My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from Ping Pong The Animation, which aired during the Spring 2014 anime season.
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click through numerous pages.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode one]
As I can watch the episodes of this series on a Thursday, the Masaaki Yuasa show gets to take the place of Kill la Kill. That gives me almost a week long head start to get my thoughts together.
That is a lot of pressure for Ping Pong, I guess. I still have a word count to keep to, after all, and you have folks out there doing far longer and more dedicated writing on it much earlier in the week. Also, my entire exposure to table tennis as a sport comes from randomly catching it on television during the Olympics and maybe a few games in a university lounge.
So I read about ping pong. A lot. And probably will be quite a bit on the side to get more of a handle on things while the series continues. In the meantime though, here is the data from the freeze frame character playing style intros:
– Smile: Right shakehand grip. Pips-in rubber on both sides. Attacking chopper.
– Peco: Right penhold grip. Pips out hitter.
– Wenge Kong: Right Chinese penhold grip. Pips in rubber on both sides. Counter driver.
If we take that in for a bit, and try to tie it to the visuals to see if it links up, the following then comes into place:
Kong’s style as told to us in plain text requires a high amount of athleticism, stamina, and footwork. He will have access to a wide variety of serves and forehand techniques, and good blocking and pushing capabilities. But with that comes poor reach with his backhand by comparison. His combination of attributes is built around staying close to the table and trying to throw the opponent off balance to tear open a weakness. As few defensive players seem to have won major events with this style, and given Kong’s dismissive demeanor and shoot to kill performance in the match against Peco, I think it more than safe to say he is championing the aggressive route. I then wonder about the nature of his error that kicked him off his home team.
Peco on the other side of the net from Kong in our showcase match then becomes intriguing for the synergy between the visuals, his characterization thus far, and his internal monologue of the performance. He uses a penhold grip like Kong, but the Japanese version which has a different and more extended finger placement which allows for added forehand power. Yet, an understandable quirk with this style is it leads to harder difficulty in changing the angle of the bat on the fly. He also lacks a defined play style philosophy. In conjunction with his other listed attributes this is appropriate for someone who as an individual has been more geared to muscling through hotshot bets in the local practice dojo on raw ability but has not been seeking refinement. At least, not until being dismantled by Kong.
I use the word “dismantled” very deliberately as well, as it suggests a kind of modular components and fundamentals important for Masaaki Yuasa’s presentation here. Ping pong as a game is one of speed, flow, angular momentum, physics, and the like. Ping Pong as an animation is one of constant movement, frames with multiple smaller panels, and minimal color use that gets the message across with as quick and surgical a delivery as possible.
That its components as a television show and manga adaptation link so keenly with representing its sport and our characters is great combined arms approach. That even my early reading of how table tennis operates has reinforced this all the moreso is quite promising.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode two]
“A shining example of the young supporting our aging society!”
Man, Coach can be harsh.
I mean, completely intelligently well planned so as to prove a point and get the desired results. Mixed in there with all the chatter this episode about him being the devoted husband type and making a boxed lunch for Smile though, that line comes across much more stinging as a move to get under the skin for viewers as well. Which I think is an excellent touch, to perhaps bridge that gap a bit and get us invested in why these events are happening. We only have eleven episodes to work with total, so time is going to be of the essence, and everything related to Mr. Koizumi this week I found was extremely effective at not just realizing his own character but delivering results.
It would be tragic if Smile reached his It Is Time To Spread My Wings phase at the end of the series. “Ping pong and English vocab are both just ways to kill time until I die” can only carry a character so far.
Going along with this, Peco getting to pull the supporting and shoulder to lean on role for Smile this week is swell to see after their reversed positions in our first forray.
Peco still feels like Peco, saying more hotshot lines and making the most of their shore trip with snacks and the like. But it is not so much about what he is saying specifically so much as it is being there, to bring his friend out there because he know Smile needs it. And so when he does slip in a line about how he thinks Koizumi’s coaching has been right or to come to practice tomorrow, it does feel that extra bit genuine. He is not turning Smile’s situation into a more oppressive set of We Need To Cheer You Up theatrics.
Because he knows that would not work, and it is not what is called for here. Peco just needs to be himself, where while he may be visibly enjoying himself more down at the beach but he knows it helps to clear Smile’s head. Because they’re friends.
Even if it does mean Peco sometimes makes the whole team run laps because he skipped practice and Smile gets harassed by the upperclassmen for it.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode three]
We have completed a full year of the Anime Vacuum Character circuit.
