You’re focusing on the wrong character, Hanebado!.
I mean sure. Go ahead. Focus on Riko of all people. It’s not like your titular protagonist has snapped or anything. Shove that off to the wayside. That’s clearly not important.
Just to be fair, I will say that if you’re a fan of Riko then this episode is 100% made for you. Being nowhere near as good as Nagisa and Ayano and having to deal with an apparently powerful opponent, there’s a decent underdog angle to Nagisa’s arc. I’m sure someone will be frustrated at how long it takes for Riko to muster her perseverance up but the message that she still had fun and didn’t give up is still a nice one. Her relationship with her opponent, Nozomi (Arisa Sakuraba), is also pretty good. It’s a rivalry through and through but a very civil one at that with little to no traces of malice detected. It’s a little refreshing to see after seeing so many hate crushes towards Ayano. On their own, I don’t think Riko and Nozomi are that terribly interesting but with where they functioned in this episode, they fulfill their given roles just fine.
It also helps that the animation is still fantastic. That is the one department Hanebado! has yet to fail in. Whatever budget this anime has, Liden Films has yet to cut serious corners. You really feel the power and finesse to every stroke Riko and Nozomi perform in their match. Even in less action-heavy scenes, Hanebado! looks so stunning.
That all said, I really can’t shrug off the timing of this episode. I’m sorry but when you leave your main protagonist in such a worrisome state, I expect a very direct follow-up to happen. Heading straight to the prelims is presumptuous already but Hanebado! could still address Ayano’s mental state during the tournament. I’m fine if she still faces an extra but at least have her go into her old Zombie mode again. Have someone notice she doesn’t look well, get everyone else’s attention, and make the whole team worried for her. Just do something! Anything!
But no, it seems like the only one who even picks up the signs is Elena who naturally does absolutely nothing. Real great friend we have here. Oh, and don’t even get Nagisa involved because that implies she’ll actually be relevant again. Just focus on Riko instead. I’m so glad this anime got its priorities straight!
And yes, I’m well aware that Hanebado! could very well do what I’m asking once Ayano play against Kauroko. I’ll admit, I do want to see the latter get her comeuppance. Still, I’m amazed at how undisciplined Hanebado! is as a story. It has the right ideas but it’s really bad at pulling them up at the right time. And as this flaw persists, I find myself less interested in watching more of this anime.
Thanks for reading!