Kaguya-sama: Love is War returns for its second season. We get to hang out with one of the most delightful casts of high school characters for another 12 episodes! A student council election, a sports festival, stargazing, and shopping trips are but a few of the adventures Miyuki and Kaguya will go on in their mission to break the other into a confession of love.
What an excellent follow up to the introductory season. Comedy is the most difficult genre to review. Explaining the joke is the death of comedy. There are only so many ways I can say, “It’s hilarious,” (or “It’s just not funny,” for a bad comedy). However, I can pinpoint why this anime comedy hit the mark with me, as a few have done in the past.
The secret is in the characters more than the humour.
I’m sure if you thought for a moment, you would recall several anime/films/TV shows that made you laugh at the time, yet didn’t stick with you. Hell, you may remember laughing but not what made you laugh.
For me, what makes a comedy have a lasting impression is my liking of the characters and how well the humour uses them to craft and deliver jokes. More specifically, the humour needs to fit the characters. When Sagara blows up a classroom in Full Metal Panic because he suspects a student’s backpack is a bomb, it works because it fits his personality. It’s what he would do. And that’s hilarious. So when Miyuki and Kaguya sit down to play the game of life – as created by Fujiwara – with the rest of the student council, it makes sense that Kaguya would have a mental breakdown after Miyuki draws the marriage card, which ties him to Fujiwara. It’s only a game. Not to Kaguya though.
And that’s hilarious.
Combing complex characters with humour derived from their personalities is the magic formula to a great comedy. Certainly, you want a sharp script and perfect timing as well.
For the inverse, think about those dime-a-dozen harem comedies. Characters there have no real personality. They’re clichés of the genre. When the pervy guy cracks a pervy joke, you don’t see him making you [possibly] laugh. The cliché of his character type makes the joke. If you can transplant all humour from Harem Protagonist X to Harem Protagonists A through W, then you don’t have a real character. Just a mouthpiece for jokes. There’s a reason nobody can tells Bill Burr’s stories better than Bill Burr can. It’s all in the personality that informs the humour.
Ever notice how the anime clichés like the tripping over, the boob grab, the punch to the face of misunderstanding, etc. is rarely funny, and yet there is the occasional instance where it kills you into breathless laughter? It’s the same joke, but that slight shift in shaping it to fit the characters – fit the scene – makes all the difference. Actual thought went into the joke and it wasn’t included simply because it’s an anime and all anime must have these same five jokes. Konosuba is a good case of taking the typical and making it novel.
A simple example that encapsulates all of what I’m saying is in the first episode’s coffee scene of Love is War 2. Kaguya, with the help of her faithful assistant, gives Miyuki decaffeinated coffee to have him fall asleep. He’s that sleep deprived from all his work as the best student and council president that he falls asleep instantly without his coffee on the dot. Great moment. Replace him with any other character in the show for this situation and the joke is no longer funny – it’s “lol random”. When his head falls onto her shoulder, blushing her into paralysis and halting her plan, the joke works because it’s Kaguya. Swap her with Fujiwara and you’d be left asking, “Where did that come from?” instead of laughing.
I hope I have managed to convey why I find certain comedies better than others.
Beyond the humour, Love is War is a triumph in visual creativity and acting. Too many high school comedies are flatly shot with standard high school environments and framing, as if generated by AI. Love is War is so much fun to watch. A delight to listen to as well. The dynamic range of these actors, able to switch from friendly to arctic in one sentence is perfect. And of course, I cannot forget to mention the inclusion of another great OP, which in itself is a mini episode.
I said in my review for season 1 that Love is War needed just a little more to elevate itself to the ranks of all-time anime comedy greats. It has succeeded.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War only got better with season 2 and has established itself as an all-time great of anime comedy.
Every great crime mystery has three components to success. The first is an interesting crime that generates plenty of questions and mystery. This doesn’t mean it has to be something crazy like a dead clown hanging from a chandelier with foam sword in one hand and nuclear detonator in the other. It can be something as simple as a shot to head during lunchtime, dead body in the apartment, yet the neighbours heard nothing. The second component is engaging characters, most notably for the detective protagonist and the main suspects. You want to look forward to these characters parrying words. And lastly, to engage the audience fully, the crime must be solvable before the big reveal. You don’t want to make it obvious – keep them guessing, unsure of their theories – but the pieces must be present.
