HANEBADO! serves up a healthy dose of badminton action along with plenty of character drama.
Overview (Spoilers Below):
Despite her limitless talent and potential, Ayano Hanesaki would rather avoid badminton than play it. But after her BFF Alaina drags her to badminton club, she starts to be inspired by fellow badminton enthusiasts like Nagisa Aragaki, a third year who spends every waking moment perfecting her game. Encouraged by their coach, Tachibana Kentarou, Ayano and Nagisa hit the courts and rally against opponents and rivals with amazing skills. As time goes on, they become close friends, but when they wind up facing each other in a final tournament match, they have to ask themselves – what are they playing for?
HANEBADO! (The Badminton Play of Ayano Hanesaki!) is a show for serious sports addicts who can get excited about badminton. Almost every episode has well-animated scenes of serves, volleys, and smashes as the players compete against each other for dominance on the court. But even if you don’t consider yourself a major sports buff, you might find some things to enjoy here. One of the best parts of HANEBADO! is the way the show manages to balance the sports aspect with the other plot points it utilizes. When compared with other sports anime from this season, it seems to spend more time building the characters and their relationships off the court, which definitely lets us as viewers become more invested in their success in competitions.
The main characters are Ayano and Nagisa, and though they’re both very different, they’re also both very compelling to watch. Ayano has a lot of issues surrounding volleyball and relationships in general thanks to her mother running off on her at a young age. Nagisa has a lot to deal with as well, especially since she’s basically been carrying the team on her back for the past couple of years. Rounding out the Kitakomachi High School badminton team is a lot of interesting side characters like Hayama (a dude!) and Yuu (the irresistible comic relief!). Some of the supporting cast outside the club are less fun to watch, mainly because they don’t have as much development and typically act in more cliched anime ways. (Looking at you, pink hair.)
One of the major mysteries of the show was Ayano’s mother, Uchika. From the very first episode, we learn about how the professional badminton champ abandoned her daughter after the young girl lost a match. This trauma caused her to give up badminton, and she was happy to do so until her best friend Alaina pulled her back into it. Near the end of the series, Uchika returns, but it’s never cleanly dealt with and the way this plot arc is handled left me wanting more. For such an unusually unwise act by a parent, the wrap up is fairly tame and underwhelming in comparison. Another of the themes put forward by the show included the obligation that talented players have to keep playing regardless of whether they enjoy it or not. This is a problem that faces kids here in the US, too. “You’re so good at sports,” people say. “Why don’t you still play?” (Okay, maybe I’m projecting my own experiences a bit.) The show goes out of its way to get across how Alaina basically forced Ayano into picking up her racket again. She says it’s almost a crime for someone of her talent not to play. Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t really come to fruition, as Ayano does end up continuing to play (although for her own reasons). It would just have been nice to see some affirmation that just because you’re talented at a sport, you shouldn’t be expected to play it.
If you’re someone who holds animation quality above all else, HANEBADO! is sure to not disappoint. Not only are its character and background designs visually appealing and nicely colored, but the animation itself is also very well done, with plenty of movement and energy made use of during climatic scenes of volleying matches. The direction is generally on point, and the music works well at supporting the emotions called for in specific scenes. The English dub is a very good affair for the most part. Characters sound realistic and the actors do a fair job imbuing their performances with the requisite emotion and pathos, for the most part. Funimation has gotten a reputation as the leader in dubs for a reason, and they are able to deliver a very good quality of dub in a very short time these days. Amber Lee Connors does a particularly great job voicing Ayano, gracefully balancing the shy, sweet girl and her more vengeful, competitive side.
I’m not a huge fan of sports shows, but I think HANEBADO! is probably one of the better ones I’ve gotten to see in recent years. It may not end up saying a whole lot about topics it teased during its run, but the characters were fun to root for and I’m glad that Ayano ends up getting some of the closure she deserved. HANEBADO! serves up a sports anime that showcases women serious about badminton.