Fruits Basket – 12 – Someone Scary This Way Comes

This episode starts out so harmlessly…and silly. It’s a new term, Tooru, Yuki, Kyou, and the others are all second years, and the new first year girls are extremely aggressive in making their existence known to Yuki. Tooru is targeted as an “easy mark” by first year boys, and Kyou scares them off with a move that hilariously befuddles her. New first years Momiji and Haruhatsu brazenly flout the dress code: Momiji by wearing half of a girls’ uni; Haru with jewelry and white-over-black hair.

They are immediately singled out by StuCo President Takei Makoto, who seems like a character from another show, even if FB is not above slapstick. This bespectacled dingus has a thing for Yuki, and his two nearly identical female lieutenants are soon won over by Momiji’s cuteness, while Haruhatsu proves he didn’t illegally die his hair by showing him his pubes in the men’s room.

Unfortunately for this half the episode Tooru is just kind of off in the background as all these Soumas bicker and test authority. I’m well aware Tooru was not always the focus of the source material and in some cases was totally absent as the cast expanded, but the broad goofy comedy on display here doesn’t really make a strong case for keeping her out of the anime spotlight.

Tooru does not play a small role in the second half, when she’s confronted by none other than Souma family head, Akito (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya in her best honey-poison imperiousness). Tooru is caught totally off guard by the sudden and very casual encounter, and Akito never says a single thing I am inclined to either take at face value or believe.

The one person Yuki doesn’t want near Akito less than himself is Tooru, so he comes to her rescue, only to be utterly neutralized by Akito, who after all threw him in a dark room and psychologically tortured him for years until Shigure finally put a stop to it by letting Yuki live with him.

So it’s up to Space Cadet Tooru to rescue Yuki-hime, demonstrating quicker thinking than would usually be expected of her in explaining an action that could’ve cost someone else their life (shoving Akito away from Yuki). In the moment, she knew Yuki was in pain, and she did what she had to do to stop it.

In his report to Hatori about the car ride home, Shigure says Akito would later call Tooru “ugly” and not a threat to him, assured that one day Yuki would come crawling back, citing his fear of him as proof. But Akito seems like the kind of person whose threat assessments vary from day to day, or mood to mood. In any case, Tooru is far from safe, nor is Yuki.

Still, Tooru tries to refocus a clearly traumatized Yuki by joining a big ol’ badminton game with the gang. She doesn’t want to waste, or let others waste, the precious time they have, and she has no illusions about that time being infinite, or even indefinite. Something cold could come out of the shadows and freeze these poor warm people and warm life in which they’ve never been happier. But not today. Today, for a little while, they’ll forget their fears and have fun volleying a shuttle around.

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Hanebado! – 10 – Shuttlecock Tease

Finally, the long-awaited rematch between Nagisa and Ayano in the…wait, we’re not getting that this week? It’s just the boy’s matches? LAME. I won’t apologize for simply not caring about chunks of Hanebado! I feel to be padding, and a sure as hell don’t care any more about Yuu’s weird crush on Hayama or his and Isehara’s matches than I did before.

do care about Ayano, so it’s good to see her deliver the only appropriate welcome to a mother who peace’d out and found a taller, blonder girl to be her daughter and successor: a nonexistent welcome. Ayano doesn’t say one word to Uchika the whole episode, and frankly, one word would be one too many.

You can lay into Ayano all you want for being such an awful, insufferably haughty jerk to Nagisa and everyone else, but her mother’s shunning is primarily to blame.

We don’t even meet Nagisa’s parents, but we can assume they’re better than Ayano simply because they’ve stayed in her life and presumably didn’t betray her. One wonders why none of the kids on the team seem to have parents or siblings to watch them play.

Isehara and Hayama proceed with their matches, and it’s all a bit of a yawnfest, honestly. It’s just another version of the “hard work means something” and “you don’t have to have the most talent to play” trope. Isehara is talented—and handsome—but he loses anyway, just as Hayama does even though he works his ass off and has the enthusiastic support of his team

As for Yuu—Ebina Yuu; we finally get her last name, ten episodes in!—her crush dies shortly after Hayama loses, or possibly even during his match, but not because she thinks he sucks. Rather, her desire to support her came out of her own inadequacies. Now that he showed her there’s still value in fighting on despite not being any good, she’s content to part ways with a hearty thank you and goodbye.

This is honestly the boringest way things between them could have ended, which serves to fully justify my lack of enthusiasm for their plotline all along.

