What you see on the other side of the net is always a reflection of yourself.
Overview (Spoilers Below):
It’s the final game of the big match between child superstar Ayano and team captain Nagisa. Ayano continues to suffer a minor mental breakdown in her search for purpose, while Nagisa fights her with everything she’s got, which isn’t a whole lot after her knee starts breaking down.
At the end of the day, Nagisa manages to pull off the win when Ayano’s racket slips from her grasp. But they’ve both won something because Aya has regained her love of badminton again!
The final episode of HANEBADO! opens on a rapid series of volleys between Nagisa and Ayano. It’s a fitting beginning to the end, and a nice way to showcase the visual energy dynamics that have made the show’s action sequences so engaging to watch. The match swings back and forth with the momentum gained and lost, until finally, Nagisa comes away with the victory. It’s a bit of an unexpectedly abrupt ending, but I can’t complain too much about it since there are only so many ways to end a sports match.
As she left off last week, Ayano is in the middle of a bout of honest self-reflection as she asks herself, “What’s the reason I’m fighting?” She isn’t able to regain any momentum until she starts to find the answer. By banishing all thoughts of pressure and prestige, she realizes she’s only fighting for one reason: to beat Nagisa. The pure love of the game and the competition urges her onwards, and she quickly makes the match more interesting. I love how her teammates cheer her on as she catches up to Nagisa. Even after everything, she’s done and how she’s treated them in recent times, they’re still loyal and rooting for her to shake off her funk.
Ayano’s big showdown with Uchika after the game felt like a bit of a letdown to me. With a whole lot of buildup, it only lasted a matter of mere moments. Her mother is the reason for Ayano’s acting out, and I wanted more of their interaction. Still, though, I thought the dialogue itself was well-written. “I hated you,” Ayano tells her, before turning down her mother’s offer to go back with her overseas. She still gets to reject her mother in a way, while also perhaps forgiving her and letting the past go with a promise to play again together someday.
In the English dub this week, Amber Lee Connors and Dawn M. Bennett really stole the show. Both of them feature prominently in the finale and have to do some of the most intense deep breathing I’ve ever heard in my life. And their actual performances aren’t bad, either! It was fitting that Yu had the funniest line of the finale, responding to the coach’s difficult-to-pronounce diagnosis with: “Whatever you said, it sounds really bad!”
The final episode of HANEBADO! treats us to a thrilling match of badminton masterminds playing not because of prestige or pride, but for the love of the game itself. While the badminton sections of the episode are pretty great, it struggles to reach the same level during the latter portions of the finale. Ayano’s final talk with her mother is fine, but it feels too simple and abrupt after an entire season building up to it. At least it was sweet seeing Alaina and Ayano together, and Nagisa and Riko, too. The show goes out much as it came in – with exciting scenes of badminton and characters that show a lot of promise to be developed so much more.