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!

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Hanebado! – 01 (First Impressions) – Everything is Pointless

Hanebado! opens fast and crisp, in the midst of a match in the badminton nationals. One player is struggling as hard as she can and sweating bullets; the other is just calmly, coolly blowing her opponent away with a 21-o game.

The scene features some really decent sports animation, elevating the action to a kind of heightened reality with viewing angles, cuts, and shifts in speed. But as exciting as the match looks, neither player is happy at the end; neither the victor nor the defeated.

Cut to six months later, the victor (Hanesaki Ayano) along with her longtime friend (Fujisawa Elena) are first years at the same school as third-year player she defeated (Aragaki Nagisa), who is so upset over the loss she’s taking it out on the other players in the club, forcing several to quit rather than endure more abuse.

Ayano wants nothing to do with badminton, but while exchanging easy volleys with Elena on a tennis court, an errant bounce of a serve by the boy’s tennis club’s first-year ace Saionji nearly hits Elena in the face, but Ayano lunges in front of her and smashes it away, gaining a point in a game she wasn’t even playing.

A coach grabs Ayano and inspects her wrists and hands, forcing Elena to defend her. Meanwhile Nagisa (whom Ayano beat) wanders off, regretting how harsh she was with the now-departed players. She’s comforted by her friend Riko, who remains with the team and is likely the only person Nagisa is comfortable crying around.

So the main players in Hanebado! are a girl possessed with phenomenal natural talent who has no motivation to actually play, and a girl who is basically the opposite, with a good metric fuckton of angst between them. A classic talent-vs.-hard work dynamic, which results in a very shounen manga-style challenge at the end: If Ayano beats Nagisa, she won’t have to join.

That means in this rematch, Nagisa will have to find some way to turn the tables. Perhaps in the last six months she’s narrowed the gap between them? I’m a couple weeks behind in this show because I was trying to avoid watching a sports anime, but there’s no way I’m backing out of this before I watch the result, which will no doubt feature more of that sweet sweet shuttlecock action!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 24 – Environmental Factors

Not surprisingly, Kinokuni Nene’s dish is a sublime expression of the Edo-style soba tradition coursing through her veins. Creating a dish composed of two distinct light delicate flavors is no mean feat, but Nene pulls it off effortlessly, almost automatically. As if we didn’t know already, Souma is facing an uphill battle.

Souma also has to worry about the judges getting too stuffed on Nene’s soba. The noodles and sakura shrimp tempura disappear so easily from their plates, they seem to create an infinite time loop. Nene may have an inferiority complex when it comes to Satoshi, but he never failed to bear witness to the immense amount of hard work and dedication Nene put into everything she did—not just cooking—while other kids her age played around.

Her “environmental factors”, i.e. her strict upbringing that demanded results and perfection, are why she’s in the Elite Ten, and why she thoroughly impressed three Priests of The Book. But Souma also has something he’s “sunk a lot of time into”, and he calls it “Yukihira-style Seared Soba”. And at first glance it looks…kinda tragic? Especially compared to the austere work of art that was Nene’s dish.

Of course, if an ugly dish tastes better than the good-looking one (not to mention beats it in exciting every other sense), it’s easy to overlook it’s…looks. While Nene used the purest form of buckwheat flower (ichibanko, which only uses the endosperm), Souma used sanbanko, a flour made up of parts very near the outer shell of the grain.

Sanbanko trades ideal mouthfeel for increased aromas, but in his quest to replicate the genre of instant noodles to gourmet stature, he leaned into that coarseness by crisping the noodles via stir-frying. Ichibanko’s delicate flavor would have been ruined, but the sanbanko noodles hold up.

Other bold touches include the generous use of duck, as well as a variety of seasoning spices to diversify the judges’ experience. While Nene’s soba let them travel through time to eat it over and over again, Souma’s seems to transport the judges back to an ideal moment in their lives: enjoying their friends’ company at a summer festival as fireworks blaze in the sky.

Nene is ultimately correct that she utilized all of her amassed knowledge and experience to create the very best Edo-style soba she could for the judges. BUT, it wasn’t the best dish FOR THE VENUE. The environment that matters most is the one in which the shokugeki is taking place, which grew colder and colder as the storm worsened outside.

As a result, the delicate aromas of her dish suffered, while Souma’s held up. Nene herself confirms this when she tastes her noodles and then Souma’s. Her soba is best enjoyed in a much more controlled environment. I believe this is the first instance in Food Wars anime of the ambient temperature of the shokugeki hall playing a factor in the judges’ decision. And I loved Alice conferring with Akira on the science of how Souma beat Nene.

One more environment that favored Souma is his upbringing in a busy diner. From a young age, he learned how to keep track of a lot of different things and dishes at once, because diners are places where the food is slung fast, eaten fast, and the customers turn over fast. Compare that to Nene’s restaurant, whose sophisticated clientele are willing to wait for the best possible meal.

Souma’s extra stamina and the speed with which he experiments and crafts new flavors and methods with which to defeat his opponents, is second to none (I’d wager Subaru is close, owing to his dedication to stalking and copying his targets). And it pays off here.

Megashima soundly defeats Kaburagi off-camera, proving even a former third-seat is still a formidable challenger; which gives the rebels a clean 3-0 sweep in the first bout of the Team Shokugeki. It’s a major setback for Azami, who only shows his frustration in the shadows.

However, that’s all for this second cour of Shokugeki no Souma 3; we won’t learn who wins (or more likely, how the rebels ultimately defeat Azami) until the third cour. Whenever that comes, I be waiting with an empty stomach.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.