With the boys out of the way, all that remains is the final between Nagisa and Ayano…and if it doesn’t take place next week, I’m honestly going to skip the episode! Ayano is either intentionally or unintentionally continuing to provoke Nagisa into a “practice” match with her, as a kind of dry run to the finals, because she finds no one else (save the Olympics-caliber Coach Tachibana) a worthy opponent.

Nagisa doesn’t necessarily rise to the provocations; she wants to play in the finals with Ayano for a different, more personal reason. This isn’t about revenge, it’s about redemption. Nagisa acknowledges that she gave up in the All-Japan Juniors; she lost more to herself than Ayano. So she doesn’t see this as fighting Ayano, but fighting the person she was back then. It didn’t have to be Ayano.

As for Ayano, her mom mentioning she knows about her match with Connie, and her mom’s sudden offer to take her away from Japan (presumably to be a real family along with Connie), may yet create a psychological hitch in Ayano’s match with Nagisa. It’s not much, but especially with her troublesome knees, Nagisa will need all the help she can get.

Hanebado! – 09 – Turnabout is Fair Play

Ayano and Nagisa’s preparations for their finals match are interrupted by the inauspiciously conspicuous return of Connie Christensen, who wants a rematch with Ayano. Ayano, who as we know is not the same Ayano Connie embarrassed the last time they crossed, stays cordial, but her first words to Connie—that her panties are showing—demonstrate how unseriously Ayano is taking her.

Ayano’s attention turns to her broken Wei-Wei mascot on her bag, and Shiwahime invites her to a kind of Wei-Wei theme park with Connie (Erena also tags along). The Wei-Wei-ness is like catnip to Ayano, who switches off Badminton Mode and has a lot of fun for once, to the relief of Erena. Meanwhile, Shiwahime inadvertently sabotages Connie’s olive branch to Ayano in the form of a Wei-Wei keychain.

It turns out Connie didn’t return for a rematch at all; she came to express her desire to be a family with Ayano and her mother Uchika. When Connie finally gets the words out, Ayano completely brushes them off, and affably leads Connie to a badminton court, where her first devastating shot sends a clear message that it won’t be a friendly match.

We see more of the perennially lonely Connie’s past when Uchika takes her under her wing and essentially adopts her, while all the while Connie’s knowledge of the existence of a “big sister” who is Uchika’s biological daughter looms over her as a kind of challenge to clear. She wants the acknowledgement of both Uchika—who never once told Connie she was better than Ayano—and Ayano herself.

She doesn’t get it, and I’d argue she doesn’t really deserve it after how she entered Ayano’s life. Sure, Connie thought Ayano was playing mind games with her when they first met, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ayano sought a friendship in good faith, unaware of Connie’s identity.

That being said, Ayano lays the contempt on a little thick, as she essentially transforms into a Badminton Youkai, all crazy eyes and twisted smirks, in utterly rejecting Connie on the grounds she’s resolved to abandon her mom the way she abandoned her.

While Ayano refuses to forgive and forget or turn the other cheek, a dejected Connie returns home with Shiwahime to find the rest of her team has done all three, giving her emotional support when she’s never felt lower. Sorry, Hanebado, but this whole “actually Connie is the victim now, let’s all feel bad for her” isn’t quite working for me.

Who has two thumbs and doesn’t care about Yu’s attempts to get one of the male players to notice her? [holds up two thumbs] This guy. Also, I’m not confident Nagisa practicing until her knees give out is the best strategy for having a good match against Ayano. If Ayano doesn’t clean her clock I’ll be very surprised.

What could turn the tables slightly in Nagisa’s favor is the fact that Ayano returns home to find her mother, big stupid hair bow and all, waiting there to greet her like nothing’s happened. However unpleasant a character Connie may be, she’s no match for the awfulness that is Hanesaki Uchika, Ten-Time Worst Mother of the Year.

Hanebado! – 08 – Her Own Kind of Badminton

Ishizawa Nozomi, who was chosen over Nagisa for an elite school spot by her coach, is really only interested in winning and thus validating the trust her coach placed in her. Ayano, who has gradually abandoned all pretense of sportsmanship or empathy and has now become, essentially, a badminton murderbot, is also only interested in winning.

Both dispatch their opponents with ease and look down upon them as wasting their time. Yet I couldn’t help but feel like this episode was merely buildup for, even filler before the more substantial match involving Ayano. To be frank, I just don’t really care about Nozomi’s situation, while we’ve already dealt with Nagisa’s issues.

