Episode 4

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Hanebad! ?

For the first half of this episode, most of the drama that defined the previous episodes seems to have dissipated. All the heady work it took to make Aragaki agreeable and get Hanesaki on the team seems to have been worth it. Honestly, the opening scene of these girls just being chummy with each other, acting as friendly teammates, was a relief. It definitely helps to highlight the point that Hanesaki joining the team was a good thing for her, and it's strengthened by getting a peek at her reactions to these new friends. She seems to genuinely value the teammates that were such an intense ordeal for her to attain, and she wants to strengthen and maintain those relationships.

That's a good point to make clear after the previous episodes were so uncertain about Hanesaki's agency in joining the team. In fact, this episode seems to go out of its way to finally give some spotlight time to Hanesaki beyond her being coerced by Elena or intimidated by Aragaki. Granted, part of that is achieved by the show conspiring to actually send her away from her teammates so she can meet a new character with an impetus for drama, but it's an appreciated effort all the same. What works the most about this direction for Hanesaki is that her new motivation doesn't come out of nowhere; we'd seen before that she only played badminton for her mom before, so a ‘team’ is something she's never had before. Hearing her specifically say she ‘wants’ to win and be part of the team should dispel any lingering concerns that she's being dragged into the sport against her will.

Even with Hanesaki finally getting some focus, the other members of the team still get plenty to do. This episode introduces a rival team for them, a sports-show staple where a serious professional group contrasts with the more ragtag group we know the Kitakomachi team to be. The contrast works effectively as it should, and there are some strong snippets of character acting that do well to communicate the tense sense of shared history that Aragaki and others have with this rival team. There also seems to be some internal intrigue building on the team as well, with some sort of connection between the players Hayama and Sora, possibly relating to Sora's odd attitude throughout this episode. Honestly, just the teases of this plot we got were the most interesting for me, as I found myself genuinely curious about what kind of story this will eventually lead to, contrasting against the more contrived drama the rival team was bringing to the foreground.

Indeed, after the fifteen-minute reprieve, Hanebado!'s more divisive melodrama kicks back into gear again. One warning sign is the unexpectedly ‘coincidental’ way the other team happens to be present for Kitakomachi's training camp, but as Hanesaki ventures out and meets their ace, it starts to feel like one dramatic coincidence too many, especially this early in the show before all the background stakes have even been laid out. It's obvious from the start that Connie is the mysterious star player for the other school, but the way her and Hanesaki skirt around each others' schools, sports, and even names until the exact right moment means that and Connie's accompanying personality shift lands more perfunctorily than with any real intensity. Connie's attitude 180 also switches her into the same unpleasant box that it feels like we just got done slogging through with Aragaki, so that's a step backwards as well. Many other sports shows find time for friendly rivals alongside the more outright antagonists, and Hanebado! continues to need a bit more levity to balance its dourness.

That sense of manufacturing drama extends to the badminton game played in this episode, forming a neat microcosm of the show's core problems. The match does prove to be interesting, and I definitely want to see how its cliffhanger ending resolves. However, it only got to that point because Connie set up its unique ‘two players against one’ premise. By having to implement a ‘gimmick’ into the game to make this match interesting, it comes off like Hanebado! doesn't have confidence in the entertainment value of its focal sport. There are plenty of interest points that could come out of seeing the players directly oppose each other, as in many other sports anime. Given that this is the first ‘big’ badminton match we've really seen since the show's beginning, it might have been better for the series to make it more traditional. The setup at least does feed into Connie's point about not believing in teams, forming a thematic link to Hanesaki's own thoughts in this episode, but there would have been a way to show that in the game without Connie's unsubtle choice to play doubles as a single.

Trying too hard for dramatic intensity continues to be Hanebado!'s biggest issue, and it stuck out too much this week for me to give the episode an easy pass on its other strengths. The series continues to look great, communicating points of how badminton games are played that other series might need to explain more in dialogue. And I'm very down with Hanesaki's character development and the ensemble elements building up behind the scenes. I just wish the show believed in those same strengths enough to quit overcompensating with so much manufactured melodrama.

Rating: C+

Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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