Interview with the main trio from badminton anime Hanebad(o)! – Owada Hitomi as eccentric lead Hanesaki Ayano, rookie Shimabukuro Miyuri as stoic team captain Aragaki Nagisa and badminton lover Okamoto Nobuhiko as coach Tachibana Kentarō.
Finally, an anime based on a sport that all good citizens of my country would have been forced to play from a young age! The racquet action has been impressive so far and I’m just crossing my fingers hard that the animation team doesn’t collapse from all the effort.
You might also have seen me tweeting bits about Shimabukuro, who’s landed an interesting batch of roles in this current summer season – the airheaded titular lead in Yuragi-sō no Yūna-san, the headstrong rival characters in both Hanebado and Harukana Receive (Shimabukuro’s from Okinawa, where the latter series is set) and one of the many idol girls in Ongaku Shōjo.
She’s definitely one to watch out for, being from Osawa Office, an agency that’s not really invested in the idol game and is more about developing & picking up voice talent. In Hanebado!, Shimabukuro joins agency seniors Kayano Ai and Kohara Konomi (Ayano’s best buddy Elena), the latter of whom tread a similar path to prominence last year. Could write an entire post looking at Osawa’s hiring & nurturing practices but we shall leave that asides for now.
On to the interview!
A series that paints badminton in a viciously zealous light. Ayano, a tough character with a myriad of facial expressions
Q: What are your impressions of Hanebado! having read the manga and now that you’re acting in it?
Owada: I read the manga for the first time prior to my audition. When my casting was confirmed, I reread the series and felt myself gradually getting absorbed in the passionate manner badminton matches were being depicted. And I was looking forward to seeing how they would appear in animated form.
At the same time I had my doubts about playing a role like Ayano. The further I read on, the tougher it became to keep up with her complex feelings and emotions. At times you can’t tell what’s going through her mind and at others, [her behaviour] sends a chill down your spine. That tendency she has to enter this ‘zone’ where she’s oblivious of what’s going around her is actually one of the most fascinating aspects about her – you can’t take your eyes off her at that very moment. I was however, concerned over whether I could adequately convey or express those parts. It’s still a trial-and-error process for me even as I’m going through recording now.
Shimabukuro: My cousin played badminton as part of their club activities so I do feel like it’s one that I’m most familiar with amongst the many sports out there. When I read the manga, I could see how incredibly fiery it was and it surprised me. I thought, ‘Wow, so this is badminton’.
I initially thought that this would be a cute badminton story upon seeing the manga art, but as the matches heated up and intensified, the art too became increasingly well-defined; razor sharp almost. There is a sense of dynamism [to the art] as well as cuteness whenever the story calls for it – the way the art evolves depending on the situation results in double pleasure [for the reader]. And wow, there are heroines like Ayano out there. Ayano’s emotions tend to be all over the place and she’s a bit twisted (laughs). On the other hand Nagisa’s quite straightforward and I do think she’s cool.
Straightforward Nagisa feels more like the main character. Is Ayano the last boss!?
Okamoto: I played badminton in junior high under the guidance of a coach and I was thinking about how I could make use of my playing experience as I was taking the auditions. Sound director Wakabayashi (Kazuhiro)-san had commented to me, ‘You know a lot about badminton don’t you?’, but when I read the manga I discovered that there were quite a lot of badminton-specific terms that I wasn’t familiar with, and I thought ‘I’m done for’.
Okamoto: I’d had this image of the series being a bright story about cute girls when I read the first volume of the manga, but then I see Ayano who’s like a last boss that’s been raised by an evil emperor. But we do also have Nagisa, who gives off more of an orthodox protagonist-type of impression.
Okamoto: This series feels different compared to other common manga, it’s got a kind of intensity [not present elsewhere]. I think it’s probably because Ayano was separated from her mom early on during her childhood and went through a lot that she’s developed something like a split personality.
Q: Observing the complex relationships between the various characters, the psychological aspects and the intensity of, as well as the strategizing going on during matches – you wouldn’t think you were watching a show about high school students’ club activities.