In this third component, ID: Invaded fails.
ID: Invaded is about a detective agency that can investigate cases by diving into the unconscious minds of criminals by using a machine called Mizuhanome. Our main detective, Sakaido, is a murder himself after avenging the death of his family, for only a killer can safely enter into the mind of another killer. While he investigates on the mental plane, rookie detective Hondomachi hits the streets to interview witnesses and suspects.
The look of the virtual world in the target’s unconscious is cool. The opening scene has Sakaido in pieces with digital cube particles instead of blood. After he pulls himself together, he needs to reconstruct the scene physically from the fragmented reality that is the human mind. It recalls games like Ghost Trick and Remember Me. I love this representation. There is no denying the visual engagement. It’s weirdly awesome. However, this very concept is also ID: Invaded’s greatest flaw.
What Sakaido is looking at, these pieces to a murder mystery, are abstract. Even the faces on the people in the unconscious realm aren’t accurate. They are an amalgamation of faces remembered from one’s life, just as it is in your dreams. This means that the clues don’t mean much until we see the answers. It’s like solving a 1000-piece puzzle of pure white that doesn’t reveal the picture until all pieces are in place. The audience doesn’t have the opportunity to solve the case ahead of time – as you would in an Agatha Christie novel – without relying almost exclusively on guesswork, and in a crime story, this drops audience engagement to a level no author wants.
Now, the visuals do make up some of the loss, as mentioned earlier, as do the unusual characters on both the law enforcement and criminal sides. One of the criminals, called “The Perforator”, likes to drill holes in people’s skulls. Always delightful. Sakaido is also an interesting protagonist with his status as both criminal (still in jail) and detective. Sorry, “brilliant detective” as the mind detectives call themselves. Side note: it took me a while to realise that brilliant detective refers to their job title and not a token of praise. Poor choice of name.
I’m not sold on Hondomachi. She feels like a character design first (adult that looks like a teenager) and personality second, though her role in the story is interesting. The Inception-like system of her in the real world on the job while Sakaido is in the brain finding clues works well. It adds a nice dose of tension when everything is parallel in real time. Incorporating the Mizuhanome in the crimes itself is another good choice that heightens the stakes. It isn’t just a tool. One could almost call it evidence in the grander story, similar to the PreCrime unit in Minority Report or the Sibyl System in Psycho Pass. I like it when wild science fiction concepts go all in on the unique selling point.
ID: Invaded is a good anime, all aspects considered, and its unique nature means you aren’t looking at “more of the usual”. So I do recommend it if you liked any of the titles that I referred to throughout the review. It’s a story I would like to see the author take another crack at to elevate it to greatness.
Art – High
ID: Invaded has one of the most distinct art styles for faces, notably in the eyes. Oddly successful. The abstract design of the unconscious is great.
Sound – High
Several solid tracks accompany the series – I’ll be listening to the OP & ED beyond the final episode. The mystery music of ethereal piano notes and sinister violin adds much to the scene. The acting is strong too and you can go with either language to suit your preference.
Story – Medium
A former detective turned criminal investigates cases by diving into the minds of criminals via a machine. This cool concept is a little too abstract for its own good, as it doesn’t give the audience the information needed to solve the case until the big reveal.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. I recommend ID: Invaded to fans of Psycho Pass and Ghost in the Shell for its unique take on the exploration of the criminal mind to solve mysteries.
Today we look at a trio of romance anime with a taboo or socially repugnant theme, all requested by readers like you (some to torture me. I am a glutton for sufferring after all). First up is Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boy who falls in love with a girl after tasting her drool. This drool once tasted creates an unbreakable dependency.
Is it as disgusting as it sounds? No, it’s worse. Off the desk, out of a test tube, and off her finger are but a few ways in which he consumes drool. If you don’t have a drool fetish, you will likely find this disgusting.
Magic drool is the only unique selling point of Mysterious Girlfriend X, for what we have here on closer inspection, once past the urge to vomit, is a boring high school romance. This is a perfect example of why a unique premise is the least important part of a great story. I’ve certainly never seen a story about a guy addicted to drool, and yet this is one of the worst romances in existence. It tries to sell you on the idea of how “mysterious” the girl is, both in the title of the show and the pitch – the guy even repeats how mysterious his girlfriend is to close off several episodes (“Did you notice him mention the title? Did you get it!?”)
