With the rapidly increasing success and popularity of sports anime, come greater expectations. Movement must be well-animated and the action: gripping. The camaraderie between teammates must be endearing, heartfelt, and capable of overcoming any challenge. The trailers of Hanebado, a badminton anime, piqued the interest of many sports anime enthusiasts. With titles such as Kuroko no Basket and Haikyuu setting the bar, it’s difficult to determine whether or not any new sports anime will stand at their level. Much to my delight, Hanebado is equal, if not better than, its spiritual predecessors.
The opening scene sets the tone: intense back-and-forth action with adrenaline-inducing tension. Before it cuts to the title sequence, a sentence is uttered by both the protagonist and antagonist: “What am I playing badminton for?” and this question remains in the viewer’s mind as the episode progresses.
Missing the chance at victory the protagonist, Nagisa Aragaki, vows to train to better herself, despite already being the best badminton player of her time. Unfortunately, her draconian training methods cause some of her classmates to quit the badminton club. After a spat between Aragaki and a few quitters, Tachibana Kentarou, the badminton club’s coach, scouts Ayano Hanesaki to join the club. Little does he know that Hanesaki and Aragaki are already acquainted: during a school tournament, Hanesaki clinched the victory from Aragaki; this incident being the catalyst for her rigorous conditioning.
Throughout the episode, there is an underlying tone of desperation and grit. It moves the plot forward as you attempt to discover what it is that motivates or inhibits a character. Aragaki’s need for perfection and redemption will resonate with anyone who has ever felt incompetent or had their accomplishments diminished by their inherent qualities, which is perceived by the public as advantageous.
It crescendos to the climax and leaves the viewer hungry for more. The melodrama may be off-putting for some viewers, but I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the production quality of the sakuga (sakuga being the term used in anime to describe moments in a show or movie when the quality of the animation improves drastically, typically for the sake of making a dramatic point or enlivening the action) animation.
The character designs are on the plain side and prone to “same face syndrome,” with only eye and hair color distinguishing one student from the next. Fan service is somewhat divided evenly between male and female characters. Though, some may argue that there is no fan service at all; it’s a matter of perception. None of the characters show skin; however, there are arguably provocative angles.
Hanebado shows plenty of promise and is a show to keep watching, if not for the story, then for the dynamic animation. I’m curious to see where this season will take our two powerhouses and if Aragaki can ever find it in herself to work alongside her greatest rival.