by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
I think Hanebado has covered its themes well up to this point. There was a lot of trepidation in the earlier days of the show, when it was unclear how much it was glorifying the self-destructive elements of how Ayano was taught to play badminton. But the series has taken an interesting turn with Ayano since then, as how she handles her mounting issues now frames her in more of an antagonistic light than Nagisa seemed to be at the beginning of the show. But even with the series seemingly leading up to the point that Ayano winning her big rematch against Nagisa potentially being a bad thing, the way the show vacillates between this self-destructive behavior and the thrill of an earned victory can still be whiplash-inducing. With that in mind, this episode right before that big match seeks to answer the audience's big question: “What is the point of playing badminton?”
The answer finds itself split between two sections of the Kitakomachi team, first the girls' side around Nagisa and Ayano, and then later the more neglected boys' part of the team. Nagisa's portion is focused on the still-pressing issue of her knee and whether it can stand up to another game as intense as a match against Ayano so soon. That concern over possible injury and the risks she's taking give Nagisa an element of audience engagement that might be missing from the emotionless Badminton Terminator of Ayano, making it as strong a plot as this show has yet delivered. We can see how the choice to pull out of the match for her safety would affect things on multiple levels, potentially denying Ayano the rematch she so craves and going against Nagisa's desire to prove herself as well. As Coach Tachibana explains, it's not even a match that needs playing, as both girls will advance to the nationals anyway, so it seems mere pride is the only thing driving them to play it. The choice is symbolized in one scene where Nagisa literally finds herself at a crossroads, proving again that this show is not subtle.
But the show could stand to be more blatant in regards to Ayano's recently-returned mother. Uchika's presence is certainly driving Ayano to want to show off in this big match against Nagisa, showing again that her insistence that she's abandoned concern for her mother is a blatant lie. But the narrative still seems to be playing coy in its opinion of Uchika's treatment of Ayano (and to some extent Connie). Bad Mom is depicted as almost entirely fixated on whether Ayano has gotten good at badminton, essentially offering to let Ayano back into her life depending on her winning ability. It's awful to any outside observer, but perhaps I'm just getting impatient for a clear rebuke from the story. Thus far there's the possibility that Hanebado! really thinks the worst thing Uchika did was leave Ayano after her one loss, with little time spent ruminating on how badly her abusive coaching messed up her daughter. It's frustratingly that we still have to wait to see how this plays out, probably until the end of the series.
All of this stands in relief against the second half of the episode with the boys' side of the team. Hayama and Isehara have always been around, with their briefly-shown rivalry used a couple of times to demonstrate what a ‘healthy’ relationship might look like compared to what Ayano and Nagisa have going on. And there were of course hints that Ebina was interested in Hayama, so her viewpoint drives this vignette and becomes useful for other reasons by the end. The two boys basically get to continue being an example of what Nagisa and Ayano's issues might look like through a healthier lens, though Hayama's story also has some parallels to Riko's from earlier in the series.
Yes it's the old talent vs training yarn again, this time as it applies to the bigger issues our main characters are dealing with. There is some strong material for the characters being used, of course, as we're shown that Hayama was actually the one who got Isehara into badminton, only for his skills and popularity in the game to end up surpassing him. But Hayama doesn't seem to blame Isehara for his own abilities and ends up coming away from his loss with the same lesson others in this show have learned time and time again: playing badminton the best way you can, win or loss, is its own reward.
That's ‘the point of playing badminton’ that Ebina and the audience are shown by the end of this episode. That overall perspective has been what makes Hanebado! such an unconventional sports story. It's not as invigorating as watching straight wins or losses pile up, but through characters like Ayano, the anime seems intent on demonstrating how a focus on that dichotomy can be toxic to a person's character, while a ‘love of the game’ approach is more appreciable; it's clear that understanding this turns Ebina's disposition around. This episode was repeating itself in terms of that overarching theme, but I still think we needed it on the eve of the big Nagisa/Ayano match. Even if Nagisa has decided to play anyway, she's doing it for herself and her love of the game, and that's what really matters.
Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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