Ayano is on the shelf for the remainder of this episode; another spectator in the Nagisa-Nozomi showdown, and boy does she lay on the aloof bitchiness thick. I was hoping someone—say Elena—would kick her in the bum (either physically or verbally) but Ayano isn’t interested in discussing her conduct unbecoming.

As long as she wins, she doesn’t want to hear from anyone about anything…but is more than willing to giver her own running negative commentary about Nagisa’s chances against Nozomi, which she believes to be slim. Nozomi’s coach believes a strategy of making Nagisa run and change direction will blow out her knees.

And so in this match, we have a coach who is not only a constant verbal presence during play (which is hella annoying) but so obsessed with analytics and oppo research that he sees Nozomi as little more than an avatar or tool with which to execute his badminton.

The problem is, Nozomi is still a child, and trying to find out who she is, not just as a player but as a person. The coach’s constant browbeating is constantly undermining that growth, and the effects are just as serious as the fatigue on Nagisa’s knees.

After losing the first set, Nozomi stands up to her coach for the first time and basically tells him to butt out; she’s going to try things her way. To his credit, the coach is accepting of her choice and almost seems proud to be cast aside in this way, realizing he pushed her too far. So at least he’s not a complete two-dimensional jerk.

Nozomi proceeds to win the second set, but loses the third, giving Nagisa the victory, a spot in the Nationals and in the final match versus Ayano. But more importantly, she played the rest of that match for herself, not her coach, and despite losing, had a ton of fun, reminding her why she plays in the first place.

As for Ayano, she concedes she was wrong and that Nagisa is better than she thought…but likely doesn’t see Nagisa as even the slightest threat in the finals. We’ll see if her insufferable arrogance backfires next week, or if her precipitous abandonment of humanity will continue to proceed apace.

Considering both Connie and her mother could be in attendance, the timing for some kind of downfall for Ayano couldn’t possibly be worse!

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Hanebado! – 03 – For the Sheer Love of Badminton

Overshadowed last week by Nagisa’s slump was the fact that Ayano still didn’t really want to play badminton. The exact reason why was not explicitly laid out until now, and it paints both her reluctance to join the bad club and Elena’s adamant insistence she join anyway. By getting to the roots of the two girls’ motivations, the episode succeeds in strengthening both characters and elevating the show’s drama.

We start with a series of flashbacks from Elena’s perspective, always on the sidelines watching Ayano with a combination of awe and pride, but also loneliness, and even envy. Mostly though, since they were wee girls Elena has always known how much Ayano loves badminton, and so simply couldn’t allow her to reject it. It wasn’t just about wasting talent, but denying herself that which both of them know she loves.

Of course, we’ve known that love is tainted by the huge expectations others put upon her, and the unwanted attention she gets from other badminton lovers for her body and her skills. Elena watches the others fawning over Ayano, gets bored, and goes to the movies with Noriko…where she’s also bored.

Afterwards, Noriko goes off on a date with Saionji, leaving Elena alone. She spots Nagisa on her run, but doesn’t call out. It’s Nagisa, on her run back, who spots Elena, who explains she wanted to see how Ayano would do on her own. Nagisa asks Elena why Ayano quit badminton, because she’s since fallen far from the “perfect” player who crushed her at the junior nationals. Elena promises to get to the bottom of it.

The next day, Ayano’s personal slump is compounded by the sudden arrival of her former self-appointed rival, Serigaya Kaoruko. After nearly falling for the cool Tachibana, Kaoruko challenges a very lethargic Ayano to a set, and totally embarrasses her.

This is another beautifully-animated badminton game, and it’s thrilling to see Kaoruko so easily confound, befuddle, and decimate Ayano, who had been impressing her teammates with her skills thus far. Kaoruko is disappointed, and vows that Ayano will never beat her. Considering Ayano is lying on the floor drenched in sweat, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Ayano rushes out, and when Elena catches up to her, she says she’s quitting badminton after all; Elena can stay if she wants, but she won’t. In that moment I couldn’t help but feel bad for Elena, who had stuck with Ayano all this time only for her efforts to be impulsively discarded after just one frustrating set. It felt like Ayano was taking Elena for granted.

The next day, Ayano doesn’t come to school or practice. Tachibana and Nagisa visit her house where her stately, adorable grandparents take care of her; there, they learn that Ayano’s mother was Shindo Uchika, the greatest badminton player of her generation and winner of ten straight national titles.

Both Elena and I considered the pressure of following in the footsteps of an almost impossibly elite parent ample motive for feeling like one’s own badminton career is pointless…but Ayano’s situation turns out to be far more fucked up. Elena may know more about Ayano than anyone, but even she didn’t understand the depths of Ayano’s pain.