The drool is a metaphor for love – when he’s sick, he’s actually lovesick, for example – and lust comes in the form of another girl’s drool for a forced love triangle at the last minute. Until that “twist”, nothing happens. It’s just the same events each episode. The characters are insufferably dull. He’s the clichéd shy guy and she is as mysterious as an open, empty box. Her other defining characteristic is carrying a pair of scissors in her panties and her inability to hold hands or accept a hug from the guy she feeds drool to. (Kill me slowly, why don’t you.)
The drool is an immediate putoff, but I hoped that at least there would be something more to it such as absurd comedy (think Chunibyo). Mysterious Girlfriend X can’t even be funny.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Even if you have a drool fetish, surely you want a better story and characters than this?
Now for a change of pace, we have a taboo relationship fetish. It follows Natsuo, a guy who just lost his virginity to some girl called Rui that he met at a party, as consolation for not believing he could sleep with his teacher, Hina (why such little faith?) Things take a shocking – shocking, I tell you – turn when his father announces that he is remarrying to a woman with two daughters. And who should those daughters be that step through the door? His first time girl Rui and his teacher Hina. And they’re all going to live together! Awwwkwaaaard…
Well, it would be awkward if Rui didn’t keep trying to gobble his flight stick in the bath (he barely objects) and if he wouldn’t keep kissing his teacher (she objects by climbing on top of him for a bit of frottage). He may be a pervert as a teenager, but his teacher wouldn’t behave like this. If nothing else, she wouldn’t move in with the family. It certainly doesn’t gel.
Inconsistency is a serious issue of Domestic Girlfriend. Tone is all over the place. The love triangle (yes, it is serious about the idea) tries to be mature at times, but when no one truly objects to what is going on (even the authorities hand wave it clean), this feels written by a teenager who has never seen an adult relationship and self-inserted into a story. The next episode, it tries to play for comedy, such as when Natsuo and Rui stalk the teacher after work to uncover who she is in an affair with. Oh yes, there is an affair in this triangle as well. And I’ll give you one guess how the man knows Hina… He was her teacher! Such masterful plotting.
That’s not all. When Natsuo goes to the library one time, he sees what he thinks is the literature teacher kissing a student from the literature club. Turns out it was a misunderstanding from his viewing angle (she was getting an eyelash off his face – still inappropriate, by the way). But get this turn of events no one saw coming: the girl does have a thing for him and it is implied that she will make a move and the teacher would reciprocate. Hell, the literature teacher has a yaoi bait moment with Natsuo when they first meet.
Whenever I think Domestic Girlfriend can’t get any worse, it takes my expectations and does to them what Roy Mustang did to Lust, revealing even greater levels of idiocy. This is worse than a daytime soap opera. At least those are consistent and know how to play up the cheesy drama.
During the confrontation between Natsuo and the married man, we have the restaurant staff (friends to Natsuo) playing the overreacting comedic audience. Am I supposed to take this seriously or not? In case you were wondering, no, Natsuo isn’t presented as hypocritical.
The premise, as I reiterate often, doesn’t automatically make the story a failure. It’s about the execution. If a premise could sink a story before it begins, we would never be able to have protagonists that are murderers, for instance. What if such a situation did happen? What if the girl you slept with the other day did turn out to be your new stepsister? (Let’s keep the teacher out of this for the moment – would have been better cut it down to one character anyway.) You can’t blame the guy for what happened at the start. How was he to know, right? The question is what happens next. One would look at the psychology of it, the social connotations, and how people would react. Domestic Girlfriend merely pretends to do this. As for the teacher relationship, the idea isn’t unthinkable. It does happen, after all. So what if it did to this guy? Well, we ask the same questions as we did with the younger sister. Even if he were an adult, it wouldn’t be as simple as presented here. There is a reason any good university doesn’t allow relationship between professors and their students or why doctors can’t date patients. Asking the question, “What if?” isn’t a problem. How you go about answering that question is what matters.
