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?

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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.

Kakegurui – 09

Yume-Yume was soooo confident her victory was a lock with this idol gambling competition with Yumeko, she already planned details for her opponent’s future such as sleeping up the corporate ladder and having a porno debut. It’s not really personal; Yume is trying to get to the top of the celebrity mountain, and she needs stepping stones.

So it comes as a shock when Yumeko beats her , just because the competition included just enough luck to favor her over Yumemi. Yumeko’s luck is so conspicuous, it even gets in Yumemi’s head, as thoughts of Yumeko’s doomed future are replaced by the very real present possibility that rant recording will be played and ruin her career.

But here’s the thing: after handing over 50 million yen, and after Yumeko plays the recording to the entire crowd of 100—most of them in Yumemi’s fan club—and afterwards when she confesses and thanks those fans for cheering her on thus far…they don’t abandon her.

Of course they don’t, what self-respecting super-fan would be put off by the discovery of another layer of their idol? They love her unconditionally, and don’t ask for her love in return. In fact, they love her even more because she was honest!

Throw in the fact more than a few of those fans quite enjoy Yumemi yelling at them and telling them they’re scum, and you can see why there weren’t any shots of Yumeko’s reaction to their collective shrug: she too knew that real fans wouldn’t care about Yumemi’s rant.

Well, the game’s over, the money’s been paid, the ‘blackmail’ material backfired as planned, Yumemi’s idol career is safe, and she learned a valuable lesson. Time to SING! And hey, credit where it’s due: Kakegurui actually bothers to animate the two Yumes dancing and singing through the credits.

After that, Yumeko reveals the reason she fought Yumemi at all, besides the thrill of the gamble: she wants to have another gamble with a superior foe: Manyuda Kaede, the Sudent Council member who put the whole idol competition together.

When Kaede pleads innocence and demands proof he “deceived” Yumemi with the fan letter that set her off, Yumeko rightly points out they’re not in a court of law, but in a gambling school. She challenges him to a gamble in which the winner’s story will be deemed the truth.

Kaede refuses…but Yumeko to use her Miké tag to request an official match; one Kaede cannot refuse. Looks like Yumeko was using Yumemi as a stepping stone to Kaede, and eventually, the president herself.

Noragami Aragoto – 08

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As a fully committed Ebisu creates more masked ones, Yato continues to bask in the elation of finally having a real shrine to call his own, along with all the honors and privileges that come with it, from official registration to a plot of land and admittance to Takamagahara. He also wastes no time lavishing an excessive amount of attention on Hiyori, who probably didn’t realize when she made it how big a deal a little shrine could be for a god who had never had one.

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That importance is driven home when Hiyori encounters Manabu at school (the bullied kid who appeared in last season’s episode 8), but he only thanks her, he doesn’t remember anyone named Yato. Gods are created from the wishes of humans. No wishes, no gods. Meanwhile, Yukine takes advantage of his new resident status to look up Kazuma and beg him to help him become a better exemplar to Yato.

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Because as annoying as Yato has been, Yukine and Hiyori both are glad to see him so happy. He’s so happy, he doesn’t even know what to do, because as he says while drunk in a rare glimpse into his deep past, his “father” told him he’d never need a shrine. This is because Yato is a god of calamity. His clients would never be long-lasting, but due to human nature, there would always be clients for his kind of services.

With his blessed vessel and shrine and Hiyori, Yato wants to leave that past behind and hold tight to these new gifts, and even arranges to release Nora AKA Hiiro, believing he no longer needs her, and since she has many other masters, she doesn’t need him either. But Hiiro reminds Yato that he made her a Nora, then sics her phantom dogs on him to demonstrate how much he needs her to continue existing.

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From there, Nora pulls him off the wagon altogether and back into the life they used to lead, with her as the sharp sword of not-always-righteous retribution. Yato sinks back into the rut all too easily, like a drug he thought he kicked. Because as long as he’s fulfilling the dark assignments of the damned, he continues to exist. It was instilled in him long ago that he needed Nora for that.

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In this way, a full month passes during which neither Yukine nor Hiyori see or hear from Yato. Hiyori goes to Tenjin asking if he’s seen him, and Tenjin reiterates his concern that she’s gotten caught up in too much god stuff and needs to spend more time enjoying her adolescence. Almost on cue, as she’s worrying about whether Yato’s continued absense will cause her to eventually forget him, she trips on a flight of stairs and a strapping young lad catches her.

And as Ebisu recovers from a bad reaction to his latest masked creation and Bishamon and Okuninushi are apparently ambushed in a parking garage, Yato is off in some house with Nora, playing out the same old destructive patterns. Only thoughts of Hiyori bring him out of his complacent trance and he demands he be allowed to leave. The door opens, Nora appeals to their “father”, who gives them one more job before letting him go: rescuing a conjurer from the underworld.

Something tells me neither Nora nor this father figure are anyone Yato can trust, but at the same time, they were and continue to be a part of him, and his perceived obligation to them isn’t something easily cast aside, no matter how much progress he’s made reforming himself. Even for a god, old habits die hard.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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