Dude, I love Ayano’s willingness to trash-talk her opponents. In the long run, our heroine turning into an emotionless machine is probably unsustainable. But I don’t blame her one bit for rubbing her victory into Kaoruko’s face. After all they’ve been through, the pink-haired girl deserves it. But as always, we’ll start from the top.
— The episode opens with Ayano frustrating yet another hapless opponent with her stellar defense. Kaoruko is watching intently from the stands. The score is tied, but everyone knows that the other girl will eventually run herself into the ground. Ayano is sticking to her trademark defense, but hey, it’s a long tournament. There’s no need for her to show her hand in the early rounds. You don’t want your future opponents to know what you’re capable of. At a high level, you need to have the mental game to match your physical talents.
— Kaoruko seems to have a fervent follower. I only ever see this sort of thing in anime.
— When the twin-tailed girl bumps into Ayano, we see that same scene from last week’s episode: Kaoruko offers her opponent a handkerchief to wipe her tears and snot with. Ayano confidently replies that she’s been nonstop to win. So yeah, trash-talking might not be the height of sportsmanship, but if you’re going to deal it out in spades, you better be able to take it in return. It’s obvious, however, that prideful individuals like Kaoruko are not used to being disrespected. She wants to psych people out, but she’s so easy to psych out herself. It’s kinda funny.
— Plus, we need to accept that sports is just more entertaining when there’s a bit of bad blood between the two sides. People wouldn’t care about the Lakers-Celtics rivalry if the two teams didn’t absolutely hate each other. As long as it doesn’t cross a line — like, y’know, deliberately getting someone sick just to win a goddamn match — I don’t see any problem with a heated rivalry.
— One of the biggest problems in tennis right now is that everyone’s so nice to each other. There are jerks on tour, but they’re not consistently good enough to make a difference. As a result, we just have a bunch of good ol’ boys at the top, trading wins back and forth. They’re super talented, but the excitement has waned because there’s nothing at stake. If you’re a casual tennis fan, do you really care all that much about the umpteenth finals between Federer and Nadal? Well, that’s just my two cents.
— These girls have no chill: “…might makes right.” Um, we’re talking about badminton. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’d say the same thing about any sport. If Tom Brady showed up to a press conference and said, “Might makes right,” I’d roll my eyes at him too. It’s such a stupid thing to say with regards to sports.
— Like Connie, Kaoruko tends to rub her teammates the wrong way. What’s with all these egotistical princesses?
— Elsewhere, Isehara and Hayama watch as Yu loses a match. None of these characters are important, though. You can tell because they don’t even get bios on the show’s official site. I’m not exactly sure what either of these guys contribute to the story, but at least they’re there, I guess? For instance, Hanakana Receive seems to pretend as though guys don’t exist on the entire island of Okinawa.
— When Hayama gets up to leave, he turns around and asks if Isehara intends to continue playing badminton in college. The other guy says, “Probably not.” They don’t seem to be too serious about the sport, which is in stark contrast to the girls. If you ask any of the girls, they’ll be like, “BADMINTON IS ALL I KNOOOOOOW.”
— We later see Hayama try and cheer Yu up with meat on a stick. After all, we saw back in the second episode that the girl is all about her post-workout protein. Nevertheless, she’s frustrated that she lost to a first year. And like I said, she bemoans the fact that badminton is all she knows, so it’s humiliating to lose in the second round. Unfortunately, Hayama is not exactly the most sensitive dude around. He just tells her that she just has to “do it” regardless of her talent level. I mean, he’s not wrong… but he’s being a bit of an asshole. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t get his own bio. Mean boys don’t get bios.
— Anyways, Ayano’s ready to get started, and she has that empty look in her eyes again. It just looks comical. But on a more serious note, you know she’s determined to win at all costs. Ever since she got triggered by Connie at summer camp, our heroine has gone back to her old ways, i.e. doing everything she can to live up to her mother. But maybe this is exactly what Uchika feared. Maybe. It still wouldn’t justify the woman abandoning her daughter, though.
— Oh yeah, I forgot that Kaoruko has a crush on Kentarou. I like Nagisa’s reaction. On the other hand, I don’t like that the guy actually agreed to speak with his admirer privately afterwards. Dude, c’mon… stay in your lane.
