The summer anime season has started in the most intense way possible. Hanebado‘s anime adaptation turned out to be a transformative effort, ditching the source material’s lighthearted start for a bitter, emotional, grand and hot-blooded first episode that won’t leave anyone indifferent. And so it’s time to examine this team’s ambitious approach, also peeking behind the scenes to find out exactly what was their mindset and who’s responsible for this impactful beginning.
Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More, Episode Direction (演出, enshutsu): A creative but also coordinative task, as it entails supervising the many departments and artists involved in the production of an episode – approving animation layouts alongside the Animation Director, overseeing the work of the photography team, the art department, CG staff... The role also exists in movies, refering to the individuals similarly in charge of segments of the film.: Shinpei Ezaki
Chief Animation Director (総作画監督, Sou Sakuga Kantoku): Often an overall credit that tends to be in the hands of the character designer, though as of late messy projects with multiple Chief ADs have increased in number; moreso than the regular animation directors, their job is to ensure the characters look like they're supposed to. Consistency is their goal, which they will enforce as much as they want (and can).: Satoshi Kimura
Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element.: Keiji Ishihara, Kodai Kitahara
Assistant Animation Director: Satoshi Hattori, Hiroki Itai, Satoshi Kimura
Action Animator: Masahiro Tokumaru
Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.: Masahiro Tokumaru, Shujiro Ami, Tomohiro Takayama, Yoko Sano, Kentaro Kawajiri, Katsunori Kikuchi, Chie Nishio, Teruyuki Omine, Naofumi Hashimoto, Ayumi Ikeda, Kanae Hatakeyama, Akiko Fujiwara, Ayako Ito, Fuyumi Toriyama, Masumi Hoshino, Kazuya Takahashi, Motoi Nakamura, Fuko Abe
Satoshi Hattori, Hiroki Itai, Mitsutaka Echigo, Shinya Kitamura
─ While this kind of backstory is far from uncommon, the events that led to this Hanebado! adaptation are still heartwarming enough to make you root for its success. Producer Shunsuke Hosoi transferred from distributor VAP to the behemoth TOHO a couple of years ago because he wanted a chance to turn this series into an anime. When it came to assembling a team with Liden Films he was introduced to animation producer Tomohito Shinka, who’d been playing badminton for a long time and could funnel his passion for the sport towards this project. They attended actual highschool competitions alongside the Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. to do the research that any remotely serious production requires, and their efforts eventually led to this so far impressive show. The groundwork and passion-fueled struggles are similar to those of many other anime, and truth to be told they didn’t have to fight for the project’s existence as much as other cases, but point stands that the people behind this series care about it a lot.
─ And thus, the staff’s intention was to immediately get across that they really were giving it their all. Considering the subject matter, that meant starting off with a sequence that proved their commitment to portraying the sport in the most intense and outright cool way possible. They considered inserting various scenes that either weren’t in the manga or would happen much later as the hook, and in the end settled with Nagisa’s harsh defeat – a good choice all things considered, since the whole episode is dyed with her bitterness. The person in charge of the most dynamic cuts was the main action specialist Masahiro Tokumaru, who’s recently found his footing as an ace animator at Liden; he joined the industry in 2013 as an in-betweener for White Fox, and after trying his luck in various projects as a freelance key animator, it’s Liden’s projects where he’s earned the trust required to show off his skill. Constant movement is his game, with a reluctance to cut corners that can make even theoretically simple shots into huge endeavors. In spite of that constant motion he didn’t sacrifice the feeling of impact or even the solidity of the drawings – supported in this regard by the corrections of Satoshi Kimura, who has the fate of this show’s animation resting on his shoulders. So far so good!
─ Before tackling the episode itself, the opening deserves an intermission. It was directed and storyboarded by Naoki Yoshibe aka yotube, perhaps best known for his sequences on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures and Gatchaman Crowds. His multifaceted digital art makes him one of the most interesting rising figures in anime, but we can skip his introduction since we already wrote an entire post to get people acquainted with his work. His return to opening direction offered known qualities, like his trademark effects that define the aesthetic and the uncanny ability to combine different types of craft, while also threading together a strong sequence; I’m fond of the teasing of the cool badminton skills first before the opening unleashes itself and returns to their full forms at the end, at which point they get to literally blow away the credits in classic yotube fashion. The crew of animators responded to the high demands of the directors as well, as seen in the nicely acted visual representation of their relationship animated by Naoki Okada, and obviously during the relay of eye-catching badminton plays. Though yotube’s own cuts are the most perfectly fitting as you’d expect, it’s again Tokumaru who left the biggest impression with this ominous, memorable shot. If the fancy intro wasn’t enough to grab people’s attention, this opening will do the trick.
─ You might think that after all this initial intensity the episode would calm down, but the Hanebado! anime was born with all dials turned up to eleven. If you’re of the opinion that shows must earn their conflict before raising the emotional volume then this melodramatic approach might put you off, but director Shinpei Ezaki at least made sure to marry that tone with equally grand execution. The solemn shots, many vast layouts that spell out the conflict as loudly as the series of visual metaphors, it’s all sold with intensity to match the sentimentalism. This adaptation is clearly a transformative take on the original, a thought-out attempt to turn it into the hotblooded spectacle the manga eventually becomes from the get-go. And before defenders of the sanctity of the source material come raise their voice, keep in mind that this is something that’s happening with the approval of the author. Just look at this long thread with the manga editor and the anime’s producer sharing their thoughts about the episode as it aired, commenting on essentially everything. It would have been much easier to follow the lighthearted beginning of the original as it was, but the entire team is committed on drastically changing the structure to showcase the essence that actually attracted them to this series.
─ If I were to point out any grievances regarding their approach, it would actually be how ambitious it is. A good thing on paper of course, but whether the staff will be able to live up to these demands in the long run remains to be seen. While I appreciate Ezaki’s thorough Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More full of small movement, the situation would remind me too much of Just Because’s director Kobayashi almost crashing the production by not keeping the team’s limitations in mind, were it not for the fact that Ezaki takes a step back when filming and makes it slightly less taxing. Truth to be told, the team as a whole doesn’t have acting finesse in the first place, which makes the excellent tense scene in the clubroom stand out as the exception. Perhaps some guest animators could address that, but for now the most noteworthy outsiders are the likes of Mitsutaka Echigo: known for her gorgeous art (and undying love for Cinderella Girls‘ Anya), not so much for acting nuance. And if we’re talking about shortcomings that don’t let them fully live up to these big ideas, Ezaki’s own struggles with 3D camerawork and space were exemplified by the moment where the protagonist’s outrageous skills leak through – it doesn’t make space clear nor the movement easy to read, which would be no issue if she was at least portrayed in really cool fashion rather than just sort of awkwardly saving her friend. Minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, but if the show as a whole ends up having problems, I feel like they’ll be related to this: big ideas that the team could struggle to properly execute. Worth the bet in my opinion!
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