– Monogatari Series Second Season carried the humorous Roomba torch for a bit.
– Space Dandy gave space vacuum computer QT a main speaking role.
– Attention was firmly placed on the Koizumi’s own Roomba this episode.
Maybe I should just make a list of anime vacuum cleaner characters and/or Roomba ownership.
We now return you to the Ping Pong high school championship qualifiers, already in progress.
Something I feel is very difficult with sports narratives in media is the idea that a competition, by necessity, is more than one story. If there are multiple players, there are multiple narratives to convey. And that is hard to navigate. Ping Pong has the advantage of conveying a sport with a relative fewer number of participants. Even there though, there is still always the other person across the net.
As a result, I felt it was a great touch to work in folks like the more chilled out senior from another school who figured he was pretty much at the end of his sporting career and if he should head out to the sea instead. Or the guy cheered on and encouraged with a pep talk by a girl they liked prior to their crushing defeat. A tournament has a lot of little stories that make up the big event narrative, many of which will not be our leads.
Trying to portray those various stakeholders without compromising momentum I think is important to livening up the big picture. The feelings of those who play, from many perspectives. Same with having the Kong v Tsukimoto match conveyed through so many multiframe shots and the various viewpoints of spectators talking over it. To get the broad scope of the event from the small moments of granularity which make it up, from folks talking about footing and stamina to someone thinking a player is cute.
I would perhaps go as far to say as these moments would be akin to the events of lead characters of entirely different series. I mean, sure, everyone is always the lead of their own story, of course. But I could definitely see a sports manga or anime use the exact same scenes and narrative as primary plot events in and of themselves.
Now I’m just imagining a sports manga that has several different full production series lines following a singular tournament event from different character perspectives. Maybe even go so far as to have different teams on them, so they would have their own art styles and better diversify the viewpoints and narratives, and contrast how they were handled or seen in a different part of the line. That would be quite something, though certainly expensive to keep up with and maintain.
I really liked the implications from Wenge’s eventual victory pose as well in our showcase match, split up as it was between cheering body and wincing eyes.
That there was the grander out and out triumph pose for all to see in the audience, while at the same time he has been compromised on one level or another internally. Either through blowing too much stamina in the match with Smile to defeat him, or perhaps another pain. That of perhaps actually having won through Smile potentially lessening his play near the end, so as to allow Wenge to advance forward in the competition due to the personal stakes he has and what victory would mean for his prospects to return to his homeland. That he was perhaps advancing only through mercy, not through having played to his greatest potential and become victorious through that alone. And how that may bug him going forwards, either in this competition or otherwise.
I can not imagine the “A person can’t bounce back after being crushed in front of so many people” statement made by Tsukimoto during an initial Kong match will bite him. It was a close game with many points scored on each side. But we are three episodes down out of eleven total, so however they do choose to go about either his self improvement arc or one of him increasing his ferocity of applied talent that he may hold back should not bog the series down, so he can face down Kong again in competition.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode four]
We get two matches this week? Will wonders never cease?
I am not entirely sure why, but even with the tighter episode count I suppose I was not more consciously realizing we are now more than a third of the way done with this show. So, yeah, it actually probably really needed to do that. I may have been at least slightly accustomed to the Gundam Build Fighters school of weekly tournament progression of one fight a week if we get one from the last two seasons. Actually, for that matter, again, it’s not like I’m any kind of ping pong expert. But, I kind of really liked how during Gundam Build Fighters over the last two seasons I was able to catch various performance bits in the competitions based on what I knew from outside Gundam information (and which certain characters were themselves versed in areas as well). I hope to be able to at least do a little of that in these posts as well though.
I really latched on to the scene where Peco and Demon do the standard exchange and check of each other’s equipment and get to have a bit of small talk over their tech.
That examination for what is coating each side of the racket is a very table tennis thing, something that one does not have an equivalent in a lot of other sports. The entire idea behind the different colored sides on top of this is so the opponent always knows what the other may be up to in regards to hit delivery and how to handle their return for the volley, based on what they know is coating each side and the grip style of the user.
As a result, this all makes Peco’s defeat even harder.