Okamoto: Ayano may be blessed with natural talent but in return, lacks physical attributes such as height etc. It’s said that athletes who are tall and have long limbs have the gift and the advantage, but we see someone like Nagisa who’s tall but is the industrious type [as opposed to being naturally gifted] with plenty of potential – that aspect is pretty interesting too.
It’s a high-speed, quick-thinking strategy game, but also a sport that makes you want to improve
Q: Owada-san and Shimabukuro-san are learning to play badminton through Moribad, a special video programme that streams on the official website, while Okamoto-san already has experience with the game. Can you each describe what you find appealing about badminton?
Owada: I’d only played it during PE classes before so this was my first time taking on the sport seriously. I was able to hit the shuttle thanks to what I’d been taught in my youth but learning about high-level strategies through playing actual matches allowed me to appreciate the depth of the sport. You engage in both offensive and defensive play at breakneck speeds while constantly planning your next move – it’s amazing to be capable of doing such difficult things.
I can’t pull off overly complicated moves but just hitting the shuttle around and playing a couple of rallies is fun. It feels good to hear the sound of a clean hit. We had the opportunity to learn from pro players as well as to watch a live match, and it left a big impression on me – I thought, ‘I never knew such a world existed! What a cool sport this is!’. We’re only at the level of exchanging rallies, but we hope to get even better at playing the game.
Shimabukuro: I never knew it would be quite so hard to hit the shuttle at a targeted spot, or to even make a return of serve. The ‘ball’ isn’t round – it’s a light shuttle with feathers so a lot more control is required. Plus, the court is wider than I thought it’d be. When I was playing a match with Owada-san, she was good at hitting drop shots that land right at the net and I ended up rushing in haphazardly from the back of the court (laughs)
Owada: Miyuri-chan is good at covering the court, right?
Okamoto: It’s amazing to be able to do that when you’re just a beginner.
Owada: Even when she’s at the net, she’s able to sprint to the back of the court quickly so that gets me panicky as well (laughs)
Q: The two of you could form a doubles partnership.
Owada: Shall we pair up?
Shimabukuro: That’d be great. Pro players can retrieve a shuttle at the net and then quickly chase down a shot that’s been dropped at the back of the court – their footwork and reading of play is just amazing. There’s nothing I can do but be astounded by the brain power required as well as the agility and physical strength they possess.
What’s interesting – psychological battles against opponents who have overcome physical barriers
Okamoto: It was mentioned earlier that height is seen as an indication of potential, but the fact that [being tall] is not an absolute advantage is what makes badminton intriguing. Evaluating the condition and weaknesses of your opponent and then proceeding to drop the shuttle into an area that they hate – that kind of analysis is fun, isn’t it?
As an example, we might have Owada-chan who’s good at playing drop shots – to counter them, you could either choose to play a hairpin net shot or a cross-court net shot, or you could hit a clear shot. It’s fun to choose what shots to play while anticipating your opponent’s next move.
I do think that a match might actually go on forever unless someone hits a deciding smash or makes a mistake. When I was playing badminton as a school activity I was told to study the weaknesses of my opponents.
Q: There was a scene in the manga where a character attacked their opponent’s weak backhand, wasn’t there?
Okamoto: They’re junior high school students so it’s natural to be weak at playing backhands from the back of the court. So what you do is just to return it using whatever method possible; clearing it may be your only option and a safe choice, so just take aim and hit it cleanly.
Shimabukuro: Amazing! What a lot of [badminton] jargon.
Owada: That’s the part you’re impressed by?
Ayano may be childish, but she’s a character from whom you can sense an obsession with winning
Q: Let’s talk about how you each measure up to your respective characters – tell us too, about anything special that you’re doing for your roles.
