This Week: Ping Pong The Animation, The World is Still Beautiful, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, and Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara.
Promo videos and summer season previews are creeping up more each week now?
I am not ready for that shift, no sirree. So let’s not think about the future, as for now we have ping pong and princesses.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode eight]
We are back at the national qualifiers again, so a year has passed since just a few episodes ago. Which is great, as it keeps things tight for the running time and we are not subjected to an overly onerous training arc around Peco and his advancement. We saw arguably enough on that front where we can just assume things remained as rigorous for the last few months to get us to this point, and for him to have his hero narrative by overcoming Wenge here now.
Of course the overarching setup behind a lot of the tournament is that we have the great mat outlay all over the floors. And wouldn’t you know it, those handy dandy Poseidon shoes are available for sale just outside. Which is some kind of oddball business collusion or something, given that none of the other players who were not with Kaio knew to expect them. Which perhaps could be taken as a sub-narrative when taking into account the one anonymous Kaio player who was dismantled by Wenge, that Kaio is on perhaps on the decline and this was the only reason he may have made the starting team.
The operational side of that would be, of course, perhaps the school and business operations that exist in the background would be at least tangentially (if not moreso, given the growing hinted discord) aware of this fact. In turn, trying to then engineer circumstances that would be more favorable for the Kaio team. They did get advance and free access to the specialty mat shoes, after all. Which may lead into another aspect regarding the likes of Dragon, Smile, etc rejecting the shoes, where the players who will by and large come to be regarded as the best in the tournament may not be wearing those shoes at all.
This would be exposing a potentially larger Kaio structural weakness in the process as well, as even if Dragon wins, as his team says, it looks odd if he is the only one not wearing the super shoes. Especially as he was the one wearing them and saying how great they felt in the commercials playing outside of the very same venue.
Back in Wenge world though, he gets to have nice moments both with and outside of his team, saying on the latter end to his own coach that while they may struggle in singles they will do well in the team events. Which is a solid part of his narrative, this more communal or peer support one, where he then with the team is joking openly and friendly about how good they may and may not get to be, rather than aggressively as before. Really, his whole narrative has been this advance from what he was (a highly skilled but fell somewhere along the way player, and had to leave his country to try and win his way back in the eyes of his previous superiors) into what he is now (things are more horizontal rather than vertical, given the larger team and community he has come to be around and support). And it really supports the whole often repeated notion that this is not really a series about the sport itself but the people who play it.
And Kong coming to Japan for one thing, but finding something else in the process to lead and take personal pride in, is such a nice little tale that goes back to the idea of playing the table tennis one can believe in. He has something great to show for his work, by building up this foreign team and getting to know them, even if it was not what he originally intended at all.
I don’t even think we were ever told what his original error was, regarding his time in China, now that I think about it. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter, given what came of it and the idea of a new team of new friends getting to benefit from his presence and leadership now.
Wenge is left kind of confused by the combination of a Japanese penhold grip with rubber on the back. It bugs him quite a lot during the early stages of the game, to the point of his own coach even yelling out the racket tech was a bluff and Peco does not actually have a backhand swing. Which is a completely relevant strategy, in terms of getting into an opponents head; they have to make their split second moves under the assumption of what they know is on the other end of the table, and then may make moves accordingly. To not have a backhand but put on a front like you have a bigger plan is a reasonable move in and of itself. In this case, it then turning into a next level bluff, where Peco actually does switch up entirely in the middle of the game to a reverse penhold backhand.
That it creates a drive with high topspin and a wide angle due to the motions involved creates a royal tactical pain to deal with, especially mid volley, and goes back to the notion that Peco had no specific driving style at the start of the show. It is a tricky but powerful move for a hotshot player to pull off, for an individual who used to be just a hotshot smasher, and shows his advancement and natural talent he never built upon previously. Meanwhile, Wenge’s entire playstyle is based around counter drives, and Peco new moves specifically creates a nightmare scenario to deal with tactically.
The problem for the user, of course, is the kind of play Peco has picked up creates an indecision deadzone where the ball can be hit with either side of the racket equally or the player otherwise be tripped up due to where their arm may be due to their swinging between forehand and backhand. It is then precisely the kind of area a laser targeted Smile could exploit on someone with a niggling leg issue to drill his friend into the ground, should he be faced with the same circumstances that faced his own coach Koizumi all those years ago and choose to execute rather than spare his buddy.
Now, I really like this technical aspect of the racket examinations and how that plays into, well, the play of the game. I think it is a relevant thing to bring up for these write-ups. But, I do not though feel I get much of a hidden analytical advantage or too terribly advanced additional insight for reading up on how ping pong actually operates that Yuasa / Matsumoto are not making clear elsewhere through visuals, character thoughts, dialogue, and so on. This is a mark some some extremely solid directing and writing, from both the television series and the original manga it is adapted out of.