He clearly recognized that Demon’s combinations were odd enough to remark on them. The selections of things like long pips out also jive with the notion that Demon could not keep up with Peco as a kid, which he gives a spiel on prior to the game to Peco directly about how painful it was just to watch him all the time. His racket and delivery was all designed to slow the game down immensely, which in turn provides more time to track and react to the opponent and seize opportunities from that. And that is not anything crazy advanced, as I mentioned the first week I’ve only been recently reading about ping pong in my own time recently.
Peco then did not just lose, or even get headstrong and suffer defeat. But hotshot stubborn to the point where he actively dismissed processing information he was explicitly provided with.
Which is why I feel he gets this exchange scene over the other matches so far, or even the Kong v Dragon one after, to put such feature focus on the interpersonal tech trade examination. Kong loses his match through more of a straight up powerhouse domination by his opponent, but not out of willful ignorance and unwillingness to adapt until it was too late.
I figure that sort of thing is always such a tricky line to walk for a television sports production – I mean one is basically giving an extended, repeated, denial play sequence. Even right down to us getting the reused high flying return volley animation a few times over.
It falls into that territory where it is a perfectly legitimate play-style in the actual sport, but it may not be engaging for the audience at home in fictional form if handled poorly. Especially for a sport with such an individual focus, so it is different than, say, parking a bus as one would in football / soccer, which still provides lots of people moving around even when little is happening. Taking the opportunity then to heighten that individual focus with the character backgrounds Peco and Demon shared, to show that history and their tech exchange, and then transition that into what amounts to longer shots of the ball flying through the air or brushing against the pips when we know Peco well enough now that he is a very direct smasher. He wants this game over and done with, and while getting smashed by Kong in the first episode is one thing, Demon is a guy Peco used to be able to run circles around.
Having him in this capacity effectively force Peco into this state of frustration still stayed a good character moment at all levels, regardless of if one tries to follow along with ping pong tech knowledge. Not only has his ability not advanced enough to stand a chance against Kong prior, but here Demon slowing the game down is almost literally him coming up from behind after all these years and catching up. Peco can not run anymore.
As a related sports thing, I also wanted to focus more on Peco this week fearing I would give too much attention to Kong again. His competition colors are pretty much the same as Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., the actual football / soccer team I primarily support, so there is always that concern I may be inclined to associate the two too much. And hey, they each have quite a history of relegation to boot.
But Wolves are going up this year, so maybe Kong will too.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode five]
Well this took a tonal shift to go with the time skip.
Melancholy beach dude from the other week is wondering if he made the right choice or should actually head to the mountains, while Peco is getting heavier, a tan, and growing his hair out. Dragon wins the Youth Olympics and yet uses his first interview opportunity to throw his own team under the bus, while Smile has all but abandoned his own team given his stratospheric progress leaving them so far in the dust that everything is now scheduled around Smile alone.
We have seen the flashback where Wenge remembers leaving his mother at the train station in China before, but here it gets to play out a little differently. Which is to say, a little bit longer, and that for all of the stoicism and putting on a tough face, he had cried afterward. It goes well with the notion that his original or real goal with coming to Japan was to be able to earn back his place in his former team, but ostensibly he was actually here to train others and to raise them up. The idea of these short term personal fronts and contrasting with potentially longer lasting impacts. Perhaps he as well being able to set future ping pong players into the world.
I think it is fair to say this episode had the least amount of actual ping pong gameplay so far.
This is warranted not only after our double header from last week, but it is also in a way indicative of the game’s position for many of our characters at this point. Several of them, in their own ways, have been faced with the issue of falling behind and the sport now being beyond them. Even someone like Akuma, who has trained hard and memorized harder, to the point of being able to recall specific total running point scores with his opponents and when he last played them is found driven to the end of their personal rope. He is not even able to complete the match with Smile to a complete loss, but ejects prior.
It is a monumentally frustrating thing, to have worked so hard at something to the point of going to a dedicated school for the cause yet someone else is able to achieve far more success at the same task just because.
Smile is theoretically the good guy, a leading figure for the series for follow. But, that sort of X-factor natural talent that such characters can posses has its downsides. Here it has driven our astigmatism affected but nose to the grindstone Akuma to go around starting a fistfight with completely unrelated people in public and getting expelled from his team due to having a match with Smile in the first place.
In a way, he has been consumed by his own demons.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode six]
Just as Smile’s assent was portrayed to us via train conversations and some portable video game screens, here we are again on public rail transportation. But this time with cell phones playing an anime series in addition to a kid playing a game, and commenting on the story so far regarding the out of control robot who demolishes all before them with pinpoint accuracy. But, even with all the destruction it leaves in its wake, they are nice on the inside and all. Which then transitions into older students basically having the exact same conversation, but slowly edging us back into the table tennis.