She also didn’t know who Kaoruko was. When the two were scheduled to have a match, Kaoruko caught a cold, so she tied Ayano up and gave her her cold so they could play “on even terms.” Kaoruko ended up beating Ayano by a hair, and Ayano passed out on the court.

While still in bed recovering, her mother turned her back on her, ignored the calls of her daughter, walked out the door…and never came back. Ayano kept playing and kept winning, transforming herself into a badminton WMD, hoping that if she won enough, her mom would come back.

Not only did her mother never come back, but Ayano had to learn from an article in Badminton Magazine at the konbini that her mother had taken on another student in a faraway land and trained her to be her successor. Earlier I wondered whether perhaps there was a good reason her mom had to go, but no, she was just a garbage mother and human being.

Elena ponders the shocking new information Ayano has given her on her walk home, but one image over all others continues to be prominent in her mind: that of a tiny her watching a tiny Ayano playing badminton with her mom and loving every minute of it.

Elena considers it her duty as Ayano’s friend to help her get that feeling back—a feeling independent of pressure and  betrayal. To do so, she elicits the help of Nagisa. Elena and Ayano meet at their usual meeting spot atop the red playground octopus. Elena tells Ayano she needs to go back to school, and Nagisa makes her appearance.

Then Elena tells Ayano something she didn’t know before: How then, and now, she felt/feels “left out” when she watches Ayano play. Elena always thought she doesn’t have anything she can devote herself to, but she does. Ayano loves and devotes herself to badminton, and Elena loves and devotes herself to Ayano. Even if she feels lonely, or left out, or envious at times, it’s all worth it to see Ayano have so much fun.

With that, Nagisa draws a makeshift court in the sand, and the two have a match. It’s a bit of a mess of a match, with the wind wreaking havoc on the shuttlecock…but it doesn’t matter. Ayano is able to drop the baggage surrounding the sport she loves and simply enjoy playing it again.

The rest of the club is contacted and they join in the fun. And the next day, Elena and Ayano turn in their forms indicating their intention to join the Badminton Club. Ayano was dealt a terrible hand in moms, but in turn was dealt a great hand in BFsF.

Hanebado! – 02 – Smashing a Slump

The epic clash between Nagisa and Ayano…doesn’t go well, mostly due to the massive differential in both talent and motivation. Ayano just doesn’t care, so when Nagisa gets too into it, she just gives up, which of course makes Nagisa even more angry.

Ayano still stays in the club—ostensibly because Elena elects to become the manager, and she and Ayano can never be apart…I guess?—but Nagisa is caught in a bad slump, and feels she can’t get out of it unless she beats Ayano in a match in which both players are invested…easier said than done.

The three quitters also converse with another first-year, Yuu, who has a ritual of eating a hot dog on a stick after every workout. They can tell things are no less tense at practices than before they quit.

When paired up for doubles, Nagisa and Ayano crash into each other, but you get the feeling the collisions are all Nagisa’s fault, because she’s thinking about coming out of her slump and proving something far more than she’s thinking about the team. Coach Tachibana switches her out for Riko, who ducks to let Ayano return the shot.

Nagisa sees this as nothing but making Tachibana’s “favorite” look good, which she says is all everyone thinks people without talent are good for: making the talented look better. Nagisa’s huge chip on her shoulder is long-standing; she’s always been tall for her age, and despite working harder than almost everyone, that height was seen as a natural (and unfair) advantage.

When the quitters see Nagisa yelling at Yuu out of frustration, one of them confronts her, saying she used to envy her love of badminton. Left unsaid is the fact she probably pities her now.

Having watched enough of Nagisa’s play (and attitude) to diagnose the cause of her slump, Tachibana engages in a bit of tough love by having a match with her. Before he blew out his knee he was an Olympics-bound player, and it shows: he straight-up schools the slumping Nagisa.

But then, he says all the things she needed to hear: the misconceptions people have for tall people like her; the acknowledgement she’s good because of hard work, not her height; and perhaps most important, that she can’t just rely on being tall to deliver jumping smashes at this stage in her career, but have more trust in her shot and be less obsessed with controlling everything.

It’s a pep talk with immediate positive effects, and by the end of their match, Nagisa has scored a point against a would-be Olympian, and a smile returns to her face. She later apologizes to the team, promises she’ll be less selfish going forward, but also vows to one day beat Ayano. I’m just glad she’s out of her funk!