Maybe Domestic Girlfriend isn’t trying to tackle this subject matter seriously, you ponder. What if it’s just smut? You would have a case to make if not for the novel subplot. Natsuo’s dream is of becoming an author like one of the Japanese dramatic greats, and he finds help in achieving this through the literature teacher. At the end of the series, his first novel, which he shits out in a few months, wins first prize at a contest and is celebrated by all. And what is this novel about? A student in love with his teacher.
I’m not sure I have seen a more pathetic anime than Domestic Girlfriend.
Given that the manga has far more volumes than what could fit in 12 episodes, I gave the final two volumes a gander only to find quite a different scenario, as expected, and a far worse ending, which didn’t go over well with fans, as I understand it. So you can’t even go to the source for a good version of this story.
Tackling such a difficult topic requires great skill and understanding of the human condition. You have three avenues to take that can turn out well – go serious and make a gripping drama, go full comedy and laugh at the absurd, or go maximum cheese like a soap opera. Failing those leaves you in this middle ground of nonsense. There is always the fourth option, of course. Go full lewd.
Domestic Girlfriend doesn’t have the balls to be hentai.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Domestic Girlfriend has nothing to recommend about itself and plenty to keep you away. I would have dropped this at episode one if not for review. Wait, I do have a positive. The opening song is great, far too good for this.
Lastly, we have After the Rain, also about a taboo potential relationship. Tachibana is a high school girl that keeps to herself as she works at a restaurant ever since a crippling injury knocked her out of the track team. Her manager, Kondo, is seen as quite the weakling for how much he apologises to everyone and puts the customers above himself, even when they are in the wrong. He’s 45 years old and unfortunately for Tachibana, she has feelings for him.
Now unlike Domestic Girlfriend, After the Rain doesn’t dive head first into the mire of taboo. It asks the “What if” question and then seriously considers it in a light drama way. He shuts her down when she confesses, but due to his weak and caring nature, he also can’t push her away outright.
At its heart, this story isn’t about the “romance” (it remains platonic). Every important character in a story should have a want and a need. The want is what they think will bring them success/happiness/whatever. The need is what will actually do it, unknown to them. She wants to be in a relationship with him to make herself happy. She needs to get back out there and stop using her injury as an excuse to hide. He wants to feel young again. He needs to grow a spine and take charge, do something for himself for once. The taboo is almost bait. They find comfort in each other (doesn’t cross the line) as they slowly discover these truths.
I say slowly because After the Rain is as slow as swimming in a honey lake. It could have handled the story in half the episodes and still not felt like a fast show. If one were to keep to 12 episodes, then we need more development, particularly from side characters. Tachibana’s best friend and running partner, who plays an integral role in her need, is barely a character considering her importance. The closest thing to an antagonist is a chef at the restaurant, who figures out Tachibana’s secret and blackmails her into a date. There is mixed messaging around the guy, as he is the one to truly point out how bad of an idea a serious relationship would be with the manager, yet the way it is presented with him as villain, makes it sound as if we are meant to disagree with him. Then the story drops him after the confrontation.
After the Rain ends up being a whole lot of nothing. The characters do have arcs, there is change by the end, yes, but those arcs are so small that I wonder if it was worth experiencing. Without the visual department working some absolute magic in the atmosphere, this anime wouldn’t have much going for it.
Artistically, there are some beautiful shots in After the Rain. Whoever did those clouds deserves a raise! The OP and ED songs are lovely as well.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Try it if you are an unrequited romance fan. After the Rain doesn’t have anything crippling against it, yet doesn’t much going for it either. You may be in the mood for something light with pretty colours.
Today theme of quick reviews is action anime I liked at one point, yet haven’t seen in a long time and haven’t reviewed. When I did my “Watched but Not Reviewed” list (missing quite a few titles, in hindsight), it brought many anime back to my attention that simmered to the surface until I had the urge to check them out again. Are they as I remember?
We start with GetBackers, my favourite of the three in the past. It even featured an honourable mention in my “Former Favourite Anime” list, so this was important to me. I need to say this right away though: GetBackers does not live up to my memory whatsoever. The art is super budget for this super powered series. The animation is far more of a slideshow than I remember and the characters have little detail, though their designs are unique so clarity isn’t an issue. I swear it looked better in my head.
