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.

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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!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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Barakamon – 10

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Being the audience this week is tough, because only we know it’s Seishuu’s last day on the island. No one, not even Naru, sees it coming from the way he acts on that last day, and maybe that’s the point. After helping Naru’s grandpa build a wall, he attends the village festival with Naru and Hina, and seems committed to not spoiling the little time he has left with them.

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He does, in fact, try to tell everyone (everyone being Naru, Miwa, Tama, Naru, Hina, and Hiro), but it’s just when the awesome fireworks are about to begin. He can’t very well say it then, now can he? The reaction would be predictable, with Naru likely having a fit and running off, possibly into danger. All episode I was waiting for that kind of confrontation.

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But nothing of the kind came; in the end, Seishuu chose not to mar another happy, fun day with the villagers that just happens to be his last. Instead, he lives that day to the fullest, and doesn’t so much as betray a hint that he’s out of there the next day. He disappears from the island as quickly as he appeared, but his absence is sure to lead to despair.

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Part of me is afraid of the possibility that Seishuu always meant to leave suddenly ike this, like ripping a band-aid from a wound, and that his connection to the island was never as strong as it seemed; that he was merely here to figure out his calligraphy, and once he had, had no further reason to be there. For the record, I don’t think (or rather, don’t want to think) that’s true, but it’s hard not to think like that considering how suddenly he peaced out.

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Barakamon – 09

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Seishuu may have acclimated somewhat to his remote island village home, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a city boy, and there’s still a lot he has yet to experience. Case in point, when his gas-fueled bath heater packs it in, he must resort to foraging for twigs and building a fire in the old wood heater. The village chief makes the point that if Seishuu had a wife, she’d tend the fire for him.

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Seishuu has never bothered with romance, pouring everything he has into his art, reasonably certain he’ll die alone, but not necessarily happy about it. He emerges from the bath and is surprised to find Hiro in the kitchen making his food (his mom was busy). Hiro often seems more mature than Seishuu despite the fact the latter is older, and that’s exhibited when Seishuu tries to “out-prepare” a bowl of miso cucumber rice. Suffice it to say, Seishuu can’t cook…but he’s too proud to admit it.

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Next, Seishuu finds himself in the middle of deep-seeded island politics when Hina tells him Naru is being bullied by kids from the neighboring village. Seishuu and Hiro try their best to reason with, and later intimidate the little punks, but they’re at a distinct disadvantage in that said punks know the adults can’t really hit them, or they’ll be arrested. Turns out the punks are friends with Akki, who resolves the situation simply by passing by. If anything, this segment reminds me of the best strategy for dealing with combative kids: Don’t. Just avoid them if you can.

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Finally, with just over two weeks left until the Naruka Exhibition, Seishuu’s sparks of drawing inspiration in response to his new living situation have grown more infrequent, to the point where he questions the efficacy of simply waiting for inspiration to show up, even though that’s really the only way. After a day of playing Tarzan with the kids, he gets one in the form of a truly awesome sunset. He makes a move back for home, but slips and falls off a ledge.

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Reverting to full City Boy mode, being isolated, alone, and lost in the dark terrifies him, until he sees a glint in the grass and finds the key to his house Miwa had lost. Then he gets his second flash of inspiration of the day: a majestic star field. His resulting drawing, with white writing on a black background, is another fun, striking, inventive piece he never would’ve attempted before coming to the island. Which begs the question: what is said to him on the phone that makes him so quickly and easily agree to leave?

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Barakamon – 08

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This week offers two slice-of-life stories that reinforce how nicely Seishuu has fit into the village, and how close his bond with Naru has gotten without him knowing it. In the first story, it’s Naru’s seventh birthday. After Miwa and Tama get ¥1000 out of Seishuu for a cake, he realizes he must also get her a suitable gift for Naru.

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Unsurprisingly, most gifts deemed “suitable” for a seven-year-old girl aren’t going to cut it for the precocious tomboy. His first thought is bugs, sending him on a bug-hunting adventure with the three village boys her age. This exercise backfires, since in addition to the fact the boys have already chosen to give her bugs, Seishuu is completely inept at catching them, and even when he manages to do so, falls off a ladder and kills it.

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The evening of the party arrives, and Seishuu’s last-minute half-assed gift—a hand-written, one-time “do whatever you say” ticket—ends up thrilling her immensely, to everyone else’s surprise. It just goes to show that Seishuu cares enough for Naru to want to give her a good gift, and knows her a lot better than he gives himself credit for.

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In the second story, it’s Obon, and Naru’s grandpa asks Seishuu to keep Naru company as she holds vigil over her grandma. It’s another new world for Seishuu, as he’s not used to a graveyard in the evening, lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks. He’s also mesmerized by the Onde dance performed for the recently deceased.

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Hanging out in the graveyard, and more to the point, being totally welcome there despite being an outsider, again drives home the fact that this village is becoming a home to Seishuu. Being there also makes him wonder where Naru’s parents are, and realizes that despite almost constantly being surrounded by people, Naru gets lonely too.

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In the beginning of the episode, he waters sunflowers despite not knowing who grew them and the fact they could well grow just fine without his care. Later they become a metaphor for Naru. She too could grow up just fine without him, but he wants to be there for her anyway. In an omake dream, the shopkeep’s dog joins him forfishing and asks him why he doesn’t simply settle down here. It’s a good question.

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Barakamon – 07

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On Kawafuji and Kousuke’s last day on the island, everyone Goes Fishin’ (well, almost everybody; Tama isn’t around…perhaps she’s still recovering from seeing all those men together?). Miwa teaches the city boys how to catch horse mackerel. Kousuke turns it into another competition in which he’s the best, but he only catches the shoal.

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When Kawafuji hears that Kousuke bashed Seishuu’s new work, that’s when the truth comes out: Kousuke is the one in a slump. Having virtually copied Seishuu’s old, “fundamentals-first” style, when Seishuu changed style, it was as if his fish had dropped the hook and sploshed back into the sea, leaving him with an empty line.

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Kawafuji brought Kousuke to the island not to light a fire under Seishuu’s ass, but to try to get him to look at things from a perspective other than his own. Like the Seishuu of old, he think’s he’s the best and if anyone disagrees, they’re wrong. That attitude stifles artistic growth, and Kousuke is too young to be settling into anything.

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The message coming out of this episode is that it’s up to youth not just to carry on their elders’ traditions, but to come up with some of their own, sometimes out of the most unlikely places. But one can only come up with stuff if you’re out there living and experiencing new things, meeting new people.

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Naru gets things started by creating an avant-garde line made up of dozens of hooks, which looks comical but does end up snagging a rock snapper, which is what Hiro was after all along. It breaks up in mid-air and the big catch escapes, but that’s just another symbol of how innovation doesn’t always net concrete results, but the attempt, and the momentary flash of success, still has value. “Lose the battle, win the war,” and all that.

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After five days of clashing with Kousuke, now that he knows what’s really up with him, Seishuu is no longer threatened or annoyed. When the day of fishing is over, he reports to Kousuke the periodic flashes of inspiration he’s gotten ever since coming to the island. This culminates in writing calligraphy using a mackerel as a brush, his most “unconventional” piece yet.

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Not surprisingly, Miwa and Naru think its also his best. It’s probably not exhibition-worthy, but for someone once so firmly stuck in convention, it’s another huge leap forward in his artistic growth. When Kawafuji and Kousuke leave, merely being on that plane gets Hiro and Miwa thinking about how one day that could be them; the older inspiring the younger to go forth and find their own way in the world.

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