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!

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 01 – The Girl with the Pink P90 (First Impressions)

SAOA:GGO (rolls right off the tongue) gets right down to it, dropping us into a Gun Gale Online battle royale called Squad Jam beside teammates LLENN and M. Thanks to the patient tactical mind of M, much their time in the Jam is spent not getting shot at, and when they are, it’s to draw dumb enemies into getting shot by smarter ones, all while LM stays clean.

LLENN resents having to play the decoy, but can’t argue that it works, and you have to go with what works in a battle where the team that’s dominating are professional fighters IRL, likely in the game for the training. They show off their skills so blithely, M is convinced that winning isn’t their main objective.

LLENN and M’s is, however, so once the field has been thinned from 23 starting teams to 8, they head somewhere isolated where the pro team will come for them (uninterested as they are in ambushing their opponents).

The pros work like a well-oiled, by-the-book machine, precise and practiced in movement and speech. But because they’re so damn orthodox and true-to-life in their tactics, and since winning isn’t their goal, M thinks he knows how to beat them, and prepares a tiny surprise.

That surprise is the unbelievably diminutive LLENN popping out of a suitcase, previously just another unremarkable piece of the garbage strewn across the street that the pro team leader realizes is a hiding place a beat too late.

A beat is all LLENN needs to go off with her pinkP90, using her super-human speed and agility to take the pros down one by one until only two remain. M wasn’t under-utilizing LLENN before, he was saving her for when it was the right time for her to shine; when it mattered most.

The remaining two pros could probably have made a fight of it, but LLENN’s superhuman abilities render their training program contaminated, as M suspected…so they both resign. We pull back from LLENN on a TV as six school friends watch, then turn to their host, the very tall Karen, for whom LLENN is her avatar.

And there you have it. If you’re a hopeless SAO consumer as I apparently am, you were likely satisfied with this start, which had a nice pared-down feel to it despite the scope of the Squad Jam, easing us back into its world without piling on new faces or places.

Until the reveal of LLENN’s player, we were in-game the whole time. We followed just two gunners in a relatively compact location as they talked strategy, let things unfold and waited for pieces to get into optimal position before striking with all available force. And we learn Karen plays as a chibi in a kind of negative size-compensation.

Citrus – 11

Best Girl Harumin always has a way of coming in at the perfect time in this ridiculous show about sisters loving other sisters who love their sisters to splash water on the whole affair. She makes a down-in-the-dumps (and at this point disgustingly self-involved) Yuzu pay dearly for her negative aura in the form of a ruthless tickling.

I love how quickly and casually Harumin moves on to reveal yet another thing to love about her—she’s a history buff! But also, she’s just got other things going on…unlike Yuzu, who has let this Mei situation consume nearly every waking moment.

The next day, the class trip visits a “relationship-forming shrine”, a decision made at Himeko’s urging, still fighting to get closer to Mei. Sara’s sister Nina gets wind of this, and despite knowing Mei and Yuzu are “already invovled”, as a fiercely loyal sister, she’s committed to doing all she can to help Sara.

That also means bringing Sara to the same shrine. It also means keeping Sara in the dark about Yuzu and Mei, something I see coming to bite her later.

Both Yuzu and Himeko are enthusiastic about visiting the shrine and offering their very long prayers that make Harumin wait. Once the three are back together, it’s not five seconds until Sara appears, to Yuzu’s surprise. Since neither is aware they’re in love with the same girl, they each offer one another their blessings and hope to hear of their success later. Oh dear.

On a brighter note, Himeko’s underlying good-girl nature meshes well with Harumin’s innate maternal aura, as the two conspire to offer Yuzu charms to aid her future beauty and luck and success in love. Harumin also hilariously shuts down Himeko’s tsundere act – Himeko cares about Yuzu as a friend.