Owada: It is difficult to describe Ayano in just a few words (laughs). I had only read up to the 3rd volume by the time I attended the audition and initially, I thought that she was a cowardly, timid and shy girl but I was informed that she’s ‘a character who undergoes changes, wears different masks’. Playing the role, I was able to reaffirm that despite being awkward at handling personal relationships, [Ayano’s] a girl who possesses great determination, like most sportspersons who refuse to admit defeat. The reason she loses sight of her surroundings at times is probably down to her single-minded focus on badminton, the one thing that once connected Ayano to her mother.
Q: Her childishness remains unchanged; as if there’s a monster slumbering within her innocent nature.
Owada: Wakabayashi-san often emphasized her ‘childishness’. For example, ‘in this scene, she’s like a brat who doesn’t want to go to the dentist’ (laughs). I try my best not to allow it to appear that Ayano’s way of thinking has ever matured.
The strong Nagisa who faces badminton stoically, is the complete opposite of who I am
Shimabukuro: Though Nagisa has faced setbacks in the past and had her heart ripped to shreds, I do feel that she’s a girl who tackles badminton in a stoic manner – I had that sentiment before I started working on the show and those feelings haven’t changed. On the other hand, I would personally choose to run away if I ever got frustrated with something I love. I’d end up thinking ‘Why bother working hard if it’s gonna be pointless in the end?’.
Q: At first, Nagisa pushes Coach Tachibana away and displays a range of complicated emotions towards Ayano.
Shimabukuro: Whenever Nagisa gets frustrated she tries to overcome it alone without ever running away, which I think is cool and I respect her for that. As a final-year senior, Nagisa reaches a point where she can just watch over her juniors and the club as a whole so similarly, I can observe how [everyone] is developing over the course of recordings. Also, I’m a rather passive person myself so I try not to let that trait of mine seep through.
Okamoto: You were even bowing your head down all the way while moving about during recording.
Shimabukuro: ‘cos I think I’d be doing a disservice to Nagisa if I were to allow my meekness to show, going ‘Apologies, but I’m going to stand in front of the mic now’ (laughs). Her character is the complete opposite of my own, so I can gain courage from her.
Coach Tachibana: youthful-looking but mature & considerate of his team members
Okamoto: Tachibana is a coach who supports his students, and I was visualizing a passionate character like Matsuoka Shūzō [for my portrayal]. I was told, ‘He may be a hot-blooded guy but do please emphasize his gentle side when he’s advising the students’. I think that it’s the kindness of Tachibana that allows him to not put undue pressure on his students, but I have noticed recently that he’s a bit strict with the male team members.
Okamoto: He’s probably wary of being hated by the girls, or afraid of getting accused of sexual harassment (laughs)
Q: He’s a college student so he’s not that much older than the club members.
Okamoto: He may look like a boy but he’s quite mature. At first the club members were thinking, ‘What’s up with this perverted geezer?’ (laughs) but it turns out that he’s unexpectedly considerate when it comes to the team members. I guess things are constantly on his mind as he’s dealing with frustrations from his past and thinking about how he can live out his dream through the club members. It does seem though, that there are a lot of female players but too few male members in the club – I wonder why he chose to come to this particular school?
Owada: They can’t even join team events with only 2 male members.
Shimabukuro: They’ve got to recruit more members.
Okamoto: Ayano and Nagisa are well ahead of the pack in terms of strength, but what about the other members? I’d like to ask him what vision he has for the team, how he sees them progressing going forward.
The trio’s favourite characters are all from rival schools!?
Q: Who’s your favourite character in the series?
Owada: For me it’s Shiwahime Yuika, captain of rival school Frederisia Women’s Junior College’s high school branch. She’s imposing and cool but always watches out for her friends; I think she’s the type of woman other girls admire. If you were in the same club you’d probably go ‘I’ll follow you forever!’; she’s the sort of person you’d want to keep watching.
Shimabukuro: Same for me, I’d say Shiwahime-san as well.
Okamoto: Wow she’s popular. And she hasn’t started taking things seriously yet.
Shimabukuro: Her potential appears to be unlimited, plus she’s mysterious. You could feel the composure when she spoke to Nagisa using honorifics as they were shaking hands. I was also quite taken by the part in the manga where she zooms off to bring back Conny, who’s run away, on a scooter. I really like that kind of inconsistency in her character.