GetBackers is set in an alternate Earth where some people have superpowers akin to The X-Men (each can do their one thing) and most of these superhumans work as either Retrievers, Transporters, or Bodyguards at odds with one another. It’s like John Wick – you have to accept this is how the world works or we aren’t going anywhere. Main duo Ban and Ginji work as Retrievers, the GetBackers, guaranteeing satisfaction no matter how small or impossible the request. Unfortunately, they are horrendous with money even after a big payday and so live in squalor.
To give a few positives, the main duo is good fun and the humour is successful, for the most part. GetBackers also feature the best – the best – use of chibification in all of anime. If I will forever remember one element of GetBackers for the rest of my life, it will be the chibification perfection. I still laugh whenever Ginji turns into a scared chibi after realising he’s alone with Dr Jackal.
Now for a dose of memory versus reality. I remember GetBackers as an awesome action series with cool powers, varied characters, and a mysterious plot. In reality, we have repetitive action, cool though limited powers, varied but one-note characters, and puddle-deep mystery. It astonishes me how different this is from memory.
GetBackers was in the early years of when I really got into anime and when one is at that early stage, everything is so much more impressive. I believe this was my first super power variety anime (saw Scryed later). I can imagine past me having a conversation with present me, gushing about how cool the powers are and how there are so many, how unique it is, only for present me to pull out 30 anime that do the same and often better. Conversation over.
It’s why I don’t blame newcomers for thinking everything is amazing. Everyone has been there. Every anime is a 10 when you have only seen seven of them. As one’s mental library builds, the flaws start to come out when a superior example is available.
A key detail I never noticed was the repetition. Nowadays, repetition almost guarantees to kill my interest, never mind rewatching the series, as I did several times with GetBackers in its heyday. Ban has the power to make people see illusions for one minute after eye contact. Let me tell you, no word of a lie, that this resolves every case. I love illusion powers and I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but man is it the same resolution every time. A common scene is to have the villain kill the heroes, immediately vocalise his plan/list of compatriots, and then for Ban to say “Just one minute”, revealing it was all an illusion. This is no Sharingan level of cool.
On rewatch now, GetBackers was okay for the first few cases. Once they enter the Infinite Fortress – a labyrinthine slum filled with superpowers – it loses the fun. The anime also didn’t adapt the biggest reveal of the story, which would have explained why people have these powers and why the Infinite Fortress matters. Knowing the twist, however, I’m not sure I entirely disagree with cutting it.
I tried the dub for the first time (none of these anime had a dub at the time) and holy Pokéballs, Shinji, is it not good. It isn’t “they recorded random people on the street” levels of bad. These are clearly actors, just not voice actors. This is a great example of a professional dub that studios thought were fine once upon a time, which thankfully doesn’t fly anymore (at least, I hope not). The lack of energy in the voices, the stiff reads, the monotones, bloody hell, what a disaster. The acting starts bad and only gets worse with each new character introduced. It’s hard to believe the likes of Cowboy Bebop managed a perfect dub when this was normal.
Almost forgot – the OP song may just be the worst I’ve heard in anime. If you want to know my taste in music, then take this and imagine the opposite.
Next we have Kiddy Grade, an anime similar to GetBackers with a variety of super powered pairs facing off, but in a heavy sci-fi setting. Our leading ladies are Éclair and Lumière, agents of the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs. While the organisation’s name implies involvement only in commerce, it actually has fingers in every space pie (everything comes back to money if you look far enough).
This is a spy thriller with Éclair donning a number of disguises, undercover missions, and gadgets for every conundrum. It explores several “what if” questions from the setting and sci-fi concepts for drama. Even the powers have sci-fi roots. Lumière can talk to computers, for example, and Éclair’s strength comes from body modification. There is effort in the world building.
After the stark difference between memory and reality with GetBackers, Kiddy Grade is about as I recall. I should note that this anime came to me later in the experience track and that I didn’t love it at the time, just enjoyed it enough for a rewatch (when you didn’t have much variety, rewatches were common). My opinion of it has fallen – I lost interest by the end of act one this time – as this is a case where once you’ve seen so many better versions of this story, this setting, this idea, you can’t help but wish for something else. Also, my distaste for lolis has only increased, of which there are too many here.
The similarities between Kiddy Grade and the previous anime are uncanny, right down to espousing the same basic morality lessons – “Being evil is bad.” “Don’t kick puppies.” I never put the two together until this rewatch.