— When Kaoruko finally steps onto the court, she glares at Ayano defiantly. I don’t know why she’s so confident, though. She won back in middle school by making Ayano sick. She won early on in the series, because Ayano wasn’t back in game shape. Now that her rival has been playing consistently again for months, why is Kaoruko so sure that she’ll win again?
— The pink-haired girl is one of those athletes that tries to come up with the perfect gameplan. Mental preparation is important, but it’s ultimately impossible to account for every single thing that happens on the court. For example, she had an inkling that Ayano was holding back in previous rounds, but she finds herself completely unprepared for her opponent’s ability to shift into second gear.
— Remember how Ayano just played defense against her previous opponents and nothing else? Well, she’s now willing to go on offense at opportune moments, and this is catching Kaoruko completely offguard. Like they often say, you can’t simulate game speed. Athletes can practice all they want, but nothing beats actual experience. That’s why a good team can still lose in the playoffs if they lack experience. You haven’t been there before, so both your mind and body doesn’t quite know how to react. And in sports, a split second is often the difference between victory and loss.
— Some of Kaoruko’s teammates aren’t exactly heartbroken that she’s losing.
— We get some flashbacks from the girl — flashbacks to explain why she dislikes Ayano so much. Unfortunately, these memories aren’t doing her any favors. Basically, she started hating our heroine simply because she used to be the top dog. As a result, she couldn’t stand it when Ayano showed up and started beating her all the time. Boo hoo.
— Kaoruko is still pretty smart, so she recognizes a distinct pattern in Ayano’s play: the girl will only go on offense after her opponent attempts a killshot. At the end of the day, Ayano is still a counterpuncher. She still depends on her opponent to provide the pace. If you opponent hits really hard, you don’t have to do much to return the shot with speed. But they just loft it at you, all of a sudden, you find yourself having to use your own strength. Since Ayano’s body type is pretty small and slender, it makes sense that she can’t generate very much power on her own. Ayano is not Nagisa.
— Anyways, Kaoruko borrows a page from her rival’s book and starts playing defensively. As a result, she’s able to finally get herself on the scoreboard. She still has an uphill battle, though.
— The twin-tailed girl then admits that while Ayano is good, she’s still not as good as she was back then. Y’know, back when she crushed Nagisa and sent her future team captain into a mental tailspin.
— During the short break, Kentarou tells Ayano to be more aggressive, which the girl is happy to do. Her hairband suddenly breaks, so Riko tries to let Ayano borrow one of her own. But instead, our heroine has a better idea.
— When Kaoruko sees Ayano again, the latter has decided to tie her back with the former’s handkerchief. More importantly, our heroine has decided to look a whole lot like her mother. Too bad becoming her mother is not exactly what she should want in life. On the one hand, you get to become an all-time great in badminton. On the other hand, you also become a bad mother. What to do, what to do…?
— Mika, Kaoruko’s number one fan, insists that her idol can still win. After all, she works so hard in practice. Man, at this level, everyone works hard. Sure, there are some freaks who wake up at 4am to start their training (like Kobe), but in general, nobody saunters their way into a tournament without putting in the hard work.
— I’ve never seen this machine before. I guess it simulates the placement of your shots?
— These days, studios are turning more and more to 3-D animation to make things easier on them. We’re still not at the point, however, where 3-D and 2-D can blend seamlessly together. Scenes like this one continue to stick out like a sore thumb. It’s just interesting to see, because in general, Liden Films has done a pretty bang-up job with this show’s animation. We can quibble with their changes in the story, but the animation is pretty damn good for a sports anime.
— One particular flashback really makes Kaoruko looks bad: back in middle school, Ayano had wanted to be friends with the pink-haired girl. After all, our heroine is so talented at the game that she rarely ever finds anyone who can keep up with her. Kaoruko was presumably the first opponent that didn’t get completely stomped by Ayano. But instead of embracing the opportunity to practice regularly against someone so talented, Kaoruko turned to bitter hate instead.
— But at the end of the day, you can’t really blame kids for being immature. You can only blame the adults for not raising and coaching these kids properly. All of the problems in Hanebado! are born from the fact that they seem to have no proper guidance whatsoever.