If only Yuzu pulled her weight, especially in her friendship with Harumin. Any way you look at it, Harumin gives and gives while Yuzu simply takes and takes. But the thing is, if Harumin didn’t want to be friends with someone like Yuzu, she wouldn’t be. So I’ll respect her choice.

When the weather turns, Nina makes sure she’s in the same place as Mei. She informs Mei of her sister Sara’s affection for her, and asks whether she’d consider entering into a relationship with her. Mei declines, but Nina asks her to think it over.

Clearly, Nina did not intend for Mei to have more than a minute or so to think it over, because it isn’t long after she leaves that Sara appears. Determined not to let her chance slip by, Sara confesses her love. When Mei asks if Sara would “need” her, Sara answers of course she would; she loves her, after all.

It’s a directness Mei wanted from Yuzu, but didn’t get, and doesn’t get even later that evening when Yuzu confronts Mei once more and can’t get the words out. Mei interrupts her to say she was already confessed to that very day, and decided to start dating that person.

Having reached a new low, Yuzu get’s “sauced” on orange soda and rants to herself in the hotel lobby, making a big scene. Her shot, it would seem, was at the end of last week. She blew it, and left the opening for someone else (who she still doesn’t know is Sara).

Nina isn’t about to tell her…at least not until she gets an ironclad promise from Yuzu that she’ll support Sara in her love, no matter what. She secures that promise when Yuzu is at her most miserable and vulnerable. I tellya, this Nina is one cool operator.

After another unpleasant run-in with Mei over hitting up the bath too late— breaking both school and hotel rules, *gasp*—Yuzu ends up encountering Sara in the bath. A very happy, if nervous Sara. Yuzu is happy for Sara, but when she reports her own failure, Sara urges her not to give up. Even if she’s dating someone else, Sara believes Yuzu has to tell her how she feels.

Yuzu tries to do just that, waiting until Mei’s roommate Himeko leaves to sneak in and talk. Mei isn’t having it, but when Himeko suddenly returns, she turns out the lights and pulls Yuzu under the covers with her, literally covering for her.

This time, Yuzu doesn’t squander her chance, embracing Mei, blowing on her neck, and preparing to kiss her, perhaps in hope her actions will speak louder than her thus-far lack of words. Mei stops her and orders her to leave, but the experience emboldens Yuzu. The time wasn’t right to say what she wanted to say, but now she’s committed to finding that time.

Yuzu was hoping that would be the next day, but Mei has already gone off on a date. Yuzu rushes to the location of that date and tries to determine where Mei might be, but she’s intercepted by Nina, who finally tells her the truth: Mei is Sara’s girlfriend, and she’s going to keep it that way.

Nina’s statuesque physique was played for laughs last week, but both when she squeezed a promise from “drunk” Yuzu (hugging her just a bit too hard) and when she’s backing her into a railing here, Nina’s size becomes a threatening proposition—one Yuzu simply never saw coming.

Meanwhile, atop an observation tower, Mei spaces out. Last night after the bath, Sara found Yuzu’s dropped student ID, saw the same last name as Mei’s, and remembered Yuzu saying she was in love with her stepsister. Even so, she can’t deny her heart, which is telling her she wants to kiss Mei.

With Sara wanting to go all in,  Mei simply wanting someone to need her for who she is, and Yuzu cowering in a tight corner, everything seems to be coming up Nina…except of course if the ultimate truth is that Nina harbors an unrequited love for Sara.

The stigma of incest combined with Sara falling for someone else seem to have helped Nina decide to give up on Sara for herself and instead use every resource at her disposal to ensure her sister’s happiness, even at the cost of her own.

I appreciated the added layers given to both Tachibana twins. Like Yuzu, Sara is the purer of the two sisters, more easily manipulated for good and ill, while Nina, due in part to the world denying her the love she chose, is the more cynical sister who doesn’t believe in fate, only will and effort. She may be hurting Yuzu deeply, but better Yuzu than Sara.

We should be in for quite a finale.

