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.

Hundred – 12 (Fin)

hun121

That’s all, folks; Hundred is over! At least its first season; there’s no mention of a second but certainly talk of “more things happening in the future” which could be just that; talk. And we never learn why hundreds are called hundreds…I guess they just thought “hundred” sounded cool? It kinda does!

Anyway, if this is the last episode, it goes out with a bang; several bangs, in fact, from Vitaly’s hand cannon. She only uses one of the three hunter “tools”, Nakri, to get through an electrical security barrier. After that, a revived Mai-Mai trades gunfire and forces her to flee. So yeah, about all those possibilities with the three conditioned Hunters on her side…that didn’t pan out.

hun122

In fact, Vitaly’s grand master revenge plan comes to a screeching halt just as quickly as it totally overwhelmed the rest of Little Garden’s defenses and Slayers…all thanks to Judar. Seems like she has some kind of romantic past with him (gross!) and the reason she’s here is because she’s A Woman Scorned.

Ultimately, she just wants to kill Liza by shooting her. You’d think such a science and technology whiz would have a backup plan if Liza’s shielding was bulletproof. Not only that, Liza takes semi-corporeal form to shield her brother so he can shoot Vitaly, killing her and ending what had been a pretty built up threat with all the finesse of air coming out of a balloon.

hun123

Speaking of unappealing noises, Vitaly’s last gasp tactic is have all her replicants emit a loud screeching sound, but Liza kisses Karen, giving her use of her legs (hey! why not?) and Karen and Sakura neutralize the noise with their non-animated singing.

Ethereal Liza also kisses a KO’d Hayato in order to give him the strength to take down not only Vitaly’s flagship replicant, but a Nesat who’s gone absolutely berserk due to her siblings getting hurt.

hun124

Nesat threatens to explode after a predetermined period of time, taking the ship with her, but Hayato is able to reach into her subconscious and calm her down by telling her they’re friends now, and the final threat is dealt with without much fuss. Glad the Hunters didn’t end up getting hurt or worse, and now that they’re free, they can be useful members of garden society.

hun125

That just leaves the resumption of the festival, culminating in, what else, a fireworks show, under which Emilia and Hayato dedicate themselves to being with one another. Unfortunately, while they’re kissing, the entire rest of the cast comes topside, and their myriad reactions are priceless.

Suffice it to say, Emilia’s secret is out: she’s a girl, and a princess, and loves Hayato. Of course, Claire isn’t okay with that, and unleashes her Hundred cannon at the lovebirds to close the episode, and possibly the series. The goofy slapsticky mood of the scene indicates she’s not really going to murder Emilia and Hayato, just scare them. Still, she’s not exactly setting a good example as captain of Little Garden, is she?

Sooo…Hundred: Definitely a show. With stuff that happened in it. Totally inconsequential and derivative stuff that hardly ever went anywhere interesting, but mostly fun stuff nonetheless. Will I be tuning into any possible second season? Maybe…if nothing else is on.

16rating_7

Aldnoah.Zero – 18

az181

A blue rose, which represents love because it’s a rose, but also either a miracle or impossibility because it’s blue (because it doesn’t occur in nature) is one of those symbols that’s instantly obvious once you hear of it. Another example is a golden violin: looks great but can’t play music.

Our two protagonists Count Troyard and Ensign Kaizuka are both holding blue roses, but aren’t yet sure whether they represent the love that will never be, or the love that will triumph against all odds. But the fact they have them motivates everything they do.

az182

For Inaho, it’s taking every measure, both inside and outside the UE chain of command, to secure his princess. He and Rayet let Mazuurek free for this purpose, something they don’t disclose to Inko. Inko’s not-so-subtle and unsuccessful probing of Rayet for info keeps her left out of the loop, something Rayet regrets but can’t do anything about.

az183

As for Slaine, he’s been challenged to a duel, and he’s going through with it, reporting to less hard-line counts his intention to lead the battle once the duel is over, and getting their support based on the unique perspective he has as a non-Vers-born. He can see how Verisan hubris and arrogance has blinded them. That their unswerving belief that a sustained Terran resistance is impossible is the very opening that allows it to be possible.

