Episode 7

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 7 of
Hanebad! ?

I'm not sure if I'm just coming around on this show's particular brand of sports melodrama, or if it's just coming into its own in presenting it, but I think I'm finally getting into Hanebado!. Sure, it helps once you crack the code of its roller-coaster pacing, but now that we're in a tournament storyline, actually showing badminton matches with proper stakes for a full episode, that's an advantage as well. The ‘sports’ part of this sports anime is finally getting to shine, which helps the show's strong points stand out against all the other content that could be charitably described as less enjoyable.

Perhaps it's a matter of framing. The opening and ending segments of this episode, zeroing in on Hanesaki and Kaoruko's emotional issues surrounding this match, are all the stuff we've come to expect from Hanebado!: nasty trash-talking, self-destructive excuses in the face of loss, and poor sportsmanship even after a win. Kaoruko has never been a pleasant character; in fact she's the genesis of the most outlandishly angsty plot point in the whole show. So seeing her get taken down a peg by Hanesaki should be a cathartic moment after so much tense setup. Instead, the finish lacks any satisfying resolution between her and her team, while what we get from Hanesaki is more confirmation that she's still headed down the wrong path that began with the philosophy her mother drilled into her. I can hope that this is all a tonal valley of a setup for the show to spring back with a more likable lesson on the subject of competition, but as Hanesaki's journey is more apparently going to take a full season (or more), I really have no choice but to strap in for more frightful intensity from her.

To its credit, the show does keep teasing out the potential for positive developments. There's a little stop-off with the boys of the team discussing their futures, which reinforces the forward perspective this story will need in its long run. And as all the games have gone, there's a definite focus on encouraging all these kids in their lowest moments that makes those themes more clear. It just might be nice if they didn't focus so heavily on the misery-porn elements along the way.

But once the main match gets going this week, Hanebado! is once again at its best. That lead-up does set the intense tone of the Hanesaki/Kaoruko rematch effectively, though it noticeably lacks much of the pronounced moody visual flair that was so impressive in Riko's story last week. But then we quickly get back in gear once the actual game starts up. Was Hanebado! just conserving its visual energy out of animation economics, or did it really want to make sure we were focusing more on the badminton-game action in this episode than the painful emotional pandering? It's hard to say (since the show's consistently looked great regardless), but the shift in focus absolutely works regardless.

One strength of Hanebado!'s presentation (up until a few episodes ago) was the emphasis on how its detailed animation could communicate the way gameplay without the need for detailed commentary, a rare feat for sports anime. However, this match brings in more of that analytical descriptiveness demonstrated by Riko last episode, this time courtesy of Kaoruko. The series is at least aware of the parallel between them, as Riko is the one to notice and relays her own take on those analyses to the audience. And similar to that last match, the inclusion of this commentary works in the episode's favor, since it's still in-character for the player involved and the level of detail is interesting. I've come to appreciate the level of strategizing in badminton that Hanebado! depicts, the kind that you might not think about in a rally-based sport like this. The secret strength of sports-anime greats like Haikyuu!! is how they explain their plays in a way that makes watching the games more exciting, because you gain more insight into why the players are taking their actions in increasingly surprising ways. At the same time, Hanebado! also knows when to let those plays just wordlessly happen instead, confident that we can see the talent on display. There are terrific shots of quick ends to volleys in this episode, or a mesmerizing slow zoom-in on the girls rallying back and forth, which do an excellent job of representing an exciting real sports match.

The psychological aspects of the sport do continue to worm their way into the more reflexive entertainment of just watching the game; Hanebado! definitely seems as interested in the mental points of playing against someone as the physical. That's an interesting angle at least, and some parts of it are certainly clever. There's the layered power-move symbolism of Hanesaki tying Kaoruko's mocking gift of a sweat-rag into her mother's distinctive hair-tie design, and a multi-flashback fake-out with a cross-up play at the end that got me pretty good. It's that intensely unsatisfying resolution to everything at the end that mostly brings me back to why some dramatic elements of Hanebado! don't quite work. But by mostly just focusing on the game for this episode, the show did right by itself for now.

Rating: B+

Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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