Okamoto: Ah, Fre-jo’s Conny. She has the height and long limbs that make her suitable for badminton, plus she hits amazing smashes at acute angles. I’m interested in her as she seems to be a strong character with even more potential than Nagisa. Should the 3 of us all be picking Fre-jo characters though?
Owada: Of course they’re all nice people, the Kitakomachi team members plus Elena, Ayano’s best friend. Right?
Shimabukuro: Yes! (laughs)
Watch out for Ayano’s mother Uchika, who holds the key to the story!
Q: What do you think of Ayano’s mother Uchika?
Owada: Complicated feelings, when I consider it from Ayano’s point of view. [Ayano] enjoyed playing badminton with her mom and it was the reason why she loved the game; now all of a sudden, the only person she has ever trusted is gone from her life. As a result, Ayano’s heart is a complete mess.
Okamoto: She even abandoned her parental responsibilities. You have to wonder why she bothered to get married. Ayano’s success in badminton stems from the time that she spent playing with her mom. On the other hand, it does make me shudder to think that [badminton] was all they had (to keep them connected).
Shimabukuro: It also affected other kids apart from Ayano herself..
Owada: I’m not sure what frame of mind I should approach this in, but I do know that I am looking forward to seeing how the anime handles [their story]. It’s complicated (laughs).
Hanebado! recordings are like club meetings, with the studio a club room. The fatigue from recording matches shows through too!?
Q: What’s the atmosphere during recording like?
Owada: I talk to Miyuri-chan a lot, it’s like we’re in the same club. The studio and the booths are kinda like clubrooms to us.
Okamoto: I feel like I’m an intruder in their clubroom (laughs)
Owada: Break times are relaxing but once we move into recording, it gets a little edgy. We have to keep going ‘til Wakabayashi-san is satisfied so we do need to make sure we can properly switch gears.
Shimabukuro: Everyone’s munching stuff during intervals as well; it really does feel like a club.
Owada: There was a bit of a controversial battle recently over which tastes better – ‘Kinoko no Yama’ or ‘Takenoko no Sato’ (laughs). We also bring in each other’s favourite treats as well.
Shimabukuro: The girls get excited over all the sweets, don’t we?
Q: Those extra supplies seem like a necessity since the large number of hot-blooded developments in the series would require intense physical exertion.
Owada: You’re right, the matches make up the bulk of the show and there are quite a few tense scenes that make us huff and puff. Once recording is over we just wilt, feeling like we had a real good workout.
Okamoto: Recording for this series does feel like it goes on longer than for other anime. The animation is pretty detailed so decisions over whether or not to include breathing for a certain part have to be take carefully.
Q: Watching the rally shown in the PV, you can clearly hear the sounds of a shuttle being hit and of it flying through the air, as well as the screech of shoes moving across the surface every time someone moves – any badminton player would be surprised by how realistic the show is.
Okamoto: It made me shiver too.
Owada: A lot of work has gone into crafting the sound so I think experienced players will surely be satisfied with what they hear.
You’ll feel the passion that’s been put into the high-quality depiction of badminton, and the level of technical competence makes you feel like you’re out there on the court!
Q: Tell us what you’re looking forward to in the anime, or what scenes you’d like to see.
Owada: First of all, I believe that fans will be concerned over how convincingly the anime depicts the matches and action as drawn in the manga, so I’d like everyone to pay attention to those parts. The battles with players from other high schools will shake Ayano’s heart to its core; I’m looking forward to the chance to portray Ayano’s varying facial expressions and emotions – how she matures, or even how she turns to the dark side.
Shimabukuro: The animation incorporates movements based on camera footage captured during real badminton matches. The scene where Riko adjusts her centre of gravity – it’s amazing that you can tell where weight is being applied solely from the visuals.
