To be fair, Nozomi does eventually shake Nagisa’s hand at the end of their match, but it didn’t have to be this difficult. As always, I blame the adults.
— Nagisa, Riko, and Nozomi all went to the same middle school. Nagisa was and still is the best out of the three, but interestingly enough, Nozomi was picked over her for Zushi Sogo High. This ends up being the source of most of the drama in this week’s episode.
— Did Nagisa feel slighted? Maybe, but she’s probably gotten over it. Her singular focus right now is to make it to nationals, and I doubt she holds Nozomi any ill will. On the other hand, the other girl is just under too much pressure. She feels guilty over the fact that she was picked despite being worse than Nagisa. Now she has the chance to prove herself — prove that she was picked for both her talents and her potential. Still, this is too much for a kid to deal with on her own.
— As we watch Nozomi play in the quarterfinals, you can hear her coach barking orders behind her. He’s the loud, bossy type of coach who’s in love with his strategies. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, this stifles individuality. Nozomi isn’t winning on her own. She’s being remote-controlled from the sidelines like some kind of robot. Is she even having fun playing like this? On the other hand, however, I’m kinda used to these power-hungry coaches thanks to basketball and football. If you want to win, you do what you gotta do. If she wants to be able to call her own shots, she needs to earn it. You let Aaron Rodgers change the play at the line of scrimmage, because he’s earned that privilege. You wouldn’t let some rookie do the same, would you? Clearly, Nozomi’s coach doesn’t trust her. Whether or not he’s justified in believing that, who knows?
— Still, maybe this is why Nozomi was picked over Nagisa. Do you think the latter would’ve allowed someone to yell at her over and over like that? Or micromanage her every movement? I doubt it.
— I want to say that Nozomi seems meek and quiet, but to be honest, she hasn’t had much character development. We barely know anything about her personality. All we know is that she doesn’t even look happy to be playing badminton. She listens to her coach’s orders without question. Nozomi has no voice.
— As an aside, tennis doesn’t generally allow coaching during a match. You’re not even allowed to communicate during changeovers at grand slam tournaments. I think Davis Cup is the sole exception.
— When Riko tells Miyako that Nagisa and Nozomi used to play against each other in middle school, the teacher absent-mindedly glosses over the fact that matches can become emotionally difficult when you’re playing against a former friend. I kinda feel like the club’s advisor doesn’t do much. She’s supposed to be an adult, but I often mistake her for one of the students.
— Both Kentarou and Nozomi’s coach can tell that one of Nagisa’s knees is hurting. Kentarou tells her that he will pull her if he deems it necessary, but considering how she’s one match away from nationals, he probably won’t do so.
— Elsewhere, we see a girl go down against Ayano. Our heroine coldly asks the referee to call the match. She’s not wrong about her opponent… she’s just not being a good person.
— No one has to have good sportsmanship. It’s up to you to decide your goals in life, and if all you want to do is win, then so be it. Good sportsmanship won’t help you win more games. The only reason we encourage it is because the world’s a better place if we’re nice to each other, but maybe Ayano doesn’t care about that. Not right now, anyways.
— In the long run, however, people are generally happier if they’re not being nasty to each other. Ayano might find herself without any friends if she keeps this up. But again, we decide our own goals in life. Maybe someone can be happy as long as they are the best at something.
— Personally, I wouldn’t be as cold as Ayano. Personally, I think good sportsmanship is something to strive for. But at the same time, we have to be real. We shouldn’t pretend that some of the best athletes weren’t tremendous jerks. Sometimes, you need that mental edge to go all out. Michael Jordan had that quality. He was both a psychopath on the basketball court and a winner. He once punched a teammate during practice, after all. But he’s also regarded by many as the best basketball player of all time. Not all winners are heroes.
— Elena tries to talk to Ayano afterwards, but the latter isn’t receptive. She actually turns around and blames all of this on her best friend. Elena forced her to join badminton, and well… here we are. She also adds that there’s no point to playing if you’re not going to win. Well, you could play for fun. In fact, this was Elena’s primary motivation, was not? She wanted Ayano to have fun playing the sport she loved so much. It’s not her fault that Uchika saddled her daughter with so much goddamn baggage.
— Again, where are the adults? Why is Ayano playing a match without Kentarou in attendance? Why does it fall on Elena’s shoulders to confront her best friend afterwards? If he had to watch another player’s match, then why wasn’t Miyako, the other adult, making sure that Ayano is exemplifying the school’s values? At the end of the day, Ayano is responsible for her actions, but this could’ve been preventable.
— Another thing that bothers me is the sudden escalation to cold, hard-ass Ayano. She was still such a sweet girl during the summer camp. All of a sudden, she’s done a complete 180 on us. Obviously, there was an implicit time skip between the summer camp and this tournament, but I think the story could’ve done a better job at conveying Ayano’s descent.