Something like the deadzone issue Peco may run into, where his game style will open up a very particular avenue for Smile to target and exploit if picked up on and desired, that I can see coming now should they square off in the future (and they pretty much will).
But, I am sure that process will be walked through visually and verbally when it happens as well. Much like Wenge’s here, going from his initial ease, then quizzically oriented statements about the racket externally and internally. His coach then realizing what Wenge was doing and calling out Peco’s apparent bluffing, executing on that idea at a focused corner and then realizing the racket did serve a purpose and he can’t return the shots consistently because the backhand screws with his counter moves due to the physical space they are each occupying at the times of the respective hits. It all flows as an interconnected whole, in terms of where everyone is and what all the players are doing visually.
For as quick as some of those multiframe shots and all can be in between the more extended action volleys, they are all greatly on point regarding where each character should be, the sides of the rackets being used, and what their use should do to the other player or send their body as they respond to the shots. So the liquid nature and understanding of a match at hand remains consistent I feel for multiple potential viewers, regardless of any external reading or understanding of the game.
Looking ahead for the final three episodes, I would certainly think Peco would be the one to take out Dragon en route to Smile, as neither should be eliminated until they face each other on their side of the tournament table. Dragon getting taken to task by a guy who was lost and adrift just after this same tournament a year ago, but after a time of personal indulgence came to redouble his efforts on the game and what he saw in it, that is a good angle. Peco has his desire, confidence, worries etc, while still being him. Kazama has the method and rigorous training, but his blinders are very apparent and this will likely limit the kind of tactical play he could have against Peco.
Namely, given how much Peco was sweating bullets over his matchups earlier this episode, he is worried about his potential bouts. But, we know he still also retains a personal sense where he will be able to derive fun from just being able to truly express himself as a person in his ping pong now. Dragon would not be able to do that, and so his playmaking will be stunted, would be where the belief in ones game angle would come to pass I figure.
The World is Still Beautiful (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii) [Episode eight]
Last week was the most straight up comedy gag centric episode of this series thus far, and now I feel we are in the most serious mode we have been in since the start of the show. I am not sure if that is an improvement or not, to have massive tonal swings between episodes or for it to I suppose more consistently jump all around internally each week. But it is a sense of focus I guess, and I feel the series did need that. Especially, well, at this point.
We have our great series of infodumps regarding the backgrounds of Bardouin and Livius then, with all the loves , wars, frustrations, etc that entailed. Or, at least the sense that these were kinds of events that happened before. It all still felt pretty railroaded along, and given the approach vector I still have little idea concerning the nature of this world Livius came to supposedly conquer and have arguments with Bardouin over.
Near as we get to ever see, Livius owns about as much as the capital city walls, despite all these claims of prior strife and other territories being out there.
Given how the entire situation between Bardouin and Livius was resolved (shove them into a gazebo during a rainstorm), I think all of this could have been paced rather differently.
Had the genesis of that scene come to actually start a lot earlier, it would feel less like only a few minutes had passed before they get to saying an hour went by and Princess Nike is hoarse from singing that same song. This would require re-scripting at least this and the last episode of content to allow things to happen that way, sure (given, there are a lot of episodes of this show I would re-script, which is to say: nearly all of them). But it would work a lot better for trying to sell them hashing out and coming to terms with these personal issues over a longer heart to heart rather than walking away with the sense of “Well, the episode is already over and the plot demands this situation be resolved.”
Which is, fitting enough, how I feel about the whole relationship between Nike and Livius anyway. A series of “If Z does not happen, we do not get to X” motions, like if they were actors in a television series who were not really giving their all, but not really necessarily terrible, just putting in a good enough shift and getting their wages.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode nine]
The name of this episode was “How Wrestlers Relax,” and odd as it sounds I keep discovering aspects most weeks regarding why this show does not really stick with me over the long term. I can not really say I dislike the series, given what is is geared for and what it does to execute on that objective. But I have difficulty being able to say I really enjoy it either. It just sort of exists. I watch it, and I move on.
With this particular kind of episode, many slice of life oriented series would be able to make a really great day of it: the seniors at the wrestling stable have been doing well, but none of the younger inductees have won a watch outside of our lead character. Some words get exchanged before the manager and two of our higher ranking wrestlers head out for a special swanky V.I.P. meeting, and we end up with our younger crew getting treated to some spending money for a night on the town after complaining they are worked to hard.
Alright then, folks are too tense after their debuts and failures, loosen ‘em up with a nice time out for morale, etc.
The thing is, and it only dawned on me mid-episode: I do not know the names / personalities / etc of basically anyone else in this younger stable crew outside of Matsutaro and sidekick Tanaka. All others are just a bunch of faces that exist around the lead, with no distinguishing characteristics, traits, or even much of a group narrative. I think being vexed with Matsutaro doing things like trying to strongarm huge discounts as a buffet is fine, as he is by and large supposed to be a frustrating character to others. But that is a general blanket group mood.
