Just to start on a positive note, I did find Ayano and Kaoruko’s long-awaited rematch to be pretty entertaining. At least visually, I’m impressed just how well Liden Films is keeping up with their animation especially considering that we just got a well animated match between Riko and Nozomi. Just by watching, you completely buy that Ayano is meaning business this time. Her moves are unreal this episode. This is also one of the more stylistic episodes in Hanebado! to date, utilizing graphs and pulsating graphical effects to visualize Kaoruko’s intelligence and mood. It took some getting used to but I thought it otherwise worked.
Everything else is…well, interesting to say the least.
To begin with, it’s surprising to see that the one receiving the spotlight is actually Kaoruko and not Ayano. A number of scenes provide info regarding her past with Ayano, her training regime, and her relationships with her teammates. Throughout the match, you hear her inner thoughts as she cooks up a strategy to use against Ayano only to find herself rethinking everything as she continually gets countered. And once the match is over, more time is given to Kaoruko dealing with her defeat as opposed to Ayano enjoying her victory. The whole change in direction threw me on a loop considering that Kaoruko has been built up as a bad guy. I mean, she flat out cheated in the match that spiraled Ayano into losing her mother’s affection. Going into this episode, you plan on rooting for Ayano but instead, you’re led into sympathizing with the “enemy”.
As much as I appreciate Hanebado‘s effort in giving the rival characters some depth, I honestly found myself playing the world’s smallest violin over Kaoruko’s turmoil. Yes, I suppose it is sad that she lost after all the hard work she’s done. She also had it coming after cheating her way to start climbing the ranks and play a part in subjugating her opponent through a whole abandonment issue. At the end of the day, I still wanted her to lose and my first reaction wasn’t “Oh no, she lost”, it was “Good, she lost”. Hanebado! can cram in all the sympathy material it wants but I don’t think this sad face Kaoruko makes is terribly earned. Frankly, trying to elicit sympathy within the same episode you should care feels cheap even. It’s like Hanebado! knew it set up Kaoruko as the bad guy and it needed to course correct.
Even as her own character, I find Kaoruko to be pretty dull. She considers herself the best and she wants to rub that ego in Ayano’s face. That’s pretty much just Connie’s character all over again (or do I mean that the other way around?). And here I thought the twin tails was the only similarity. Connie I find much more interesting though since she is Ayano’s step-sister and thus has a more personal reason to oppose the protagonist. As I’ve said in previous posts, perhaps Hanebado! shouldn’t have introduced these two rivals back to back.
I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of antagonizing Ayano. If anything, she’s really entertaining with those blank eyes, flight attendant-esque smile, and superhuman reflexes. That whole bit where she wears Kaoruko’s handkerchief like it’s her mother’s hair ribbon is such a great framing device. It really accentuates just how low this character is sinking, becoming more alike the person she detests. But I don’t know, it’s a huge change from how she is perceived for the past few episodes. It was originally really easy to sympathize with her turmoil but now, Hanebado! seems far too determined to make her this condescending and egotistic. Then again, I don’t know if I really want her inevitably change. As I’ve said before, she’s such a delight when she’s the “bad guy”.
I love how almost no one picks up on this whatsoever. They’re just amazed at how good Ayano and look, she’s scoring victories for the team so why be concerned? Honestly, I’m slowly starting to like Elena because at least she’s noticing Ayano’s problematic attitude. Does the story allow her to do anything about it? No, not really. Hanebado! immediately puts an abrupt stop to that confrontation. Why focus on that when we can focus on this “amazing” love triangle involving Yu, Sora, and Hayama?
Honestly, I rolled my eyes whenever Hanebado! cut back to this subplot. None of them have personalities of their own and their chemistry with one another boils down to one thinking this person likes that person and him or her not liking that. The fact that you barely see them play badminton (Hanebado! even skips Yu’s tournament match) gives the impression that this triangle is solely there because there’s nothing else to do with these characters. I partially take back what I said about Riko’s episode. This is when Hanebado! is focusing on the wrong characters.
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