by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 13 of
All's well that ends well, right? That seems to be the overall thesis statement for this last episode of Hanebado. For all the heartache that dragged on along with occasional physical trauma our characters suffered in trying to reroute Hanesaki's askew mental state, the story at least has the good graces to end with her and the others actually in a good place. As usual for Hanebado, a lot of the elements getting there are uneven, and not always agreeable with the audience. In fact, its own long-standing message of what the reason for playing badminton should be itself gets muddled along the way, which was a surprising stumble. But even then, the rest of the match as we see played, the outcome, and what it does for the characters, all comes off as satisfying. Mostly.
The best part, of course, continues to be the actual presentation of Ayano and Nagisa's big game. There's just one more segment of over-explained sports-anime styles towards the beginning, hinging on the big reveal of Ayano's ambidextrousness. I didn't comment on this last-second revelation last episode because I didn't fully have a handle on the implications of what was actually going on, so in this case I'm grateful for the in-series audience going into detail on it. The idea, that Ayano has always been ambidextrous but chose to play exclusively left-handed due to it being an advantage in Badminton, is a bit out-there compared to how the show has presented itself until now. Ayano suddenly choosing to switch between hands during plays to create even more unbeatable shuttlecock-direction mix-ups rings closer to the outrageous ‘special powers’ you might see in less-grounded sports anime. It works as a major stakes-raising device for the finale, but may be incongruous if you were more used to the outrageous extremes in Hanebado being emotional ones rather than physical tricks.
But then it's hard to argue with that choice when the result is the last stretch of this game being so cool to watch. Ayano's change-up really demonstrates how a single shift in a strategy like that can change the whole direction of momentum in a match. The animation of the characters and the direction truly sells how the game starts swinging away from Nagisa, punctuated by the now-genuinely-painful shots of her increasingly-pressured knee. The explanations are pretty much done after that ambidextrous change-up, and instead we get a montage of points, building to a rip-roaring rock-music-backed crescendo into overtime, and then...silence. It's a pointedly jarring switch, after that loud bombastically-animated battle to suddenly cut to stark lineart backed just by the sound of the two players' breathing. It makes clear how over-the-limit these characters suddenly are, and perfectly leads into the truly shocking finish.
If I am being honest though, that finish very nearly misses the mark in its outrageousness, for me anyway. Hanesaki losing due to her racquet flying out of her hand toes the line very closely between a “Holy crap I can't believe that just happened” reaction and one of mere unintentional humor. I guess all that sweat the characters have been pouring out throughout this series really did turn out to be an issue! Still, it does make for a perfectly one-of-a-kind ending to this insane game, so I'd say it fits overall. A lot of that could have to do with my relief at Nagisa being the one to win, as well.
That brings up the core issue of characterization this game has in its setup. In this episode in particular, the narrative strongly seems to push the idea of rooting for both Nagisa and Ayano, with their teammates explicitly voicing this at one point. The problem is that as much as we may want to see Ayano rehabilitated any way possible, she simply hasn't been likable enough for much of the series to wish for her to win, especially at Nagisa's expense. The story trying to push the idea of fighting for victory being relatively unimportant also clashes with the presentation of this episode. Seeing the storytelling revel in a match played to the breaking point between two characters desperate to win would seem at odds with that lesson. Though perhaps it jibes better with the concept of trying as hard as you can, regardless of if you win, being the most important element of playing a sport. It's just hard to justify that level of excess when genuine dangers, like Nagisa's knee, are on the table.
The other dissonance comes, predictably, from the writing's final word on Uchika. The previous episode was frustrating in how it plainly laid out how awful her treatment of her daughter was, but refused to take her to task for it. That feeling of an unearned excuse is present in Uchika's scene with Ayano in this episode. It does seem the intent is to show how much Ayano has leveled off in the wake of her loss to Nagisa, so having her go forward with her previously-planned hardcore rejection of her mother admittedly would fly in the face of that development. But it also means that Uchika gets off with an entirely neutral borderline-acceptance of her nature. That rings as extremely unsatisfying after she's acted as such a key originator of all the attitude drama that was such a sometimes-unnecessary source of tension throughout the show.
But then, the point really is ‘all's well that ends well’. Hanesaki does seem to have finally learned the proper lesson of badminton from her match with Nagisa, who also gets the proper treatment for her knee just in time. It's appreciable that Ayano's small gestures of thanks to her teammates are met with a response of “that's a big turnaround” from them, acknowledging what an overt personality shift she's finally undergone from having the story's lessons hammered into her as hard as possible. She even gets to finally return Elena's apology in the first endearing scene the character has had in a while. I definitely feel like Hanebado ended up running a few episodes more than it needed to, which diluted its themes as we approached the end here. But it resulted in strong thematic storytelling and developments I was happy to see play out, so despite the rocky road it took to get there, I'd say I enjoyed it overall.
Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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