What’s it about? At the badminton national championship in middle school, Nagisa Aragaki suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Ayano Hanesaki. Now in high school, Nagisa has turned so hyper-competitive and intense she scares away potential new club members. At the same school, Ayano has turned away from badminton completely and is trying out the tennis club instead. She’s ready to leave the sport behind, but when the school’s new coach sees her save her friend from a wild pass, he insists she join. It looks like Ayano and Nagisa will meet again, but now as allies.
For years, every time a female-driven sports anime was announced, I’d say to myself, “Maybe this one will treat its characters like serious athletes instead of moe archetypes and vehicles for fanservice.” And every time, I was wrong. But HANEBADO! really looked like it might be the lady-led sports anime I was waiting for.
And I was right. Sort of.
Hanebado definitely takes its characters seriously as athletes and as human beings. However, whether or not you’ll stick around long enough to see that depends entirely on your tolerance for what we at AniFem have taken to calling boob nonsense.
Boob nonsense is when, in an anime, a character’s breasts behave in ways that don’t match up with the situation. It could be extraneous jiggle, water-balloon boob physics, or vacuum-sealed sweaters. It’s distinct from fanservice in that it doesn’t draw attention specifically to the boobs, but tends to be distracting regardless. Hanebado has very little fan service—a couple of unnecessary butt shots on the court after the game—but it has a whole lot of boob nonsense in that Nagisa desperately needs a sports bra.
If you can look past that, however, Hanebado has a lot to offer. Like I said, it has a major advantage in that it takes its characters seriously as athletes. Nagisa is built for power, and shots emphasize the way her muscles flex and shift as she jumps to hit the ball. Ayano has a smaller build, but animators emphasize her intensity during the game through her expression and lightning-fast reflexes.
There are no squeaky voices, no childlike character designs, no speeches about how the real victory was the friends they made a long the way. These girls are not here for male viewers to ogle; they’re here not only to play, but to win at badminton.
One thing I did appreciate about the world of Hanebado is how it approached characters of different genders. The sports clubs at their school don’t seem to be separated by gender, and there are boys present… they’re just not very important. Ayano is specifically uninterested in dating, and Nagisa barely seems to register that there are male members of the badminton club.
There’s an extremely attractive male tennis club member who attracts a lot of fawning girls and the president of the tennis club resents him for it, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be remotely important. Thus far, the only major male character is the new badminton coach, a former Olympic athlete with a troubling penchant for ogling female tennis players.
One of Hanebado’s greatest flaws, outside of causing psychosomatic backaches in its bustier audience members, is that emotions start running high right away. We’re dropped right into the middle of Nagisa and Ayano’s middle school match. When Ayano wins 21-love and Nagisa drops to her knees, we’re supposed to feel for her right away. We’re supposed to be invested in seeing Ayano return to badminton even after quitting.
There’s a lot of blanks it’s expecting us to fill in, to be honest. They’re not difficult to fill in, so it still works very well, but it may be hard for audience members who are already skeptical after Nagisa’s bouncing badminton bosoms to make up the lost ground.
Those of us who were more enthralled by her flexing thigh muscles (myself included), probably won’t have any trouble meeting the show halfway. The plot and character beats are pretty commonplace for sports anime—the agony of defeat, the talented player who quit after a traumatic experience only to be recruited again, rivals to teammates to friends—but they’re rare for girls’ sports anime.
It has more of its DNA in common with Hajime no Ippo or Slam Dunk than with Scorching Ping Pong Girls or even Free! These shows have never really worked for me—I don’t love sports, and I’m not interested in watching anime boys play it. Am I more interested in watching the same story that once bored me play out with female characters? Abso-frigging-lutely.