by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
I feel like I should stress how much the level of the production on Hanebado factors into my elevated grading of its episodes. We're six episodes in, and the show still just looks great, with fluid movement and exacting attention to detail. It's not all focused on the badminton games themselves either, with this episode including things like a detailed animation loop of characters just watching the game. This episode is a spotlight on secondary character Riko, and the nerves she's dealing with are communicated through a litany of elements, with everything from her sweat to the way her breathing is animated wordlessly detailing her tension.
Riko's focal story rides that production wave to probably Hanebado's best singular outing yet. Though framed as part of the Kitakomachi team entering the tournament prelims, Riko's part is self-contained, with her discussing her goals as a third-year player with Aragaki and the stumbling block of potentially not being strong enough to stand up to Nozomi, the ace she's matched against in the tournament. These types of skill and talent gaps are of course present in real-world sports as well as stories based on them, and Riko is painfully aware of where she stands. Acknowledging the feelings and struggles of the ‘middle’ characters who aren't exceptional makes for an interesting one-off storyline in a show that's been focusing on the more skilled characters until now.
Riko's story is further affected by the now ever-present question of which tone Hanebado will land on each week. For once in its roller-coaster run, the show lands somewhere in the middle between surprising optimism and soul-crushing melodrama. Riko starts out her match seemingly stretched to her breaking point with those aforementioned nerves, to say nothing of the dour emotional conflict she's come into with her friend Aragaki. But then a surprisingly effective pep-talk from the coach sets her on the right path, and the turnaround is as engaging as it should be. The direction and music swell, and we get a unique take on the sport through Riko's analysis of how to beat her opponent. It's neat to get such a different look at the game for this episode, which works more because we know what kind of character Riko is, her analytical mind giving way easily to sports-anime explanations.
It all leads to this central match becoming a cool arms race of techniques between Riko and Nozomi, providing the ups and downs that make for a good sports anime experience. This also features some of the more appreciable uses of Hanebado's uneven emotional elements. The spat that Riko and Aragaki are going through gets resolved mid-game in a way that's expectedly melodramatic, but satisfyingly so in this case. Between that and the other parts of Riko's one-game arc this episode, Hanebado could still be accused of propelling itself through too-obvious emotional manipulation, but it proves that it can do this well on its own terms.
Riko's arc props everything up this episode, because there's not much else going on. Hanesaki's inherently nasty story only gets brief flashes of setup here, with her mother putting in a surprise appearance. I'm not sure how excited I am for that development, as everything we know about Bad Mom so far could threaten to overtake any hope of levity this show may have moving forward. There is an entertaining little subplot about the team's new uniforms, so some comic relief is still present, but not to the overly-absurd degree of the end of last week's episode. And the way Riko's situation bleeds over into conversations of other cast members does a good job of keeping everyone somewhat involved in the show's story.
And through it all, I just can't stress enough how excellent this episode looks. Maybe it's more surprising just because this is ostensibly a back-up episode between major story segments focusing on a secondary character, but I was routinely blown away by the level of detail they worked to include. Whether it was the dust particles animated in the melancholy scene in Riko's room or the excellent character acting from the club advisor over the uniforms, this one never let up even when I thought it could stand to take it easy. There's still a little odd breast-bouncing animation present as well as a couple minor instances of too-obvious rotoscoping, but this remains a prime example of a strong production elevating an effective story.
The ultimate lesson of Riko's game makes Hanebado a winner this week, despite her loss. As with other nebulous victories and losses in the show so far, Riko's hard-fought loss being so invigorating speaks to the show's true message; as she says “I knew it. Badminton is really fun!” For all the drama inherent to Hanesaki's situation and the win-or-else philosophy that Bad Mom instilled in her, it seems like the story is ultimately rallying against the win/loss binary in favor of simply getting something out of each experience you put yourself through. For all the upcoming melodrama on the horizon, this episode was a stellar encapsulation of that simple theme.
Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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