Episode 9

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Hanebad! ?

Hanebado! this week presents us with a tale of two Ayanos. Hanesaki's brutality in her badminton the past few episodes has done a good job demonstrating just how deeply her mental rejection of her mother has affected her, even as it perhaps makes her as less and less endearing to the audience. This episode spends the first half pulling back and showing us what Ayano can be like when she isn't concentrating on badminton. It might even do this job too well, as after seeing how entertaining a ‘relaxed’ Ayano can be, it stings even more when the Badminton Terminator inevitably comes back. But that's almost certainly the point of the episode.

Surprisingly, the genesis of this pointedly relaxed break on the eve of the tournament's next stage is Connie. As much of a harbinger of intensity as she's been before, the show has done well not to take Connie too seriously. Last time we saw her was during that outrageous bath time scene with her teammates, while this week sees her dramatic entrance to the Kitakomachi practice session deflated almost as soon as it happens. That her desired affirming rematch with Ayano is interrupted by something as inconsequential as a broken keychain is a further sign that this is not an aspect of the story we're meant to take too seriously. However, that broken keychain proves to be an insight into Ayano's true character, and how she (and Connie) may turn out for the better if they can escape the shared shadow of the woman who raised them.

Ayano's Wei-Wei keychain has been a fixture since the beginning of the show, but there was never a detailed explanation for it. Was this some sort of keepsake of her departed mother? A treasured memento of a more fulfilling past she had? We don't get any real explanation this episode beyond that it's a character she really likes, but the simplicity of its presentation, to say nothing of how well Ayano's voice actress handles the adorable tragedy of the Wei-Wei keychain's demise, easily turns it into an endearing element. The whole day that she, Connie, Elena, and Shiwahime spend at the event for the silly whale character turns out to be a "what-if" window for these girls. Ayano has always been a character we at least feel bad for given what we've seen of her upbringing, but now we get a solid look at the girl when she isn't consumed by the thought of badminton. She's a cheerful teen who loves Wei-Wei and happily spends time with her friends when she can.

These whale-shark mascot antics are easily the furthest from consequential that Hanebado! has ever been. It's interesting to see that the series can effectively handle the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ angle seen in less thematically overbearing sports shows, as these characters prove capable of spending amicable time with each other. Whether it makes you miss the more intense elements of the show or not, this episode gets the job done of endearing us to this Happy Hanesaki properly, so we're even more torn up when she inevitably destroys her emotions playing badminton again. Hanebado! has always been decidedly unsubtle in playing with the audience's emotions, but it's hard to complain about when it does work well dramatically.

It turns out that Hanebado! can tell other stories without spelling them out through simple badminton matches. The replacement Wei-Wei keychain that Connie fails multiple times to give to Ayano underscores more of what we're learning about her own relationship with Bad Mom Uchika. When we first met Connie, we only had a vague idea of what Uchika was like and how she might factor into the relationship of her two daughters. However, as the narrative has made it more clear how damaging Uchika's parenting style was, it actually mitigates many earlier issues with Connie's character. Frankly, she's as much of a victim of Uchika's damaging upbringing as Ayano, and her attempt at reaching out to her ‘big sister’ could be seen as a method of healing if she wasn't also trying to make Bad Mom a part of it. Honestly, the biggest issue of this episode is that it doesn't show us exactly how Connie wound up getting taken in by Uchika. I'm curious what her family situation (or lack thereof) was that she so easily latched on to this woman and her unhealthy teachings. At this point, I'm still not sure how much Hanebado! is going to commit to calling out the abuse we've seen in that upbringing, but at least the story is still framing the whole dynamic between the girls as an abusive situation that they would be better without.

But of course, moving on is hard to do, and there are still several episodes to go, so Connie's olive branch to Ayano ends in a vicious badminton rejection, once again summed-up by that symbolic Wei-Wei. The whole thing is an interesting spin on expectations, where I now sympathize with Connie and think Ayano is being harsh and unreasonable. It speaks to the balancing act this episode pulled off, giving us shades of gray between these characters before things really ramp up again before the big tournament matches to come.

Rating: B

Hanebado! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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