(Very) Stray Notes: Hanebado! Episode 7
When I first watched Hanebado!’s seventh episode, I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with it, as most scenes outside the main match struck me as falling short of the show’s previous standards.
Still, the match piqued my interest in a few ways, which stood out more on a second viewing; so I’ve collected a few remarks in this little post. I hadn’t written anything on anime in all too long, so I decided to have a little bit of fun here; in this sense it’s very much for myself, so please excuse me if it doesn’t flow well or doesn’t contain anything very insightful!
First of all, the episode starts in medias res, which isn’t exactly unique in itself, though this instance is rather radically focused on Satomi’s perspective: Hanesaki hitting the shuttle back (yet again, we’re made to understand), other fragments of the decor until we see the players’ faces. There’s a lot of impact to the frames, as often in this show.
Most striking to me, however, was the framing of Hanesaki. We suppose her to be the protagonist (and doubtlessly she is), but she is shown with a distance:
It is a if we saw her through Satomi’s eyes; the perspective makes us sympathize with the latter’s struggle to cope with Hanesaki, but does not make us admire the heroine’s skills. She is cold and expressionless. Further, the sequence above conveys effortlessness; the camera tilts slightly to reflect impact, but the movement of Hanesaki’s left arm is smooth and unhesitating, and the shuttle very easily flies away without much of a sense of strength.
Overall this first sequence does not really lead into the following match as much as it sets up the overall tone: distance with the protagonist as she grows into something of a sporting monster. We have Satomi’s narration, and only hers. The result is a given, we skip it as the episode introduces Serigaya and decides to continue following her instead.
Her match with Hanesaki shows all of this playing out in more detail, so it’s the part I really want to focus on. It is preceded by rather typical events we all know from sports anime, though some moments are ominous in hindsight:
But let’s move on to the match.
It all starts with a somewhat obvious visual cue, Hanesaki’s eyes indicating her “bestiality”. This is reinforced by the contrast with Serigaya’s calculating nature, emphasized both visually and through dialogue (her eyes do not change, they shine to show the extent of her ambition and focus).
Hanesaki’s speed is here on full display, at first by showing her catching up with the ball at an insane speed, and in the second instance by creating a sense of surprise for the decisive moment: we follow the ball, the camera moves slowly, until it abruptly accelerates to show: she is already in the frame… a moment’s tension, and she has won the rally. It was rather interesting seeing speed expressed in two such different ways, but I was more interested in how Serigaya’s reaction is conveyed after this start.
There is a sudden burst of subjectivity, which isn’t perfectly with the narrative’s logical flow; the overwhelming surprise Serigaya feels does not logically proceed from the previous cut (the referee announcing the score), nor does what follow (Serigaya walking back into position) seem to be what should directly come after, since her expression is completely changed already. It seems to represent an inner state–only the vague background indicates that she physically made this expression–as much as a concrete event. This is only the start, but it will prove a consistent tendency.
Here, we focus on how immense Serigaya’s effort is. The close-ups bring us close to her work, the score is handed to her and us as an ineluctable judgment, and see her lonely back off, the blurring of the background blocking out all the surroundings: just as she is totally focused on the match, we give her all our attention. The ways this progresses, with an accumulation of short cuts, adds much intensity to the affair, prioritizing the weight of each little thing rather than its place in a grander scenario.
Then we take a short break, which is of course a way of pacing the match, but the short sequence above I found more interesting. On its own there’s nothing particularly striking about it (it’s extremely natural and logical), but it emphasizes a theme which this episode repeats: there’s a great number of looks toward Hanesaki; none from her. It is natural to take the protagonist’s perspective, and even in the case of an opponent, we are put by their side for a while in order to understand them. This episode has none of that, however: we see Seriagaya’s admirable effort to resist Hanesaki; we see her teammates staring in worry and awe at Hanesaki; but what Hanesaki feels, what Hanesaki sees, none of us will ever know. She is truly a badminton beast, and this is not here a question of a talent, but rather the effect of her being reduced purely to her behavior. The show denies her an inner life, although it would be more accurate to say that she is the one shutting it down to focus on destroying her opponent. There are a few moments which seem to break with this, but they are, rather than Hanesaki’s emerging subjectivity, illustrations of what others have said about her, or narrative tools:
That the effect is first used on Serigaya justifies its later use on Hanesaki. We can assume that Hanesaki, too, is having flashbacks. By contrast:
The instances of people observing Hanesaki (her overwhelmed opponents, chiefly) regularly punctuate the episode.
On the opposite, this is a beautiful, extremely sympathetic moment. We see Serigaya’s desire to take the match’s leading role. She makes a gesture of satisfaction: when I first watched it, I thought the same gesture was being shown twice under two different angles. Closer inspection revealed to me that she probably did it twice in a row, but this sequence, by “accumulating ” two displays of joy rather than showing one, flowing instance, makes us sympathize with Serigaya’s feelings. After this moment, we briefly follow her highs and lows:
Until a decisive rally comes, and we focus on this one. The match then goes on in this manner, inserting punctual reminders of the score’s evolution between sequences of pure subjectivity. The match goes at the pace of Serigaya’s subjectivity rather than anything more objective: we see her getting back up after losing the first game, and are transported to the match point, being prepared for it by an illustration of her days as an anonymous, hard-working girl, deepening our understanding of her, and painting her under an even more positive light.
In fact, flashbacks (an extremely psychological technique) tend to be on her side, such as this very carefully animated passage:
The match ends in this very effective way. Serigaya is looking at Hanesaki; Hanesaki is looking at the ball. The sense of defeat and inferiority is conveyed through this play on gazes (Hanesaki is not concerned with her opponent) on top of the camera angle.
This type of framing is repeated toward the end. After a moment of intimacy between Serigaya and her closest teammate, we move to Hanesaki. The low-angle camera and the lighting antagonize her, keep us from sympathizing with her. This was a theme in the episode: and in fact, our perspective even finds echo in Serigaya’s teammates, who are not very nice to her at the start, yet end up supporting her; even some of Hanesaki’s own teammates cannot help but notice that her mind is sometimes difficult to read.
One of the reasons I was interested in these elements is that I cannot be sure they are entirely willed. Hanebado! evidently aims to be as serious and engaging as the boys-focused shonen sports manga we all know and love, and in fact reproduces a great number of its tropes, for now it is not looking to have the same length. The background between Hanesaki and Serigaya had been given very little foreshadowing, and the match came very suddenly, elements which go against how these stories usually work (heavy foreshadowing, fateful battle announced long before time). Material limitations should have an effect. However, what is born from this situation is not worthless. I do not mean to say I find any of this revolutionary, and sports anime are often focused on characters as much as the matches themselves. However, most shows do not seem to go so far as almost ignoring an exciting match flow (really, it goes as we’d all expect, it’s presented as a given) in favor of following one character’s (who isn’t even the protagonist) emotional highs and lows almost exclusively. Even Hanebado!, in most of its previous matches, had followed much more typical formulas: Riko’s match with Nozomi was the typical encounter of the hard worker against the more naturally talented individual, in which the former makes a compelling effort but still fails. In terms of general framework, this seventh episode does not step into uncharted territory; in fact it is quite similar to the other match I just mentioned. Maybe it was partly forced to weave its themes and motifs so deeply into its visual language in order to convey them with enough strength in a single episode, but the effect was arresting.