For instance, there is this fine little moment at the end of the episode where after a night of fishing on a pier (started due to Matsutaro trying to steal all their spending money while they are distracted, given who he is), things take a turn. Fish are caught too quickly for his plan, meals are had, and there is a nice evening party of songs, food, laughs, etc. And it just does not connect with me as a swell cast moment the same it would in numerous other programs. I do not know these characters outside of “Dudes Generally Frustrated By Matsutaro A – Through – F.”
Ping Pong can get away with the less central team members being more unknown, but it has multiple main figures from several schools to compensate for that, and the framing and how the more anonymous background team members come to be together or grow apart is entirely different in execution.
Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (Gaworare) [Episode nine]
The prologue may be a little on the nose, with it straight up divulging the entire history or legend of the Royal Banner without any real setup. But, the storybook and stained glass nature of it made it easier to process what it was going for, and it linked with the end of the episode regarding Souta coming to learn of its foundational aspects and it being similar to his own present situation.
And hey, I am not about to fault this series for being direct and overt!
Now, this is closer to the kind of episode the last one could have been: this is generally a transition piece. Souta and the princesses manage to get returned to the capital after the assassination attempt courtesy of those lovely House of Seven Virtues folks (which is a statement that can be read two ways, and both are correct), so we minimize time on the cast being separated.
Meanwhile, the old king passes away. Crown Prince Elia gets a press conference and announces he is actually the father of Nanami and Hakua so they are in reality directly after him in succession rather than like a dozen steps down the line. We get a fast funeral and a longer festival before leaving on Souta’s more concerned note of the dire pickle he is in. And Number Zero is, as expected, Souta’s lost sister. Lots of game pieces moving around sort of stuff, in the effort to set up the dominoes for a looming finale in only four episodes.
That is the real kicker potentially, is it not? Everything is designed to lead us to assume that things will happen in a similar fashion to what the legend entails. The Knight, Magician, Cleric, and Ninja will lose their lives at the first obstacle, the Samurai will get cursed with (another?) memory wipe, and even at the very end the leading Princess gets shot by a final arrow. And our boy takes on the role of the Royal Banner for real to bring everyone back to life at the cost of their own humanity.
This, of course, would mean we already know the plot. There is an argument to be made that these windows were also about past events though rather than future ones, given the interpretative spins for things like the prior memory wipe Mei has already had (if we see that as the memory curse from the story) and last episode’s train separation being where the sister princesses of the story run away with the banner. Certainly Souta recalled a mix of both his own events, and those he had seen from the more direct fantasy class system images, so it is kind of muddled (though he is admittedly kind of not in a good state of mind at the time anyway, understandably).
I took it as future events rather than previous escapades in the series if only due to the setups of Souta’s information from Ruri far earlier. The first barrier was that box under the grounds of Quest Hall they have not cracked open yet, where he saw the same physical location but with folks in their more fantasy class oriented forms, and the Cleric there he did not know yet at the time. Which could be past events from the legendary story, sure, but that underground box they still have not passed yet now in the present if that is indeed the first barrier and supposed to cause some kind of fallout. Which, to me, would mean any previous series events could not be the second or later obstacles, since the first one is still sitting around unconquered!
Going with that idea to its logical conclusions then, the show can either: stick with that story and execute on it well, or try to subvert it. On the latter front, either to screw with the event order so the cast will not know what is coming up (which may be how we are in this situation regarding interpretation of the legend as it relates to Souta’s reality in the first place), or some kind of last minute saving throw that would prevent Souta from becoming a flag forever.
To be honest: I really want it to stick to the stained glass window legend.
A harem lead is, if anything, a representative of an idea. Over the years they have often turned into a cheap vessel for a viewer to see themselves in, and a rallying point for the stereotype cast to crowd around. So, yeah, have Souta be The Chosen One and all to save the kingdom / world / etc, but have that require them to take on that very literal representation idea of a flag in the end. To have been defended by a wide swath of stock character types, even if it cost them their lives in the process, because the idea of Souta retains a value regarding why they are even here as a harem cast.
I mean I am not exactly requiring some kind of a go at armchair meta philosophical meaning when it comes to most harem comedy hijinks. But, I think there is an interesting execution to be made given the material, should they stick with following through on the legendary story.
Lest I get too far ahead of myself: I am not sold they will actually reduce Souta to a Royal Banner either, for what it is worth. I think it would be a swell angle to take, and gives a solid conviction to a finale.
But it certainly immediately finishes a story as well and would limit a potential followup, depending on what any of the companies involved are looking to do with the franchise going forward. This is a series which is still ongoing in its original light novel form, with an ongoing manga adaptation, and two ongoing spinoff manga on top of that, after all.
None of which I have actually read, now that I think about it.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.