just far enough into stylization without coming across as ridiculous. The rest of the episode, which is mostly concerned with introducing the core cast and their badminton-adjacent motivations, gives the conversation scenes a glossy sheen of high drama that works well when you're dealing with the intense emotions of teenagers. Nagisa Aragaki makes the best impression of the premiere; where most of her fellow Badminton Club members come across as vaguely nice stock characters, Nagisa is a tightly wound ball of muscles and competitive fury, who demands grueling discipline from both her teammates and herself. While she isn't the most immediately likable of girls, I find her character type to be more interesting than the surrounding cast. Hanebado!'s premiere is at its most interesting when girls like Nagisa have to ask the tough questions about whether they're good enough to live up to the vision of athleticism they've built up in their minds, and if it's even worth it to pursue such a dream if it means driving away your friends and punishing yourself.
I'm a bit less enthused by our other protagonist, the badminton prodigy in hiding named Ayano. I'm less fond of the “jaded former star who's come back to the game” trope in general, and her scenes with Elena and Miyako meandered too much without giving the audience a strong personality to latch onto. The big reveal of Ayano's badminton/tennis skills is also a good example of the episode's directorial issues. For the majority of the premiere, Hanebado! plays like a treacly high-school drama; everything from the focused cinematography to the detailed character animation gives the series' world a sense of heightened realism. But in some scenes, especially when Ayano dramatically dives in front of Elena to smack away a speeding tennis ball, Hanebado! can't seem to decide what kind of show it wants to be. There is a cliché bit where the Badminton Club's newest advisor, the former star player Kentaro Tachibana, gets mistaken by Elena for a pervert, and the episode suddenly forces in some cartoony sight gags and comedic relief that just doesn't fit with rest of the episode's tone and style.
These tonal quirks aren't enough to ruin the episode, but I do think they detract from the overall presentation of the story. Messiness aside, I enjoyed this premiere a lot, and it looks like Hanebado! has enough aesthetic chops and solid character drama to get me interested in keeping up with the series this summer.
I'm not a fan of sports anime in general, and I've never found badminton to be interesting as anything more than a casual game, so the entry bar for this series was high for me. The first episode tried its damnedest to win me over though, so I might actually give this series a shot. This was one of the most anticipated new titles of the season, and based on this episode it's not hard to see why.
It all starts with the visuals, whose quality through much (but sadly not all) of the first episode is startlingly good. The opening match is so ambitiously animated that I have to wonder if the production staff will have the time and budget to keep it up, but most of the rest of this episode looks great too. The obsession with depicting sweat is curious, but the appealing character designs provide a strong visual draw and the light touches of fanservice aren't obtrusive enough to be a problem for those who don't care for such things. The momentum and flow of the animated matches make the sport look more interesting and dynamic than any badminton matches I've seen, and a strong musical effort also complements the visuals.
The character dynamics and drama going on here are just as interesting, however. Natsuki laments how her diligence in training isn't enough to overcome natural talent and wonders what the point of her efforts are, but she still keeps plugging away anyhow. However, Ayano is equally dubious about the point of her efforts, to the point of giving up a sport she's insanely well-suited for, so discovering the story behind those feelings is a compelling potential draw. The implication is that she doesn't get any joy out of playing competitively, but that can't be the whole story. Because of that, I'll forgive the bait-and-switch play which makes it seem like her prettier friend is the more prominent character. Both that friend and Natsuki's friend look like they could be strong supporting cast members, and I'm a little curious to see how the talented male tennis ace will figure into this.
So despite this not being my genre, Hanebado! shows a lot of promise.
There are two very different philosophies of badminton, or sports in general, really, at play in the first episode of HANEBAD. After Nagisa Aragaki's disastrous loss in a tournament to the younger Ayano, she's been driven like a demon to improve her game. She hasn't said it in so many words, but there's a clear impression that she feels humiliated by her defeat, especially since it was to a girl who was younger, smaller, and clearly less driven than she was. Now she spends her training terrorizing her school's badminton club to the point where instead of bringing in a new coach, the supervising teacher needs to just get in there and stop her. (As a note, I've only ever seen it spelled “racquet” for this particular sport, although the subtitles use “racket.”)
Meanwhile Ayano has given up the sport entirely. We don't know why, but given her outburst that it's “just a sport,” I suspect some parental involvement – perhaps they don't want her “wasting” her time on a silly game when she could be studying to get into Todai or something. Whatever the actual reason, Ayano is doing her darnedest to avoid badminton now that she's in high school. What's interesting about this is that it at first comes off as her just clinging to her childhood friend Elena; when we first see her at school, she's stuck to Elena like Velcro, and Elena's not sure that she's thrilled with the situation. Elena's more interested in the hot second-year on the tennis team than tennis, and she knows Ayano well enough to realize that that's not really her thing. That's what makes her behavior, actually dragging Ayano into the badminton club after the new coach sees her play tennis and begs her to switch sports, so uncomfortable – she's clearly not paying attention to what her friend does want. Having someone's well-being in mind only goes so far when they actively keep saying no to what you want them to do, and Elena's actions, right down to proposing a join-if-you-lose match for Ayano, leave a bad taste in my mouth.
That Ayano will join the club and eventually become friendly rivals with Nagisa seems like a foregone conclusion, so it will come down to how these events happen. I really do want it to be Ayano's unforced decision, so I'm not all that keen on watching another episode. I'm also somewhat perturbed by the way the animation is gorgeous for lower bodies – Nagisa's thigh muscles, Ayano's jump, even the coach scrabbling over the fence are all amazing – but less anatomically faithful when it comes to the upper bodies. I understand being worried about finding an audience for your badminton show, but when you compare Nagisa's chest animation with her legs, it's very incongruous. If this isn't an issue for you, or the potential forcing of Ayano to resume a sport she may not like isn't, then I do think this is worth watching. Badminton, as it turns out, isn't just something that fancy people play on their lawns in the summer.
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