#1 High energy badminton
Badminton is not a sport that has ever gotten much love from anime. While tennis is decently popular and has featured in numerous mainstream anime, badminton has only been explored in a few manga and Hanebado is, to this day, the only anime on the subject. I can’t exclude the possibility that more might follow however, because Hanebado makes it look amazing.
It does what any good sports anime should: it presents the activity with as much energy and passion as it possibly can. Matches are exciting, fast-paced, and benefit from snappy directing work to make them look as dynamic as possible. The animation is also fantastic; individual screenshots can seem a bit strange and low on detail, but when seen in motion it’s a great-looking anime.
The athletes just look so powerful as they compete, which goes accompanied with much screaming and cheering. If you think sweat is icky, then skip Hanebado entirely. These badminton matches leave their participants drenched in sweat and gasping for air. It’s intense stuff and I found myself getting completely into it.
This does lead to some scenes where realism is stretched somewhat, but there is plenty of talk about technique, strategy, and the traits that make players unique to reel that back in. I consulted with a friend who plays competitive badminton and he vouches for Hanebado‘s accuracy. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the show’s attempts at realistic Danish.
#2 Intense drama (maybe too much)
Hanebado is a deliberately unpleasant anime. It dives headfirst into drama with little build-up or restraint, resulting in a story and characters that seem absurd. Most of the central cast is shockingly toxic, which made it hard to get into the show and find someone (or anything) to root for. First impressions were bad… but I came around to appreciating just how extreme the series is.
It’s no buddy-buddy school club where cute girls play badminton against each other. These are angry people who use the sport to vent their frustrations and humiliate the people they hate. Matches are cutthroat and filled with smack talk and taunts that gets way too personal. Sportsmanship goes right out of the window and characters—especially main character Ayano Hanesaki—look like they are just about ready to rip their opponent’s throat out the moment the match is over. It’s uncomfortable to say the least, which is made even better (or worse) by the show using visuals usually reserved for horror anime to achieve it.
#3 Damn cool protagonists
For all their flaws, Ayano and Nagisa make for two damn fine protagonists in every regard.
Their designs are polar opposites. Ayano is pint-sized and cute-looking. A very typical high school girl, but who reveals a ferocious side of herself when her badminton matches get intense. Nagisa towers over Ayano by comparison. She is a tall, tomboyish character with a muscular build; she looks like she could cross-over into combat sports and take on anyone who’d oppose her. Not only are these designs cool-looking and appealing, each for their own reasons, Hanebado also explores how these girls’ builds play towards their strengths in badminton. Clever stuff.
Their rivalry has an interesting premise to it. They faced off in a match during middle school that left both girls depressed and wondering why they are even still doing badminton. Cut to high school and Ayano has dropped out of sports entirely, while Nagisa has become the badminton club’s tyrannical captain and is scaring off old and new members alike with her ruthless training regime. Ayano is soon dragged into the club by the combined efforts of its coach and her best friend, reigniting an animosity between the two that escalates as the series continues.