Momokuri – 07 + 08

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Rio’s long-distance admiration of Momo progresses when their eyes meet and Momo reaches out in friendship, seeing as how her two best friends know his two best friends. Momo also inadvertantly sets Rio’s heart aflutter when he compliments her height and figure.

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Of course, Kuri also knows Rio, and sees her as a potential ally in her quest to document Momo in every possible condition, such as, say, when he’s in the pool for P.E. Rio feels a hint of kinship with Kuri, but Kuri’s so damn much that it still weirds Rio out in a way Norika is clearly more used to.

Kuri’s desire to meet with Rio meant not walking home with Momo after a long time of doing just that (and only that), so when Momo sees Kuri with Rio, he gets jealous, and gets even more somber when she doesn’t walk with him to school.

Obviously, dude has no reason to worry, since he was the whole reason Kuri met with Rio to begin with, and when he brings up how he’s felt down while they’ve been apart, it gives Momo a nosebleed he quickly and expertly attends to.

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Hearing his lower voice, and his request she not call him feminine, Kuri starts to think of Momo as more than just cute, but also a boy, though she’s still not quite sure what to do about it. After a kick from Norika, she commits to asking him out on a proper date to the beach.

Before she can, Momo steals a march on her, inviting her to a BBQ, along with all of their mutual friends. They both revel in the fact they’re on the phone with one another, to the point Kuri thinks out loud, embarrassing both of them while at the same time being happy the words were said.

These two episodes felt a lot more like a single, standard-length one, and with the BBQ not happening until next week, Momokuri has gotten very serialized. As long as things don’t get too complicated or dramatic…that’s what Orange is for! I like Momokuri because it’s simple, pleasant, and light.

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Momokuri – 05 + 06

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Sakaki Rio, Yuki’s tall, cool, athletic new rival, probably thinks the world is out of alignment, and she simply needs to click it back into a place where she, not Yuki, is by Momo’s side, “protecting his smile”, as anime characters love to do.

That Yuki simply slipped into Momo’s good graces with her Poodle-Maltese-esque cuteness and outwardly easygoing nature; but she doesn’t deserve Momo; not really. He’s Rio’s small, cute animal to protect.

But at the start of the episode, she’s at a distinct disadvantage. She’s in the supermarket. Yuki ends up in Momo’s room, then bed, then enjoys dinner with him. Definite FOMO vibes coming off Rio.

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It wasn’t always that way. She joined the tennis club because Momo thought she’d look cool playing. Then he quit, and she got stuck practicing with the older girls that craved her athletic prowess.

She lost her “in” with him, though she’s still in the same class as him and accepts his offer of ice cream in exchange for her study cards. But it’s clear Momo doesn’t see her at all the way Rio sees him, which is more how he sees Yuki. To Momo, she’s just…a friend.

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Whereas Rio’s effort to get closer to Momo (thru tennis) fizzled out, Yuki has gotten to where she is through relentless effort and persistence, without ever exposing too much of her perv-ier side to Momo. More to the point, he’s all but blind to that side of her-like assuming she was feeling ill when he found her in his bed.

What’s amusing about these two is that Momo is often worried that he’s thinking impure thoughts or being pervy and tries to check himself, while Yuki leaps into that arena with such gusto, she often needs her friend to pull her out, by, say, tossing out Momo’s used straws.

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When she inevitably gets found out by Rio, Rio doesn’t turn it into leverage, because she can’t, not without revealing her own hand to Momo (or worse, coming off as mean or vindictive). She’s also clearly a little afraid of Momo’s intense observation and intel-gathering methods.

But Rio also knows that there’s more to Yuki than she thought …much more, though not all of it necessarily good. Yuki is right that Rio understands how she feels about the addictively-cute Momo, but the sheer intensity of Yuki’s obsession overpowers any resultant shame. Rio just isn’t wired that way, but they both like Momo, so it will be interesting to see how she deals.

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