Ayano may be a badminton child prodigy, but Nagisa isn’t going down without a fight.
Overview (Spoilers Below):
As the match between Ayano and Nagisa continues to go at full force, Ayano’s best friend Elena decides to try to confront Ayano’s mother Uchika about the real reason that she abandoned Ayano as a child all those years ago. The explanation she gives is that she wanted her daughter to learn to love badminton for herself. Back at the match, the pressure is getting to Ayano, but she can’t walk away from the game just yet.
As we being the penultimate episode of HANEBADO!, Nagisa is sticking with her sneaky strategy to avoid using her overhead smashes. It’s worked well up until now at putting Ayano off guard. After a cut smash that sends the shuttlecock spinning out of Nagisa’s range, Ayano takes the momentum. (They’ve basically switched styles, comments one observer.) Even with Nagisa’s smart thinking and careful use of her natural strength, Ayano’s talent and years of training outpace her. The first game goes to Ayano. But whenever things get tough, it means you have to take a step forward! Nagisa doesn’t let up, and comes back swinging in order to win the second game.
This episode delves into Ayano’s mind in a way I don’t think we’ve fully seen before. “I know you’re on Nagisa’s side,” she comments to her teammates as they attempt to service her during a break. All the trust issues that have plagued her since her mother’s departure are showing up in full strength here. You’ve gotta feel for her. (Although I can never forgive her for telling Yuu that she’s annoying.) If I don’t win, nobody will ever need me, she thinks. With the pressure building inside her, Ayano feels the temptation to walk away from the match. But Alaina has always been there for her, along with all her cheering teammates. She chooses to return, and she and Nagisa resume their rapport.
Elena’s confrontational conversation with Uchika is a key scene, but doesn’t really tell me anything unexpected. It’s weird because she seems to know she’s been a terrible mother. She thanks Alaina for always being by Ayano’s side when she wasn’t. But she also claims to have no regrets about the way things turned out. She says she left Ayano because she was only invested in badminton for her mother’s sake. Badminton always came first, and she wanted to open her daughter’s eyes to how far skill can take you in life. Dedicating your life to a sport is a worthwhile endeavor, she argues. Giving your all when going up against the competition makes your life have meaning. She knows what she’s done is unforgivable, but has no regrets. I still have so many questions… Like, why is imparting this insanely fierce love of badminton more important to Uchika than actually having a loving relationship with Ayano herself? What was Uchika’s relationship with her own mother like?
The English dub of HANEBADO! rarely fails to disappoint, and this week’s episode is no different. There were some sad, yet hilariously savage lines from Ayano’s mom: “If you want longer games, you’ll need to become a much stronger player than you are now.” Then there was this excellent summation of Ayano’s badminton skills: “Ayano, you beautiful monster.” Finally, Yuu’s inner monologue always makes for quotable quips: “I’m the older one here and I’m terrified of her.”
Step Forward Already! is a fine episode of HANEBADO! that gives us a lot of insight into where Ayano’s head is right now. She has so many doubts about herself and her own worth. Without winning badminton matches, she doesn’t think she has worth. (Although her time with Alaina before the show might present a different picture.) I’m excited about next week’s finale when we’ll finally get to see if she sticks with her plan of winning the game and then abandoning Uchika as she abandoned her.