After her crushing defeat of 21-0 at the National Junior Badminton Tournament, Nagisa Aragaki's love for her sport begins to distort. Unable to deal with the shame of loss, she starts to terrorize the members of her high school badminton club. Her grueling drills bring some to the verge of tears while others quit the club outright. With the team losing members and new prospects being too terrified to join, the future of the badminton club looks exceptionally grim. That is, until Kentarou Tachibana joins as the new head coach. Not only is he an Olympic-level player, but he also comes bearing a secret weapon: Ayano Hanesaki, the girl who defeated Nagisa six months ago. However, Ayano is not the rival Nagisa remembers, but a girl with conflicted feelings wanting to distance herself from badminton. With her future in sports now on the line, Nagisa must find a way to face her fears of inadequacy, heal her rival's troubled heart, and bring victory to Kitakomachi High School's badminton club. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Those who derive all of their entertainment and lasting impressions from anime out of said work’s production values alone, those in the so called Sakuga Community, have always interested me, because while their commitment to technical quality is something I deeply share and respect, their equally unshakeable lack of concern with every other aspect of the work has perplexed me to no end for as long as I can remember. I mean, no matter how beautifully made it may be, I just can’t imaging enjoying a show if the plot composition, character writing, visual direction, or even just the music or color design alone is bad in any combination. These are the people who convinced me to watch a show as embarrassingly incompetent as Fate/Apocrypha for its action sakuga alone, and watching a show that heinously awful just to see a few flashy fight scenes which I could’ve just as easily seen on sakugabooru is something I will happily never do again. In light of this resolve, however, I for some reason decided to watch a show as melodramatic and cheaply written as Hanebado just for its ambitious athletic choreography and gorgeous animation direction, and this review will detail to you the sad reality of this mistake.
The direction, the shot composition from storyboarding, the digital and hand-shaded lighting, the angles and framing, the perspectives and editing, the aforementioned choreography and base animation, and just about every other facet of the visual presentation this monster has to offer was spot on perfect every time it absolutely needed to be so, and while it could be called mildly inconsistent, the average quality of artwork and animation will still blow you away. Directing often done in perspective animation of the birdie dashing like lighting back and forth across the court with quick, intense, energetic frames of the characters’ enlivened faces intermittently flashing onto screen. Powerful storyboards punching in the impact of the birdies ricocheting off the rackets like bullets off plate metal, the muscle it takes to vault for wide shots like the athlete’s life depends on it, and the beats of sweat leaping off the athlete’s face when they switch directions to dance across the court faster than the in-betweeners can even draw them. Never does the spectacle slow, drop detail, or pan across stills, thusly spending every waking second zipping around the court and the players atop. I cannot stress just how much time, money, and manpower was clearly expended crafting these brilliant sequences. Do you remember the documentaries of Production IG staff meticulously studying professional volleyball players to animate Haikyuu, or Silat martial artists to animate Psycho-Pass? If not for the fact I know and can evidently see LIDENFILMS rotoscoped half the matches, I would’ve sworn similar amounts of Herculean effort was put into the production of Hanebado, because it’s just that beautiful.
As for the rest of the show, well, it’s pretty not great.
Our protagonist is a girl named Ayano who is the daughter of the most decorated female badminton athlete ever to grace Japan, and with such expectations rested upon her shoulders and with such big shoes to fill, she has been raised for the sole purpose of playing badminton and living up to her mother’s lofty ideals of her development. As if such an overblown conceit wasn’t already embellished enough on paper, Ayano is portrayed as a being an almost literal “badminton monster”—which I know sounds hysterically stupid, but seeing as they actually use this descriptor multiple times in the anime verbatim, I’m going to stick with it—who will periodically flip her crazy switch in tense matches which literally makes her eyes dilate like a psychopath and also makes her hair turn messy like a rabid animal. I guess I could take this seriously if her mother beat her or something abusive to warrant this level of distress, but every single flashback to her childhood shows her and her mother happily practicing badminton with no stakes and all smiles, so when the show suddenly cuts back to present day with Ayano looking like she’s ready to murder her opponent over a simple practice game, I can’t help but wonder how she became so comically overdramatic. And it’s not just her either. Her opponents are just as outrageously overreactive and unbelievably over-the-top. For example, one of Ayano’s early competitors is a Danish girl who pushed aside her life and home country to move to Japan for the sole purpose of beating Ayano and winning her mother’s favor. How any of these personalities and character motivations are supposed to be believable or realistic in the slightest bit is beyond me.
