When I first started watching HANEBADO!, I was expecting a sports anime similar to Haikyuu!! but with a predominantly female cast. In some ways, that’s what I got. In many other ways, it is nothing like that at all, the primary difference being the main character, Ayano Hanesaki who’s anger and jealousy define the series in many ways.
At the start of the series, the audience is introduced to Ayano as a former badminton prodigy who has lost her desire to play. She avoids the sport as she enters high school and just appears to be a bubbly, friendly girl looking to spend more time with her friends. She tries her hand at tennis with her friend Elena to keep herself away from badminton, but soon her closest friend and the team itself push her back into it. She resists for a time, but eventually relents and joins the badminton club. She’s incredibly good—Ayano is a prodigy trained up by her world champion mother, but she’s still dealing with abandonment from her mom who left and raised another girl to be a youth world champion. She is’s also left with a voice with all the joyfulness she had playing in her youth having been sucked from her. This is when rival after rival descends upon her. Most of them connected to Ayano’s past, and some to her mother. That’s when things begin to change.
Note, from here on out, everything I say about HANEBADO! will be spoilers. You have been warned.
The moment the competitions begin, Hanesaki is no longer the bubbly teenager excited to spend time with her friends. Gone is any visage of joy or happiness as she entirely shifts into competition mode. She is cruel in her taunts. She is vicious to those who have harmed her in the past, perceiving all opponents as the enemy. She is brutal on the court with eyes that haunt you. As a child, she played out of joy to spend time with her mother, but all that appears to be gone now. Peter Fobian at Crunchyroll wrote about this recently when he said, “Hanesaki’s inspiration to play comes from her love and admiration for her mother. Hanesaki’s impregnable defense arose out of her desire to continue playing badminton with her mom, where allowing a shot to pass meant playtime was over. Her weak offense is the result of not wanting to score, but to keep the rally going forever.”
While this may have been the initial motivation in her play style, her current motivation is anger, bitterness, and revenge. The revenge is marked by a sheer desire to show her own mother that she is far superior to Connie, the girl who Ayano’s mom basically replaced her with and raised as her own. She goes down this dark path…a path she seemed to instinctively know would develop from the beginning.
The thing is, badminton isn’t good for Hanesaki emotionally. It pulls joy away from her and draws her further and further into anger and bitterness. She knows this, internally, and that may even be why she did not want to join in the first place. When her friend Elena tries to confront the “new Ayano,” she pushes back, effectively saying, “You made me do this—stop being selfish as I keep winning.”
In many ways, Ayano reminds me of the first King of Israel, Saul. Bear with me, because this is going to be an interesting connection.
When Saul was called to be King by the Lord, he was reluctant. He hid and tried to avoid the responsibility of being King. He knew he was a big man, but did not necessarily want to be the King of his people. Much like Ayano, he pushed back, but eventually relented and assumed the role expected of him. That is when things began to change.
As Saul continued to lead the people, he began to enjoy the power and continued to do as he saw fit. He offered odd sacrifices. He ignored the advice of Samuel. He sought out mystics to summon the dead. He allowed jealous rage to consume him toward his own son-in-law (David). Saul did exactly what the people wanted. They wanted a King like the people around them. They wanted someone who looked big and strong. They wanted him as a commodity. Saul wasn’t a person, but a symbol for the people to place their hope.
In the same way, Ayano was a symbol for the badminton club to place their hope. They wanted her because she was the best and it made their team look better. Yet having her in the club was not the reality they were expecting. Trouble found her. She wasn’t helpful to her other club members, but actively discouraging. But she won. She kept on winning. So does Saul.
Unlike Saul, however, Ayano seems to be fully aware that this version of her is a warped one. Saul allows this vision of kingship to entirely reshape his life, forcing his eventual decent into madness as he focuses all his efforts on capturing David. Ayano is focused on winning and destroying all that stand in her path. She wants to destroy Connie for taking away her Mother. She wants to destroy Kaoruko for taunting her in the past. Now that she’s done that, only Nagisa, her current fellow club member, is left. She wants to beat her, in many ways, for bringing her back into badminton.
That said, her cool head when speaking of matters with others implies that she knows this is not the best version of herself. It may be the best badminton playing version of herself, but this badminton machine focused on winning at any cost is not a joyful person. This is not a complete person. This is not truly Ayano.
The question is how will Ayano change now that her mother is trying to inject herself into her life? Will she regain the childlike joyfulness she used to have with badminton? Or will she remain this cold, unfeeling badminton machine bent on harming those who harmed her? I don’t know the answers. She may not even trust her own mother at this point, and I would understand it since her mother has proven herself less than trustworthy as a parent, let alone as a mentor. How Ayano responds will tell us much about her character and what she truly wants. I, for one, look forward to finding out.
HANEBADO! can be legally streamed at Crunchyroll