Every otaku has their own turn-offs when it comes to anime, particularly in terms of genre, but western fans seem particularly averse to two particular types of shows: sports anime and cute girls anime. The former is often seen as formulaic, with cut-and-paste plots starring overpowered heroes while the latter is stigmatized as vapid, pandering waifu-bait that constantly reuses the same few stock characters.
This is undeniably true for plenty of shows in the genre, but this line of thinking becomes a problem when it’s used to justify ignoring good examples of this genre. Unfortunately, that is the fate we fear may befall The Badminton Play of Ayano Hanesaki or Hanebado for short. This is a series that combines both these unpopular genres into one show and yet turns it into the season’s most promising new offering so far.
The Real Stars of The Show
Despite only having aired one episode at the time of writing, Hanebado has already made a brilliant impression on those who have seen it. As a matter of fact, it’s qualities are apparent even before watching the first episode. This series has the fortune of being directed by Ezaki Shinpei and while that name carries little meaning to most fans, a cursory glance at his filmography is sure to change that.
Shinpei’s breakout success came as a regular episode director for the widely acclaimed romantic drama Kimi ni Todoke from 2009-2011, but undoubtedly the best showcase of his talent came in the form of 2013’s Shingeki no Kyojin. Shinpei worked again as an episode director for this show under series director Tetsurou Araki, where he was able to learn the intricacies of the latter’s style, but more on that later.
Hanebado also boasts the presence of writer Taku Kishimoto, also responsible for recent smash hits like Erased, Gintama°, Usagi Drop and Haikyuu!!, easily one of the most popular sports anime this decade. With a creative staff like this, the show seems destined for greatness, but can it live up to the expectations set by the previous efforts of its staff?
How to Make Badminton Look Cool
Earlier we mentioned that director Ezaki Shinpei worked on Shingeki no Kyojin under Death Note director Tetsurou Araki, but we neglected to note that he also worked on the latter’s Guilty Crown series. This was an original anime made by Araki who relished in the opportunity to have complete control over his project’s visuals, eager to show-off his directing style in full force. Araki is known for his bombastic movement that mixes fast, kinetic motion with imposing and weighty gestures for some of the most impactful visuals the medium has had in the 21st century. Having worked with him on two different shows, Shinpei has been able to learn and replicate Araki’s chaotic style, like when he storyboarded the famous battle between Captain Levi and the female titan from episode 22 of Shingeki no Kyojin.
Don’t take that to mean Shinpei’s stellar presentation stops once he leaves his storyboards and enters the director’s chair, because Hanebado’s visuals give Araki himself a run for his money. SnK fans are sure to love the masterful use of all the stylistic techniques that made that series so beautiful. Lightning-fast cuts, intense camera movements, dramatic framing, deep shading, heavy impacts punctuated by sparks and more sakuga in a single episode than a lot of shows get in their entire run. Through sheer talent in direction, Shinpei is able to give his badminton show enough excitement to rival even the best of the action genre.
Let’s Settle This on The Court
Great visuals can only take a show so far without a good story, of course, but as we hinted earlier, Taku Kishimoto’s writing absolutely matches the presentation’s quality. We won’t go into spoilers, since we obviously want you to go watch the show, but the plot abandons the cliché of following a naturally talented protagonist on their rise to the top in order to explore how and why different athletes are interested in badminton as well as the consequences of that investment, weaving a well-crafted web of interpersonal relationships in the process.
We previously mentioned that Hanebado is not just a sports show, but a cute-girls show as well. While the badminton club the show follows is not exclusively female, the show is very upfront about the fact that its focus is on the many attractive girls that make up its primary cast. Both the cinematography and designs are clearly trying to make the characters look as visually appealing as possible, like so many other series in this genre. But unlike what many think of these types of shows, this show is intent on putting distinct characterization behind its pretty designs to make the characters more than just tropes. It also drops them into an intriguing multi-layered plot for good measure.
That’s right, Hanebado eschews both the traditional sports success story and the low-stakes slice-of-life adventures typical of its two genres in favor of a character-driven drama and a very promising one, at that. Not only are there many intriguing conflicts, but each comes from believable origins, as every player is given clear and understandable motivations that make each clash between club members feel organic. Even though some fanservice is thrown into the mix, each scene tells us something new about the characters or pushes the plot forward, so there are no instances of cheesecake just for its own sake. Despite all the meticulous attention paid to presentation, animation, and appealing character designs, the series does not forget to tell a compelling story.
The two most important ingredients to any work of art are love and craftsmanship and Hanebado shows its creators have gone out of their way to ensure that both are present in each second of runtime. Let us know what you think of the show in the comments and of course, be sure to go watch Hanebado.