However, Kiddy Grade works better than GetBackers by having more variety, more effort in the narrative through line, and significantly better art. Without looking it up, I want you to guess how far apart these anime released.
Five years? Three years? Three months? Try five days apart. Kiddy Grade is better representative of how standard anime looked in the early 2000s. The production holds up from studio GONZO and the dub is so much better than GetBackers that you’d never guess they came from the same year. It’s fascinating to see.
And finally, we have Witchblade, based on the American comic series of the same name and the anime I had watched last of the three. By the time I got to this, I had seen plenty of anime, so I was under no illusions towards its quality. The question is whether my slightly favourable memories are too kind or too harsh.
This is a more mature series than the other two. A sci-fi action series like the others, except hyper sexualised in the ass kicking. Kiddy Grade has panty shots; Witchblade has death by snu snu. If the shot in the OP of the protagonist wiping streaks of blood across her bare arse, vagina blade in full view, isn’t enough to tell you what this anime is going for, then no one can help. Witchblade is about tall, leggy, busty women in scant armour beating the life out of one another (toned down from the comics, if you can believe it). The Witchblade lusts for battle – literally – as combat turns it on to orgasmic peaks.
And if it were in the hands of a worse team, that’s all Witchblade would be. However, this anime has more to it, for at its heart is the story of Masane doing everything she can to give her daughter Rihoko a better life. Their relationship, not the action, is the spine of Witchblade. In fact, of these three anime, Witchblade has the least action with far more time spent on character and relationships. Furthermore, despite being more sexual than the others by leagues, it is the most mature (and certainly less creepy than Kiddy Grade). It has a surprising romance that doesn’t forget Masane’s status as a single mother. Long before the end of the story, I care for this woman and her daughter. I feel for the struggles they go through as a child welfare agency wants to separate them. And I appreciate how grown up the romance is without changing the tone into a heavy drama.
Should action be your main draw, then Witchblade also delivers. It isn’t repetitive, unlike the other two, nor does it drag beyond its welcome and doesn’t pause to exposit on how the powers work every fight. This isn’t some spectacular anime, of course – more lore, a darker mystery, and more development to the antagonists wouldn’t have gone amiss. It engaged me to the end, however, and that is worth something.
I also like the scientific approach to the Witchblade. If you supposed this device and its power was real, how would scientists approach it? Masane ends up working for a corporation doing such research (they pay her to kill rabid mutants and machines on the streets) and the antagonists come from a rival corporation developing other Witchblades, exploring the genetics of it all. They are trying to make it work with men as well (the device only functions on women).
So much to my surprise after this trio revisit, Witchblade turns out to be the best of the three, no contest. The production quality is also the highest, though it is newest. When considering my opinion of these three at the time I first watched them, Witchblade was the lowest. Now, it’s the best.
Recommendation: I recommend Witchblade – I give it a medium rating, with a low for the other two, which I don’t recommend. GetBackers is too dated, too repetitive, and too long for me to justify, while Kiddy Grade is somewhere in the middle. There is simply so much better these days. If you do want similar from that era, go with Scryed. Witchblade’s focus on a much older protagonist than usual with an older relationship too makes it stand out from the crowd.
What a rollercoaster of opinion Hanebado is for me! This was a request from a dear reader for an anime I hadn’t heard of (though did see a clip of the badminton). When I looked it up to see what it was about, I noted the poor ratings. Didn’t think anything of them at the time. We fast-forward to this week, where I am supposed to review Yowamushi Pedal (finished watching it over a month ago) and am watching Hanebado for the future. Hanebado turns out to be such a baffling anime that I must talk of it immediately.
The story is about high school girl Ayano who reluctantly joins the badminton team. This prodigy had stayed away from the game for a while after her mother, a 10-time badminton champion, abandoned her.
The story is about Nagisa, captain of a high school badminton team, who hasn’t gotten over a 0-21 loss at the hands of prodigy Ayano last Nationals. She takes out her frustrations on members of the team. One day, an Olympic player joins as their coach and he recruits Ayano to the team with sights on Nationals.
I’ll get to the reason for these two versions of the story in a moment. I want to start positive with my first impressions.
