by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
I feel like I might have been overly hard on Hanebado! for its choice of tone. Starting out, the series seemed to have an issue with consistency, but at this point it's becoming more apparent that Hanebado! is simply interested in extremes. The dramatic lows are extremely low, filled with trauma and serious ruminations over the focal sport, contrasted with highs that are similarly elevated on the spectrum, with exciting moments in games and heartening team dynamics growing onscreen. Once you get acclimated to the show's particular emotional rhythm, many of its extreme elements go down easier, and this episode does a good job selling that style.
First of all, the contrived setup for the two-on-one game against Connie does end up paying off well after all. I'm interested in the elements of how doubles badminton can be played, like seeing the way the coach set up Hanesaki and Izumi's defenses to deal with Connie and get Hanesaki's head more in the game. The contrasts of play styles are interesting too; Connie's high-power smash feels more like the trademark ability you'd expect from a protagonist in a series like this, compared to Hanesaki's emphasis on returning the shuttlecock from all angles. It results in a very ‘unstoppable force meets immovable object’ feeling to the match, and even if large swaths of it are glossed over out of necessity, it makes for an exciting watch.
Having an actual competitive match that feels like the win or loss will mean something ends up finally delivering that sports-story excitement, which Hanebado! was rather lacking until now. There were a few particular scores in the game that got me pumping my fist and cheering, while some misses had me cringing. That's a sign of a good sports show, and it also works as a microcosm of the emotional extreme elements that pervade the whole show. And of course, the complexity of the game's purpose works in its favor by the end, with Connie's teammate Tagajo having to save her at the last minute, resulting in her ‘losing’ at making her point even if she technically won the game. Still, the effects on Hanesaki's character provide the meatier developments.
There is still a lot to unpack for these characters, especially Hanesaki as she's gotten to be the focus of this little storyline. After not getting much on her previously, she's proven to be an extremely complex character with messy motivations, emotions, and backstory. It's easy to simply praise the development we've seen in her; wanting to win and be part of the team is a positive growth she's made from her previous inactive self-seclusion. But that drive proves to have a dark side in this episode, as we see that the way her mother abandoned her due to her previous loss, instilling a fear that other people, including her new teammates, will do the same. If you're still not down with the melodramatic elements of this series, the points touched on this week will probably turn you off even more. I think I've gotten to be fine with it, especially since it's handled well in this particular case, but this is still some of the headier stuff the story's dealt with.
In particular, everything we continue to get about Hanesaki's mother only gets bleaker, even by this show's serious standards. Some of what's shown in flashbacks in this episode practically paint the way she raised her daughter as some sort of badminton-based abuse, and Hanesaki's various emotional reactions in the present reinforce how deeply it affected her. The reveal that Bad Mom immediately abandoned Hanesaki after her loss and adopted a new prodigy to vicariously win through, as Connie turns out to be the girl from the magazine Hanesaki saw, presents her in an even more callous light. Hanesaki's reaction at the end of this episode indicates that the intense drama around her mother is just ramping up as a focal point of the series, and while it is interesting, it still feels too dour for a show that's otherwise about the positive power of team-building through badminton.
Those positive elements all land well this week, providing the relief from those intense lows we needed. Izumi proves to be a great teammate for Hanesaki throughout, and Sora's particular dressing-down of her aloof ‘ace’ status seems to help in its own way. The show's best use of the lighter elements actually comes from Connie though, as the antagonist's sullen reaction to her hollow win is interrupted by the dynamic entry of her teammate Tagajo, cutting the tension and providing the silliest laugh of the episode. The bouncy bathtime fanservice montage that follows is more out of place, but it's also par for Hanebado!'s extreme tonal shift course at this rate.
So the show is still all over the place, but it has settled into a rhythm that inclines me to be more lenient on its style. Speaking of style, Hanebado!'s still got plenty of that, with great badminton animation and top-notch directorial choices this episode. I'd be hard-pressed to recommend Hanebado! for everyone, but it's doing its own thing in its own way, remaining interesting and attractive despite its intense emotional priorities.
Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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