by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Can I just say it's nice that Hanebado still looks really good after all this time? Obviously a series that sold itself on its visual excess would be expected to keep that up, but the realities of anime production are what they are, so I wouldn't have been surprised to see some sort of slip. But the continuing match between Ayano and Nagisa keeps bringing its A-game, with all the detailed sweat, smooth movement and playing motions, and some cool moving-camera shots keeping things fresh and dynamic. This episode is all badminton, so in between the emotional aspects powering the characters' development, which basically also encompasses the entire plot at this point, making the game itself fun to watch is a boon to the presentation.
The animation in the show is still doing an excellent job of depicting all the actions of the players, but due to the extreme technicality on display between these two, the presentation has shifted a bit. Basically, Hanebado feels a lot closer to a ‘traditional’ sports anime in this episode, with each play of the game given the time and weight of a blow in a fight, characters on the sidelines reacting and explaining them for the audience as we go. That all works in this case, stretching things out in a way that increases tension without feeling too artificial, and making sure the badminton-inexperienced of us at home know absolutely what is going on moment-to-moment. This match is wrapped in the strong conceit it slowly emerges as: A war of attrition between Ayano's depleting stamina and Nagisa's at-risk knee. That's solid set up resulting in a great game of badminton to watch, regardless of how much you're buying into the increasingly stagnant dramatic portions.
Those emotional characterization elements are, however par for the course for this show, continuingly muddled. Let's just start with likely the biggest sticking point: Elena's conversation with Uchika. There's been a lot of speculation regarding the potential for a reveal of why Ayano's mom actually left her after that infamous loss. It was always a possibility that the show would explain that Uchika abandoned her daughter not simply because she was disappointed in her failure, but because she took issue with the attitude she saw Ayano playing badminton with, blaming herself for instilling that motivation in her. That is indeed what comes out here, but less than trying to play it off as redemptive or cause for forgiveness, the show instead opts to do hardly anything at all with this information for the time being.
Uchika's conversation with Elena is callously one-sided, with Bad Mom admitting that she knows her abusive parenting and coaching choices were wrong, and the direct cause of Ayano's current maladjusted state. However, she repeatedly punctuates her confessions by excusing herself in the next breath. She genuinely seems to believe that everything she put her daughter through was ‘worth it’ if she comes out with a hardcore appreciation for badminton as a result, and my worry is that I'm not sure how much the writing is actually condemning her for that mindset. It's exceptionally frustrating that Uchika's whole spiel garners no response or rebuttal from Elena, beyond a renewed internal reflection on how much damage she did by pushing her friend into badminton when all these parental points were weighing on her. If there was any doubt before, Uchika's character has definitively landed in irredeemable territory now, her scene here seeming only to confirm that for the audience so we could quit worrying about if Ayano should make up with her and instead root for her to move forward.
Ayano's continuously-stalled non-development is the other side of the coin that is this show's character-development issues here. Honestly, at this point, Ayano is barely a character at all- She's been stuck against the win-at-all-costs wall for most of the series now, and her attitude is treated as simply an obstacle, a problem for Nagisa, Elena, and the other characters to solve before the plot can feel like it progressed for everyone. As exciting as the core game being played in this episode is, it's telling that the most cathartic moments for the audience are when Ayano's hubris betrays her and she messes up in a key area, or when Nagisa manages to get the best of her. There was a point in the third round when I was actively rooting for Ayano to lose without scoring a point, a poetic way to round back to her victory against Nagisa that kicked off this whole narrative.
So there's some internal conflict in the viewing when towards the end, the narrative makes a strong case for why we should still root for Ayano. It's a heartening moment that's clearly trying to play off the big important lesson of this series: Winning and losing aren't important, badminton is fun when you play your best. The cheers of luck Ayano receives from her teammates work effectively in service of that, since we've known for a while that their friendship towards her isn't dependent on her winning or losing, and hope that she can finally get that point through her head. It does create an interesting point in the setup for the finale next week, of course: It's easy for us to want to see Nagisa win for the reasons outlined above, but the narrative's been working so hard to convince us that who actually wins isn't that important. Still, I can't help but feel it's missing the mark with how lopsided the likability scale between Nagisa and Ayano is. Either way, Hanebado's other main strength has been its catharsis factor, so hopefully the release of that should be worth it for the big finish next week, win, lose, or draw.
Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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