Despite the badminton matches being absolutely stunning on a visual level, the script which stands meekly behind them can only be compared to that which you’d find in your standard shounen battle manga. If I had to give an example, I would say Fairy Tail, but all shounen battle manga have their own version of the infamous Power of Friendship, or what I like to call the-writer-is-a-hack-and-the-main-characters-are-just-going-to-win-now-for-no-good-reason-other-than-the-fact-it-will-make-all-the-kids-and-teens-self-inserting-as-the-carboard-cutout-of-a-hero-feel-good-about-themselves. And, of course, Hanebado has its own version of this as well. Instead of following the examples of critically acclaimed sports anime such as Haikyuu, Baby Steps, or Hajime no Ippo, shows wherein the cast has to work for their skill and success with blood, sweat, tears, and precious time, Hanebado will just haphazardly throw characters in your face with predetermined skill sets which you’re then just supposed to accept with no questions asked. At no point in the show does anyone actually sit down and explain HOW or WHY someone is a good or bad player even though everyone is continuously using badminton terminology without explanation or demonstration. After watching the aforementioned shows Haikyuu, Baby Steps, and Hajime no Ippo, I know the rules of Volleyball, Tennis, and Boxing like the back of my hand, but after watching Hanebado, on the other hand, the only thing I really understand about badminton is when the birdie hits the ground, someone gets a point.
And speaking of the ostentatiously contrived script, I forgot to mention the people who are competing in this show only win or loose when they WANT to. As I just mentioned, there isn’t any progression in the characters’ skill sets, so the element of surprise which ends up deciding the matches is—you guessed it—their emotions. If Ayano is feeling unmotivated or corrupt, then she looses, and if Ayano is feeling determined or righteous, then she wins, and this is true for every single character in the entire show. If the lesson they have to learn involves suffering defeat, then they loose, and if the lesson they have to learn involves tasting victory, then they win. Skill and most certainly technique simply do not matter in this anime. Like, oh my god, you don’t even know. There’s a match towards the end of the show wherein the opposing player knows, in no uncertain terms, her opponent has a weak knee. Her coach knows this too, and he advises her to make her opponent run side to side in order to blow out her already weakened knee so she herself can score the win with ease, and she then decides to ACTIVELY DISOBEY HIS OBJECTIVELY HELPFUL INSTRUCTIONS AND DELIBERATELY PROCEED IN A MANNER IN WHICH SHE KNOWS FOR CERTAIN SHE WILL LOOSE THE MATCH, because his strategy, and I quote, “was not the badminton I wanted to play.” I suppose you could make the argument this allows the thematic depth of the show to shine, but when said theming is the same paper-thin conversation on hard work versus talent which you see in every sports anime ever made, the integrity of the script and consistency of the logical progression is hardly worth sacrificing.
In the end, despite having sought to never do so again, I finished a show I didn’t enjoy just for some pretty visuals, which I guess—if for no other reason to mention than to give myself an excuse—paints a really ugly picture of the fact most anime are so utterly lacking in technical quality, I would become so starved for a polished product that I’d just settle for this. Now please don’t go interpreting my bitching too far, though, because Hanebado is not complete and total failure. Its character art is really nice even if the designs themselves are cliched at best, its music was quite invigorating and the hype opening theme and animation were just as much so, the voice acting was really well-done and emotive even if the dialogue itself was pretty milquetoast, and the pacing was legitimately good. But again, if you’re looking for appeal at a level deeper than the absolute surface, you will be sorely disappointed with Hanebado. If you’re sick of being recommended the latest popular success by A-1 Pictures or Bones only to watch it and find it to be ugly as sin, just as you should, then check this out with your brain turned off to ease the pain, but beware, because if your brain accidentally comes alive, you’ll find yourself quickly confused, annoyed, and then immediately bored and turned off once again.