Hanebado – A misunderstood masterpiece
Warning: This essay contains spoilers of the recently aired anime “Hanebado”.
It has been a long time since I wrote anything relating to anime/manga/light novel, and even when I did write them in the past, all of them are not really considered good posts. However, recently, as my job has taken quite a toll on my mental health, I think that I should write something about something I love, to ward off the stress that has been my mind.
Hence, this essay is written. This isn’t what you would call an anime review, it’s just me mulling over something I enjoy. So please, if you have sometime to spare, please bear with me through this not-so-lengthy not-review.
And if you are wondering “why the hell does this guy write in English”, well let's just say that I kinda feel like it.
So, let us begin
Hanebado is a sport anime that has been aired recently. As I have not been keeping up with much info on the anime industry, I’m not really sure about this show’s popularity, both inside and outside of Japan. However, if you take a normalfag route and look it up on MAL, you can see that it barely got a 7 rating, with reviews filled with 4-5/10, which is an indication of, let’s just say a “shit” anime. If you think that this anime is basically garbage, then you are… not entirely wrong. There are certainly several problems with this anime. Still, Hanebado is an anime that took a special place in my heart, and I think that it got its bad rep due to the fact that it is… misunderstood.
In my opinion, one of the reason Hanebado got such negative reviews, is because it betrays many’s expectation of a sport anime, in a… quite negative way. Hanebado isn’t your usual sport anime, and to understand why, we must first delve into the details.
In a conventional sport anime, we usually got ourselves a protagonist, that is mildly talented at a game, and through hard work and will power, achieves the ultimate victory in the game. While there are differences on individual cases, most sport anime heroes share a key similarity, which is the fact that they are the underdog that come out as the victors by trying hard enough. And this point here is extremely important in sport anime, as it is the key plot point that drives the story, that makes the viewers/readers be able to relate, to sympathize with the protagonist. Needless to say, it is difficult to enjoy a work of fiction if you can’t relate or sympathize with the protagonist.
This isn’t the case with Hanebado. Now, I’m not saying the plot of Hanebado is unique. In fact, it shares a lot of similarity with 2 popular all girl sport anime franchises: “Saki” and “Girls und Panzer” (in case you haven’t watched either of these 2 anime, go watch them, they are crazily good). In all 3 shows, we have a protagonist that is extremely talented at the game that is the focus of the show, but due to some past trauma, decide to stop playing and slowly comes to dislike the game; but after being forcibly induced in to a club in highschool, the protagonist starts to come to terms with their dislike of the game, and begins to enjoy playing it again.
However, there are 2 key points that differ Hanebado from its similar counterparts. The first one is the character “Aragaki Nagisa”. Now, if Hanebado is your conventional sport anime, then Nagisa would be the protagonist. A character that has at least some talent in the game of badminton, but succeed mostly through her struggling and hard work. In Hanebado, Nagisa is the deuteragonist, and is one of the driving force for the characterization of “Hanesaki Ayano” – the protagonist of the show.
Let us put the character of Nagisa aside for now, and talk about the 2nd different key points. In the cases of “Saki” or “GuP”, after the protagonist starts enjoying playing the game again, the anime basically revert back the the story of the “underdog”, showing the struggle of the protagonist and their team to achieve victory. But in Hanebado, after the episode where Ayano seemingly started enjoy playing badminton again, the anime just went full melodramatic edgefest. If Saki (in Saki) plays mahjong or Miho (in GuP) plays Senshadou to achieve something positive (to reunite with love ones, to save the school from closing down,…), then Ayano plays badminton for one reason only: to get revenge against her own mother for her has abandoned Ayano. Now this plot point here has created some of the most melodramatic anime moments I’ve ever seen, and I can understand why many people comes to hate the anime because of this. Watching a sport anime, most people expect to have a hopeful feeling, to cheer on for the main characters, to feel bad when they lose, and to feel happy when they come out victorious. But it’s difficult to feel like that when watching Ayano plays in Hanebado. I mean, what is there to cheer on, when Ayano basically rekt anyone who stands in her way, continuously looking down on her opponents, with not even a shred of respect. Those are not features that you would normally see in a protagonist of a sport anime, those features belong to the antagonist. There’s no need to feel happy for her, because you know she would win. And to make things worse, her opponents are people that has pushed through with their own struggle and hard work, only to be trashed by an overpower monster. Hanebado constantly reminds the viewers that struggle and hard work do not mean shit when you don’t have the talent to back it up. Almost every side characters are people who have tried their best, but in the end failed due to their lack of talent.
But Hanebado isn’t an anime that celebrates the theme of “hardwork betrays none”. It’s a story about finding yourself, about finding the reason to live and do what you love. And I think that it did a damn good job at portraying its main theme. From the first few minutes of the first episode, a question has been brought up by the 2 main characters of the show, Ayano and Nagisa: “What am I playing badminton for? – Nan no tame ni watashi wa badminton wo suru” (sorry for my bad nihongo, if it’s wrong, please also forgive me). This question is constantly asked all throughout the show, at its most iconic moments, symbolizes the main theme of the anime, but it has never been answered until the final episode. The final match in the anime between Ayano and Nagisa, which in my opinion, one of the best sport match in anime ever, not just for its visual spectacle, but also for portraying the theme of the anime in the most sensational way possible. The result of the match wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a damn engaging and emotional match to watch. Just through a short match, the anime was able to deliver some amazing character development for both Ayano and Nagisa, and finally gave an answer to the question that it has been asking “What am I playing badminton for?”
Hanebado isn’t a sport anime, it’s a character driven drama that uses sport as a way to convey its idea. It makes me question my own philosophy of what makes a good anime. For some people, it’s the plot, for some other, it’s the character, or the action, or the artwork,… For me, a good anime is an anime that does well what it sets out to do, what it wants to do, presenting its theme in a sensible way...
And have a lot of cute girls. Yes, an anime masterpiece needs cute girls, which Hanebado has a lot.