— We finally get to the semifinal match up between Nagisa and Nozomi. As the latter walks away from a friendly handshake, she mutters under her breath, “Oh, please. You don’t even see me.” That’s so silly. Maybe I’m missing something, but nothing from the story has suggested that Nagisa even looks down on Nozomi. Maybe this is the narrative that she has to tell herself in order to play better. Some people can only do their best if they have a chip on their shoulder. I know I do!
— At the start of the match, Nozomi’s coach has her running Nagisa around the court. If someone’s knee is hurting, isn’t it cruel to target it? Well, do you want to win or don’t you? I know in football, coaches will tell their players to target an injured players’ knees. That’s the problem with looking to professional athletes as role models; you don’t really realize how dirty they can be. At the same time, however, their jobs are on the line. On the other hand, 99% of these kids won’t turn pro. Instead, you want them to become model citizens.
— When Ayano arrives to watch the match, she openly derides Nagisa for playing poorly. Again, she’s not wrong. She’s just an asshole. The problem is that nobody tells her off. They just stare at Ayano as if they’re stunned that she could even be so mean. These guys have failed as both teammates and friends. Honestly, I just don’t get it. Why is Elena the only person to say something? What’s the point of being a club’s advisor if you’re just going to sit there and listen to one of your kids badmouth another kid?
— Apparently, Nagisa is stubborn enough that she’ll try to return everything even if a shot is clearly going out of bounds. During a break in the match, Kentarou tries to tell his girl not to chase everything down. But unlike the opposing coach, he doesn’t spell anything out. He wants Nagisa to figure it out on her own. Elena gets frustrated at one point and asks him why he won’t actively coach Nagisa. Kentarou reasons that he’ll just confuse her instead. Rather, she needs to arrive at her own answers. Y’know, you look all zen-like and whatever if this works. But if it doesn’t work, people will wonder what you’re getting paid for. Just ask Phil Jackson. He knows all about this.
— Even though Nozomi is winning, she’s not happy. Obviously, she’s not really winning on her own terms. She’s not really proving herself to the world that she deserves to be here. All she’s proving is that she can follow orders. As a result, she suddenly takes matters into her own hands and ends a point early.
— As a result of her “insubordination,” Nozomi’s coach gets on her case during a break. He’s screaming in her face, but the girl looks… scared? Traumatized? I don’t know what she looks like, but it ain’t right. Ah, so many bad coaches in this show.
— Oh damn, our girl’s got some guns on her.
— Eventually, Nagisa does come to her own solutions. Nozomi’s gameplan — or, rather, her coach’s gameplan — is to run Nagisa ragged. This requires control and finesse. You need to be able to direct the shuttle from side to side, corner to corner. The problem is that control goes out the window if you can’t even properly react to your opponent’s shots. Nagisa starts taking initiative and hammering her returns, and this rattles Nozomi. The former proceeds to win several points in a row, and it doesn’t help that the latter’s coach is now beginning to berate her in front of everybody.
— As Nozomi is beginning to lose her grip on this match, she asks herself what has she been suffering for? That’s a good question. If you’re not even happy doing this, then why bother? Why put yourself through all of this? She practiced so hard at one point that she bled on her own racket.
— Also, how on earth do you play sports with your hair so loose? Won’t the sweat make her hair cling to her face? Won’t it obscure her vision during the match? I know we want the characters to look pretty, but this is pretty ridiculous.
— Everything suddenly changes for Nozomi when Nagisa tells her that she’s giving it her all to win. In essence, Nozomi just wants to be acknowledge that she belongs on this stage. She even gives this half-smile.
— Meanwhile, Ayano’s just bored.
— Nozomi’s coach tries to tell her off again, but the girl finally finds her voice and speaks her mind. This leaves the man speechless and dumbfounded.
— In the end, Nozomi loses to Nagisa, but it was… kinda close? She managed to win the second game, but the third game wasn’t much of a contest (21-9 in Nagisa’s favor). Nevertheless, she showed that she could give Nagisa a run for her money without being bossed around by her coach.
— In the fastest turnabout ever, Nozomi’s coach admits to Kentarou that he’s been going at it the wrong way. Nevertheless, he warns the Kitakomachi coach that Nagisa may injure herself permanently if she plays in the finals against her own teammate. He’s right about one thing, though: “…don’t forget to do the right thing even if they hate you for it.” It’s time for Kentarou to earn his paycheck. Look, they made it to nationals. Let’s make sure we remember what’s truly important here. One final does not outweigh an entire career. Players need to protect themselves and look at the big picture.
— At the end of the episode, we see Connie eager to watch her “big sis” play. Unfortunately, she gets on the wrong train. Plus, isn’t Uchika already at the tournament? She even approached Ayano’s teammates and everything. We haven’t seen her since, though.
— I’m not expecting Nagisa and Ayano to play a full match. I expect Kentarou to pull her, and he should. He really should. Hell, she should be getting an MRI right about now to see the extent of the damage, but I doubt the show will go that far.