I’m looking forward to seeing not just Nagisa’s, but all of the other characters’ matches as well – how they’re animated and with sound added, how realistic they’ll turn out. I’m sure that we’ll get to taste the feeling of standing out there on the gym court, and that excites me. From Nagisa’s point of view, the matchups with Ayano are always thrilling and I’m keen to experience up-close one of Ayano’s lines [to Nagisa] from the manga: ‘That’s a surprise – it seems that you can play some nasty badminton’. There are plenty of epic matches in the manga that all seem like highlights and I’m looking forward to getting to act them out in the anime.
Okamoto: If those 2 were to duke it out in a crucial match, how would I approach it as a coach? They’re players on the same team, and I know a great deal about both. Though in the manga, I feel like [Tachibana] actually leaves Ayano to her own devices and spends more time advising Nagisa (laughs).
From a badminton player’s point of view, I’m kind of worried – the singles matches should be fine, but what about the doubles? Badminton is a quick-paced sport with a lot of movement and with 4 people involved, I think the animators are going to cry.
Owada: I’m like, ‘Wow, you can hit [the shuttle] from that position in that kind of pose!?’
Okamoto: Especially true for someone like Ayano. She’s like an acrobat.
Q: It’s a challenge to capture the realism and that sense of speed in a TV series.
Okamoto: It’s uncharted territory not just for a sports series but for anime in general. Expectations have gone up and the bar’s been set high thanks to the PV that they made. Liden Films, please do your best!
Owada/Shimabukuro: Please do your best!!
A series that club members can relate to. Please spend a hot summer with these girls!
Q: Tell us about the appeal and highlights of Hanebado!
Owada: I think anyone who’s been involved with club activities, not just specifically badminton players, will be able to relate to the show. Against a backdrop of passionate sports battles, the series develops, through the joy and the pain. I hope that you can watch it while recalling your days as part of a club, working diligently and fervently.
The show starts at the dawn of summer; feel the heat of the girls and spend your hot summer with them! Ayano is a character who’s difficult to pin down with just one phrase but as the episodes pass by you’ll get to see increasingly different sides to her that will pique your interest more and more, deepening her attractiveness [as a character]. Please keep both eyes on, and keep watching over her as she matures through her interactions with her club members and other characters.
Feel the splendour of club activities and youth through Hanebado!, the staff & cast’s crystal of badminton love
Shimabukuro: I’ve never been part of a sports club before, having preferred more casual activities. Everybody’s gathered together at the same time for this series, watching Nagisa and the rest of the characters working hard towards achieving that one goal, and it makes me think, ‘This is what a club is. This is what youth is.’ – through this [series], I have learned what joy and pleasure truly means. I’ll be glad if everyone, both badminton players and newcomers to the sport, would come to think ‘youth is a great thing’, or gain an interest in the excitement and fun of badminton [from watching the show].
There are many characters in the series, from unique personalities like Ayano to direct girls like Ayano, as well as others who watch over the problem kids, like Riko and Elena (laughs). You’ll definitely find 1 character with whom you can identify and relate to; it’ll be fun to see the similarities you might share with any of them. Please give the series a try and accept the love that the staff and us cast members have for badminton.
A show that is easy to understand for beginners but also benefits skilled players – pay attention to the Japanese badminton scene that is active on the global badminton stage!
Okamoto: Hanebado!, depicting fiery battles between girls, even manages to get the palms of a guy like me all sweaty; I am very much impressed by a show where the magnificence of sporting relationships can be felt throughout. People who’ve tried badminton or players who are experienced should surely find that the play in the series is well-executed, while newcomers will also be able to see the action clearly.
From the Takamatsu [Takahashi Ayaka & Matsutomo Misaki] pair’s Rio Olympics (gold-medal) triumph to our World No.1 ranked female player Yamaguchi Akane, to male Asian Championships winner Momota Kento – Japan’s badminton players are now performing well on the global stage, and I hope people pay attention to just how exciting [the scene] is. It might also be interesting to imagine what it’d be like if Ayano and the rest of the girls were to take part in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Riding this wave, I do hope that Hanebado! can get even more exciting in the future!