Of course, the duel is happening because Lemrina invited Marylcian to the base. Whether she expected that exact outcome is unclear, but now, as I said last week, she will see if Slaine can truly be the one she can depend on. She offers herself to Slaine, even if she’ll only ever be a substitute for her sister. I have to think she has to be invested in Slaine’s victory, since Marylcian probably wouldn’t be happy when he finds out she’s not really Asseylum.

az184

Down on Earth, the Deucalion faces off against a generic Count-of-the-Week with a highly-specialized kataphrakt whose primary weapon only fires in straight lines. That means a surface battleship can use the curvature of the earth to stay out of the Count’s range, while her cannons’ parabolic trajectories can reach the Count’s kat.

az185

While not overly complicated or important in its scope, this is a nice little battle that perfectly illustrates (once again) the very flaws in the Orbital Knights Slaine seeks to root out. While he wasn’t planning to duel with Marylcian, backing out would have been pointless and probably sealed his doom.

Instead, by defeating this relic of outmoded thinking that isn’t getting the job done on Earth, Slaine stands to gain more legitimacy among his peers, and offer unassailable proof that the flaws he speaks of are real and are crippling progress.

az186

But first, he has to actually defeat Marylcian, whose Herschel makes for a bad match-up, as he attacks from every direction with his cloud of Bits-like drone cannons, so great in number and complex in motion even Tharsis’ predictive abilities are taxed to the hilt. There’s a point when Slaine is in retreat and really getting knocked around that I momentarily entertained the possibility that his blue rose meant impossibility, rather than miracle.

There’s also a nice moment after the Count-of-the-Week battle where Inaho is simply looking up with his robo-eye, watching the duel from the dock as a confused Inko looks on. It’s a great way to connect the two protags in three-dimensional space, and the fact that the distance between them is quickly closing.

Slaine has been making all the big bold moves while Inaho continues to observe and wait patiently for his chance.

az187

Of course, there’s no way Marylcian beats Slaine. It’s been beaten into us at this point that he’s far to stodgy an Orbital Knight to survive a plucky Terran gambit. Slaine, like Inaho has done countless times before, equips his opponent’s pride and superiority as a weapon against him, retreating into one of the moon base’s supply shafts in an apparent act of desperation or even cowardice.

Marylcian unwisely follows him in, unwittingly greatly lessening the unpredictability of his weapon. From then on, it’s elementary, with Slaine popping the hatch off Marylcian’s cockpit and ejecting him into space, thus ending the duel. A witnessing Barouhcruz grudgingly accepts the result, and Slaine’s grand rise proceeds apace.

In fact, after the duel it rises higher and faster than I thought it would, with Lemrina-as-Asseylum proclaiming she is starting a new kingdom on Earth, independent from Vers, and will take Slaine as her husband. His win over Marylcian sealed the deal for her, leaving just one complication: her comatose sister.

az188

In a creepy post-credits scene, she nearly shuts off all of Asseylum’s life-support systems before switching them back on, unable to outright kill her sister, but perfectly fine with replacing her in the world. She can float in that tube for the rest of her life while she rules her new kingdom. Here, Lemrina is starting to fall victim to the same Versian hubris that has claimed so many Orbital Knights: underestimating her enemy: in this case, her sister, who finally opens her eyes when Lemrina leaves the room.

Slaine’s big battles in orbit, Inaho’s smaller battles below, and Lemrina’s scheming and maneuvering continue to satisfy, all of it building to what should be one hell of a final confrontation. The main trio’s larger arcs have been nicely supplemented by smaller, more down-to-earth running stories of Inko, Rayet and Yuki. Finally activating the dormant Asseylum at this point is a welcome move I hope A/Z follows through on.

9_brav2

Aldnoah.Zero – 17

az171

This episode was titled “Dawn of Intrigue: The Turning Wheel”, and not for nothing. A/Z went into full-on Space Opera Mode this week, as in a soap opera in a sci-fi setting. The enjoyment you derived from this episode depends on how much you like this kind of thing: beautiful people wearing their hearts on their sleeve, clashing plots and motivations, intrigue, betrayal, tests, tears…all delivered with a slightly amplified emotional intensity.

az172

I for one enjoyed it immensely. For all the lack of physical action, this episode kept me happy with ample duels of wits and wills everywhere you look, and a number of character expressions oozing with depth, starting with Rayet’s look when she’s locking Count Mazuurek away.

