What is Ayano Hanesaki The Name Of?
Do you remember what you loved as a kid? For Ayano Hanesaki, it was badminton. For hours on end she would play with her mother. She would always ask for one more rally with a smile on her face; always deny defeat with tears in her eyes. She was very talented. Her mother thought, “I want to see how far she can go”. She started demanding more of her. For Ayano, badminton became more than a hobby: it became a competition. A ruthless quest for win after win; a contest between those who will have temples built in their name, and those who will become pariahs. She started wondering: “if I lose, will my mother abandon me?”. Soon, the question became an anxiety; eventually, it transformed into a fear. “I have to win the next game”: the words began to haunt her mind.
One day, she lost. Her mother left without saying why. As her footsteps faded into the distance, they took something away with them. Ayano couldn’t enjoy badminton anymore. She couldn’t swing the racket for herself anymore. She didn’t throw the shuttle at her opponent anymore; she threw it to her mother, praying that it if it landed right, she would come back. Months passed, and even this mad hope faded like a mirage. There was no reason for her to play badminton anymore. She put her equipment somewhere she would forget.
Years went by, and Ayano couldn’t find what she wanted to do. Badminton was all that she had learned to love, and it had been taken away from her. No, it was worse: she loved badminton, but life had stained this feeling. She spent her days drifting, carried by the waves of time. She was a nice person, but her close friend Elena could tell that something was missing. It was as though Ayano lacked a self. Maybe Ayano sensed it too. She accepted playing badminton once more.
As soon as she gripped a racket again, her old demons came back. She was still dominated by what her mother had induced in her: that she was only worth as much as her skills in badminton. Ayano again set out to prove how much she excelled, but this time as a form of revenge, to show the world that she was far above the wretch who’d abandoned her. Doing so was the only way she could feel value in her. All her companions, all her opponents, she came to insult: “you are not who I want to beat; you are just a hindrance on my way”. They were lesser, not enough to prove her strength; they had to be belittled. She had to act as though they were worthless to her.
These actions protected Ayano from her insecurities. She is a girl who loves weird and cute things, and who loves her friends; who simply wants somewhere to belong. But she can only reject those who try to give her that: because who could love someone like her, after all? She’s not lovable: she’s a badminton monster. In acting like one, she hides her fear of being forsaken again. For her, love can only come as a reward for success; those who lose do not get any affection. Maybe they’re not even human beings. Even if she walks to someone else’s side, surely they will cross the street the moment she loses; if so, it’s better to keep them away. Resentment grows in her. She cannot accept others, and with them embrace herself whole. Because a badminton player is all she is. Crushing everyone around her is the only way to justify her existence.
She doesn’t want to do any of this. But she doesn’t know to do otherwise. The vicious cycle repeats itself endlessly. “Don’t leave my side; but please, don’t come near me”. One thing alone can free her: badminton must reimpose itself, not as vengeance, but as her passion. It must come back in the form it had in this distant past now buried under layer over layer of sadness. Nagisa appears, and is about to defeat her. If she loses, then what is she worth? Why does she play badminton, if not to affirm herself to the world? If not to show her mother how strong she is? What a mistake she made? But all of that is shattering: she is going to lose; once again, she will be worthless; once again, she will be abandoned; why is she doing this?
And this moment—this moment where everything threatens to end: this moment is also the one where life can start building all over again. If she cannot win, then what is the meaning of continuing? Is there one at all? But if there’s isn’t one—then why won’t her hands let go of the racket? Why do they tremble for the next rally? The old sanctuary crumbles apart. Nagisa wins one rally: its roof slides off fall to the ground; Ayano wins another: its pillars fall down; the sound of the shuttle jumping off the ground: it is shrouded in smoke. Ayano’s arms tremble: only its ruins remain. But among them, one brick has been placed. And it is enough for Ayano to stand on: to embrace her friends, her desire to play badminton, her competitive personality, her playfulness of character, and everything in between—even in the awkwardness which is that of new beginnings.
A lot remains to build. But the immensity of this now empty world is wrapped in the sun’s gentle light. And so, Ayano Hanesaki starts working; with the confidence that one brick falling down won’t be enough to discourage her.
Thank you, Ayano. Seeing you struggle with yourself has been a genuine inspiration. I hope the path ahead is exhausting, terrifying; but full of joys and at all times of hope. For you—and maybe for me too.
On the road!