Manga Adaptation by Liden Films
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Six months ago, Nagisa Aragaki lost an important badminton match to a mysterious girl. Passionate and hard working to a fault, her sense of self crumbles and she grows bitter with frustration. Ayano Hanesaki, the girl who beat her, enrolls in the same high school, but has no desire to play badminton despite her innate talent for the sport. The fateful meeting between the two marks the beginning of a new rivalry.
Gee’s verdict: Solid Serve
Hanebado!, despite having perhaps a sleazier male gaze than I’d like in some spots, otherwise left a very positive first impression. There’s the foundation of a very compelling character drama here, and it’s specifically for that reason that I’m extremely cautious about where this show goes. Hanebado! has decided to shoot for the stars and take on perhaps the riskiest theme you can have in your sports story, that being the clash between hard work and talent. When executed well, such as in 2014’s spectacular Ping Pong, it can be one of the most powerful messages a sports story is uniquely capable of delivering. However in the wrong hands, it can be one of the most infuriating. Hanebado! works a careful balance here between the standoffish Nagisa and the annoyingly reluctant Ayano. Honestly I’m going to bet watchers are going to be turned off by at least one of the two primary characters, if not both, but in many ways this is what makes the show work for me.
Nagisa specifically is probably going to rub off on some people the wrong way but I found her character to actually be immensely compelling as someone who comes from a similar mold as her. Rough around the edges, too hard on herself, singularly focused to a fault, and poor at expressing her feelings, Nagisa is a specific brand of teen angst that is perhaps one of the more realistically written I’ve seen in ages. She’s competitive but not arrogant. She’s passionate but aloof. She has high standards for others but even higher for herself. She beats herself up because she needs her hard work to mean something, and when it doesn’t, it destroys her foundation. I look at her and I see a tragic mirror of my own younger self and it makes me wish I could reach out to her and tell her there’s more to life than your one passion. But speaking from personal experience, it’s a hard message to hear and an even harder one to internalize, so instead all I can do is empathize with her anguish and self doubt.
And so we arrive at the biggest problem with Hanebado!. Nagisa isn’t the main character, Ayano is. Ayano is exactly the kind of apathetic air headed sports story protagonist I’ve grown to hate and despise over the years. The kind that doesn’t take the sport seriously because she doesn’t have to. And the world she inhabits exists to justify and enable her whims. That we’re supposed to root for because of her supposedly tragic backstory that never ends up being that tragic. But I want to believe Hanebado! wouldn’t have done such an excellent job weaving its character drama if it wasn’t also ready to tackle it head on in a nuanced and compelling way. It all hinges on the Nagisa-Ayano dynamic, and that’s hard to predict so early on. Still, in a season we had initially resigned ourselves to being a lost cause, a part of me wants to hope Hanebado! can surprise me.
Jel’s verdict: 1-0, Hanebado
I was surprised to see there were actually quite a few themes and plot threads going on in this first episode and it wasn’t just hot, sweaty anime girls bouncing around the gym. There’s was certainly plenty of that (perhaps a little too much), but they seemed to be taking the plot and characters very seriously. My other concern was the male coach who appears to still possibly be a bit of a perv, but he also doesn’t seem like the blank slate audience insert I was expecting. Those are all good things.
Even better, I think the main conflict between Nagisa and Ayano has a ton of potential. Gee already mentioned the classic “hard work versus talent” theme but there’s also room to explore the reasons they play and what drives them. I think right now we are supposed to see both of their points of view as flawed and the show will drive us toward some sort of balance. At least that’s what I’m hoping.
I wouldn’t make a point by point plot comparison, but at least in terms of mood and themes I’d almost compare this to Sound! Euphonium. Many of the same questions came up in that show, as well as a lot of competitive, antagonistic club drama. If Hanebado can keep delivering on that while keeping the fan service down to an acceptable level, it might actually be good.