HaneBad or Vengeance with a Racquet

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The Beast.

On a whim, average high school girl Fujisawa Elena decides she should join an after-school club. Ignoring its bad rep, she picks the badminton club (or the Bad Club) and drags her childhood friend, cute girl Hanesaki Ayano with her, against her will. Elena doesn’t know that quite yet, but what she did will open up a particularly ugly can of worms…

It’s been a while since I last wrote up a current anime, has it not? HaneBad (はねバド) is an adaptation of a sports comic, one about badminton. Every single sport has been made into a manga, after all. When the anime was announced, I knew I’d give it a shot. I mean, who hasn’t played badminton?

The Bad Club makes the worst possible first impression, mainly thanks to its ace, Aragaki Nagisa. As her punny name suggests, she’s an aggressive tomboy and the polar opposite of Ayano. She scares off most of new students who came to the gym seeking a club to join, but Ayano is begged into joining by their coach. As it turns out, the girl had been quite the badminton player in the past and actively avoided the sport. Hanesaki Ayano reluctantly returns to playing badminton and prepares for the upcoming prefectural tournament.

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“You do not talk about Bad Club.”

If you’re an experienced anime watcher, while watching HaneBad, you might be asking yourself the following question: “how is this different from other sports anime?”. Will it be a classic story about self-improvement and climbing to the top? Probably not, considering Ayano already is near the top.

The first big hint to help you figure out the answer to that question appears in episode 3, the one about Ayano’s past. Her mother, Shindou Uchika was a badminton champion who’d been trying to mold Ayano into a perfect badminton-playing machine since her early childhood… and had left her daughter after she lost one match, never to return. The girl continued playing badminton for a while, thinking her mother would return if she did, to no avail. She becomes devilishly good at the sport, too. Since Ayano’s motivation to play was nothing but negative emotions, a certain grim entity formed in her mind… As if that wasn’t enough, turns out Uchika found herself a new daughter she’s now training.

Aragaki proves to only be the first link in a longer chain of awful personalities Ayano will encounter, and will have to play against. Like Kaoruko-chan, the prideful pink-haired ojou type. She’s partly responsible for Hanesaki losing her mother. Then, during a training camp, she meets Connie from Denmark – Uchika’s new daughter, haughty and eager to win against Hanesaki. Every next opponent Ayano faces pushes her deeper into the downward spiral and fuels the evil entity sitting inside her. The Japanese internet calls her the “Maou”. The crazy-eyed “alter ego” (or just the ugly side of her usually peaceful personality) who, when provoked, comes to the surface to destroy her opponents on the court and be a madly entertaining asshole to everyone around. No nice things ever happen so the Maou lets herself be seen more and more often… Connie’s “let’s be family” proposal gets completely rejected. A plan to humiliate Uchika through badminton forms in Ayano’s mind. When the time comes for the tournament, Kaoruko, confident as ever, gets absolutely brutalized on the court…

This summary omits quite a lot – HaneBad isn’t only about Hanesaki Ayano. Plenty of other characters appear and even get whole episodes focused on them, but if you ask the Japanese viewers (and me), the Maou is definitely the most memorable and interesting part of the story. All the screentime given to others feels like misdirection of attention. So they have a new coach? Who cares? That bit at the beginning suggesting HaneBad might be about the rivalry between badminton and tennis? Doesn’t matter. I’m sorry, Yuu. You’re mighty cute, but also completely inconsequential. The girl with chopsticks in hair? Sorry, she’s not good enough. All that matters are the Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde-esque shenanigans. At times, more than a sports anime, HaneBad resembles a Narou-style revenge story, with its hilariously exaggerated vindictive protagonist making cartoony disdainful faces at her enemies. And that’s great. HaneBad is ShieldBro, with a racquet instead of a shield. It’s a joy to watch.

To a large extent, my final opinion on HaneBad hinged on the ending. Now that I watched the last episode, I have to say it’s rather disappointing. Ayano loses the tournament’s final match, but barely, and makes peace with her mother and the other clubmates. To make it more believable, they made it seem like she does it out of exhaustion – her ambition to win the tournament to spite Uchika proved to put enormous stress upon her. So, a classic happy ending. How much more entertaining and memorable would this show be if Ayano never stopped being the Maou? I haven’t read the manga, but I’ve read the tournament’s outcome was originally supposed to be much less savory.

I’m a storytelling nerd – that’s the aspect I always pay most attention to when watching stuff. But, HaneBad has plenty to offer if you’re more into the visual side of anime. The rotoscoped badminton matches look great in motion – you might have seen the vids on Sakuga Blog if you read that. The series’ OP is among the absolute best ones of the year – it looks and sounds great. The smoke! The splashing sweat! The integrated credits being blown off the screen. An incredible amount of effort went into this one minute and a half. The music by Katou Tatsuya is pretty good as well.

HaneBad was a pretty damn sweet series. I’m a fan now. As I’ve tweeted before: watch it. If the manga ever gets out in English, I’ll be sure to buy it.

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