Hanebado opens on the Nationals match between Nagisa and Ayano on the verge of a 0-21 finish (perfect game). The animation is fluid, the choreography is tight, and sound design is flawless. Everything about this scene draws you into the sport. If you’ve ever played badminton, you’ll know the feel of flicking the racquet, that ping of resistance when the shuttlecock hits the strings, and the swiftness of your shot into the opponent’s court. Hanebado captures this.
With such a good first impression, those poor ratings return to mind. What could possibly go so wrong?
The first negative, though not a critical one, is indecisiveness on the protagonist. This relates to my two story angles above. It starts by presenting Nagisa as protagonist, but then from episode four, Nagisa is barely in it and Ayano takes the position. It switches again later. Whoever wrote this (or adapted it, if different from the manga), could not decide on a clear direction. We even see a smaller version of this problem later, where some guy we barely know form the boys’ badminton team gets a dedicated episode. If you only watch this one episode, you would be excused for thinking him protagonist. It’s a mess.
Not a deal breaker though.
Early episodes are standard sports anime fair. You meet the team, there’s a bit of comedy, a bit of personality, ambitious speeches, the shy one, the mean one, and the cocky one. The usual. Then it gets stuck into the matches and we see Ayano’s competitive side. During a serious game, this timid girl turns into a coldblooded killer of badminton. She even has the dead anime eyes when “in the zone”. It’s cheesy as hell. More than this, her whole personality changes into a bitch. She becomes so nasty to everyone that no sane person would want to associate with her again. When a friend wishes her good luck, she insults her for it. She even badmouths a teammate for trying hard to win.
What a failure at portraying a “tough” character. She has split personality disorder, surely, but the writer doesn’t treat it as such. Barely anyone even comments on how nasty she is. I cannot emphasise enough how disparate her two versions are, as if replaced by a different character. And if I haven’t made it clear yet, she is trash writing. This also ties back to the protagonist confusion, as when Ayano is “in the zone” she comes across as the antagonist!
The justification for her personality is from past trauma. This is where I introduce you to an even worse character – the mother. Let me give you the 411, as they say, on this woman. She abandons her daughter after she loses a match while sick (the opponent pinned her down and coughed on her because it wouldn’t be fair if only one person was sick). And her justification for this? It’s for Ayano’s good, that it would make her a better player. Which parenting school did she go to? Abandon your kid for years out of some sense that it will be good for her? Ayano spots her years later in a magazine alongside a Danish girl, a badminton champion and her adopted daughter. Replaced… Harsh.
It would be one thing if she were a neglectful parent antagonist to Ayano’s arc. However, Hanebado doesn’t see her that way. When she comes back to Japan, there’s barely a criticism against her. The grandparents on the father’s side don’t seem to care whatsoever for abandoning her infant. Their response is akin to having missed her daughter’s school play. “Oh that’s too bad. Maybe next time.”
As for Ayano’s response, she’s mad at her mother at first, but the final episode cops out and ends with, “Eh, I’m over it.” What just happened?
Usually when a story has a poor writing decision, I can see what the author was trying for. The result may not have worked, but the idea makes sense. In Hanebado, I don’t know what the author was thinking. Either it doesn’t make sense, like I have perceived it, or the author somehow thinks that the mother’s parenting is good and the split personality behaviour is praiseworthy.
When I say author, I want to be clear that I don’t know if it’s this way in the manga. I’m questioning whoever is responsible for putting it on screen.
It’s a shame that the characters and story have such problems, as the badminton itself is great. I love the matches. The animation, the cinematography, and the sound design – all fantastic. Sadly, there isn’t much outside of that to praise.
Art – High
Easily the best aspect of Hanebado, the art is clean, the animation fluid, and the opening sequence is beautiful. Such a waste on this story. I like the practical character designs that make sense in badminton, except for the pink haired girl (should have tied her hair up during the game).
Sound – Medium
The acting is fine in either Japanese or English and the casting is similar. The music is solid as well. Fine all around here.
Story – Very Low
A girl reluctantly joins the badminton team after bad memories of her mother kept her away from the game. Hanebado starts as a standard sports anime before it takes a turn for the stupid with baffling character choices and drama.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you want to see some well-animated badminton, stay away from Hanebado. I still don’t understand the story choices.