Hanebado! – 09 – Turnabout is Fair Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanebado! – 08 – Her Own Kind of Badminton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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