Yuki finally tracks down Inaho and asks her straight up why he’s come back to the Deucalion. She became a soldier to protect him, but she can’t very well do that when he’s a soldier too. But he tells his sister he knows Seylum—the real Seylum—is still alive. She tried to help him, and now he’s going to help her. It’s a simple as that. If Yuki has to find a new reason to fight, that’s her problem.

az173

Frankly, of the two Kaizukas, Inaho is the more resourceful and versatile soldier, which he proves in his talk with Mazuurek, during which we hear my favorite musical theme from the first season for the first time in the second.

It’s well-placed here, as Inaho steadily brings the arrogant count around to his line of thinking, not with brainwashing, but just by knowing and saying the right things at the right time. As Inaho puts it so eloquently, a man who doesn’t look or sound at all like a man who would sell out his country is the perfect man to ask.

az174

Meanwhile, Slaine is a little drunk on power, as he’s already using visual aids from David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds in his monologues to his audience of one (Eddelrittuo, unless Asseylum can hear him in that tube). He talks about flightless birds (like he used to be) being well suited to survival without flight, and the pity that must be bestowed upon birds who can fly but are placed in cages.

While Slaine is partly correct that birds are put in cages “because they are so beautiful”, in Lemrina’s case she’s a bird in a cage because she is the key to Slaine’s power. Right now, she’s feeling restless, useless (or at least under-utilized), and in the dark about far too much.

She hoped for an equal partnership, but she just feels used right now…and she’s not entirely incorrect, because at the end of the day, she is not the princess Slaine is most intent on protecting. If the real Asseylum wakes up, Slaine will have another key, a no need for Lemrina.

az175

When Rayet hears that Inaho is interrogating the count, she comes down to offer her own two cents and proceeds to have all her buttons pushed by said count. Inaho gets her out of there, but Rayet’s point is that she’s no different than that count, or Saazbaum, or any other Martian, which is why she’ll always hate them, and herself. Inaho thinks otherwise, and is prepared to prove it.

az176

Lemrina uses Count Marylcian’s desire to speak with her (believing she’s Asseylum) as an in to the intrigue she’s been missing out on, and also to assert her authority; with Asseylum in a coma, she is the senior member of royalty in orbit. She avails herself of that fact, granting Marylcian an audience, and the wheels start to turn…against Slaine.

az177

For one brief moment I thought Mazuurek had broken out on his own, but then I realized that was unlikely after they had given him a full body search. When Rayet is the first person he encounters, I thought for another brief moment that Rayet was going back to the side she hated to punish herself, or something.

Then we see Inaho is in on it, and it’s all clear: Inaho knows Mazuurek wants to preserve Earth at all costs, so after convincing him Asseylum is an impostor, he sets him free, where he can be far more effective than if he remained a captive, because he can find out where Asseylum is, keep her safe, and learn what Slaine is up to. It seems mutually beneficial. Mazuurek seems sincere in his interest in earth beyond conquest; we’ll see if he honors the agreement.

But Inaho also involved Rayet, who’d be alone with the count as part of the plan, and thus in a position to kill one of the Martians she hates so much, like she tried to kill Asseylum many moons ago. She doesn’t, and that, to Inaho, says that despite what she says, she’s not the same person she was, and she’s not someone to be hated.

az178

So Slaine should expect Mazuurek to invite himself over at some point, he already finds himself outmaneuvered by Count Marylcian, who arrives at the base with Cuont Barouhcruz to challenge Slaine to a duel. There’s so much win in this entire situation, what with Lemrina, the scorned princess reduced to Slaine’s pawn, believing she’s controlling this chess game as Queen now.

But she could just as likely have fallen for Marylcian egging her on about being a caged bird, as I seriously doubt Marylcian cares about her beyond how much power he can gain by being her Royal Guard. Heck, he doesn’t even know she’s an impostor; I wonder how he’d react to learning he’d booted out the earth mongrel to take his place protecting a bastard princess.

Like sand through the hourglass…

9_brav2