— Again, this reminds me of the disparity between sports and esports. People wonder why esports athletes tend to be so goddamn toxic. Well, when you grow up playing, say, baseball, you start off by playing Little League. You learn to play with others, but you also learn to be coached. Then you go to high school and continue to be coached. You go to college and continue to be coached. Finally, you become the pros, and you’ve had years and years of teamwork instilled into you. On the other hand, esports athletes usually just queue up solo on their chosen server, stomp a bunch of kids solo, then eventually get recruited to a team. All of a sudden, a kid who has done nothing but play for themself suddenly has to learn how to play with others. It’s no wonder they end up being toxic. I kinda feel like the girls on Hanebado! are the same way. Where are all the goddamn adults?
— Even now, you feel like Kentarou isn’t really earning his paycheck. He offers a few quick tips before and after matches, but he isn’t really coaching his girls where it matters: how to emotionally cope with the game. Hell, when Yu lost, did we see him console the girl? Maybe it happened offscreen, but nevertheless, it wasn’t important enough for us to see. It wasn’t important enough to make a difference with the girl. Why is that?
— When Ayano had a tough time after meeting Connie, none of the adults even noticed. Why are you not paying attention to your kids? My point is that Kaoruko’s a jerk, but I doubt she’s had very much help in becoming a good person.
— After winning the first game, Ayano tells Kaoruko that she’s responsible for everything that’s happening right now. Our girl’s not wrong…
— Kaoruko tells herself that she can’t lose, because badminton is all that she ever thinks about. Again, every top athlete only ever thinks about their sport of choice, so this is a meaningless platitude.
— Doesn’t it get too hot to play in leggings?
— After taking nearly all episode to watch Kaoruko lose the first game, we instantly see her lose the second game. As Ayano walks off the court, she has a look of disdain in her eyes.
— Even though a lot of Kaoruko’s teammates were making fun of her early on, they still try to pick her up afterwards. Of course, the girl’s too prideful to accept their condolences. She chooses instead to cry off to the side with her number one fan. Eh, she could use a healthy dose of humility. Plus, it was a good game. 21-17 and 21-16 is not a stomp. But of course, anyone would be distraught to lose, especially against someone they consider to be their rival. Unfortunately, her actual coach is nowhere to be found. I think we only saw him once in this entire episode. It was like for a second or two.
— Ayano continues to mock Kaoruko long after the match is over. She calls the girl pathetic. Elena takes exception to this, because it isn’t very respectful. I kinda agree, I guess. I like the handkerchief gesture. It was short and to the point. Now that the girl is out of the picture, it’s kinda pointless to still be trash-talking her. We’ll have to see, however, if the power of Elena’s friendship can get through to Ayano.
— Meanwhile, we learn that Sora also lost. Yu bitterly tells Hayama to go cheer Sora up instead. Um, okay. I guess we needed yet another dramatic side story to accompany the main plot thread. Hanebado! needs something to provide some sunshine. It needs a moment of levity to break up this long procession of people starting up pointless drama with each other. Unfortunately, the writers don’t seem to understand this concept of balance.
— As Nagisa is stretching for her upcoming match, Nozomi’s coach walks up to creepily stare at her for a second. He then goes back to his student and tells the girl that Nagisa is finished. Huh? I guess we’ll have to wait till next week to see what he means.
I’d just like to point out that the 3d/2d blended scene you wrote stuck out like a “sore thumb” was the absolute highlight for me in the entire episode. Yes, I agree that the discrepancy between 3d court and umpires and 2d girls was noticeable, but what a wonderful animation this was. Simply because this is exactly how badminton looks and sounds like – the pace of the shuttle and the movement of the players was 100% spot on, and so were the sound effects. I’m convinced that they picked a real life recording and then told the animators “So, and now animate it just like that”.
I agree with 99% of the rest you wrote – except at the end, I don’t think that Ayano was still “trash-talking” – the opponent wasn’t around anyway. No, I’d say it’s rather another piece of evidence that she has regressed to the “only winning counts, there is nothing else” mentality she had in the past.
Got to say though that I loved it how she stuck it back to Kaoruko with the hanky ;)
It took me out of the moment.
Well, it certainly wasn’t good sportsmanship (whatever that’s worth).