Our overarching objective then for this back end of the series will be the rise of a hero to challenge Smile as our eternal robot and butterfly stand in.
That is the top level sports narrative, but what the series has done so well and this episode in particular showcased so much of is that this is far more of a character drama (to its benefit or detriment, depending on ones perspective).
We have folks at Kaio Academy saying Sanada should be the captain, as that morale infighting festers. Captain Ota over at Katase High gets called out on a television repair call, but is wished well by his teammates and congratulated on how the family business is doing while at the same time pretty much every student on the team speaks openly of how much they detest Smile. Dragon’s family used to be in the floral business, but it failed, which in turn may indicate just why he works so hard to keep winning at table tennis and can only think of that even when the opportunity to go see the Christmas lights with a girl who likes him presents itself.
And yet, we know he likes her on some level too, because he has that poster over his bed. And the tissues.
Which is just a good a transition as any for me to talk about: That Christmas Montage.
The entire sequence is going to end up on various Scenes of the Season lists by a lot of folks looking back on the spring shows, and it is definitely a strong one in my book. Not only did Wenge mellow out a lot after his ping pong playing career ended, but he learned the Japanese which allowed him to interact with and coach his team. And to be able to sing with them now, to be able to slowly show off this kind of more human connection accomplishment to his visiting mother. That he failed in his dreams, and yet achieved something greater than even that which he sought out for when he left home.
And while all of that is going on, the Christmas karaoke song they sing plays over everyone from the story so far. That we get to see even “I should go to the beach / mountains / overseas” guy still seeking his place in the world while Peco gets wasted by the ocean. Smile eats cake alone in the gym. Ota and Akuma are at work in their evening jobs, Dragon trains, and one sad girl just wanted to have that magical walk in the holiday lights.
It is very much a sequence that is there to show us how far some have come, and where they all are in their lives. That there is a great big world out there, and ping pong is just a small part of it and a larger personal identity and the dreams residing within it.
For most people.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode seven]
I kind of want to live in a world where Poseidon’s ping pong shoe commercials would show up on my television channels. I have a lot of satellite options, but no table tennis network, let alone much directly related advertising to the sport.
As it goes then, the broad strokes of where this show will be heading are now pretty much in view: Peco is already bandaging up his leg, and Smile will be forced to make a decision in an upcoming event on whether to go full bore for the kill or let up like coach Koizumi did for his dear friend all those years ago. Meanwhile, Wenge plays against practice robot programed to act as close to Dragon as possible, which will itself also likely result in him taking on a future player-coach event entry against him as well.
That is the top level stuff at least, and while it may be predictable it would be enough to carry us home to the finale in episode eleven from here.
But this is still not really about ping pong so much as it is about the folks who are playing it, so at doing that I still think there is worthwhile material in.
The Kaio advisor asking Dragon, on their rejected walk home back from Katase High, if he was playing the table tennis he believed in. And after reflecting on the days of his past and family, the bald guy in turn responding to the inquiry of who he would select as a hero that there are none in his world view. That Smile reacts to his own coach inviting the Kaio folks over with frustration and the inner anger that causes one to just bolt and run away, while earlier Koizumi had been just outside swinging on the playground pleased as can be with his decision.
That what we do have of a sports narrative is actually incredibly knife twisty for Yurie. The guy she likes is throwing everything he has into the sport and moving up as a means of supporting his family, and while she recognizes that it is also personally painful. One can identify and understand something without needing to like it, after all, and it is the precise variety of event that is opening up opportunities for Sanada’s efforts with her.
Which as we have already covered, most members of the Kaio team would rather have him be leading them anyway over Dragon’s single minded dominance at all else efficiency. And that is at a school with such a focus on the sport too.
At the same time, I rather liked how Captain Ota over the Katase side actually had a bit more of a friendly moment with Smile compared to the more aggressive statements (both relating to Smile himself now, or to Smile regarding Peco before) of previous weeks.
That when the rest of the team was talking about Smile going haywire, he slowed down and realized with no direct dialogue that Smile was probably having a hard time too. And he managed to get those new balls Smile had mentioned (he had to hit up a going out of business sale, but still!), and they have a nice little back and forth bouncing them around in the gym alone. Which dovetails so well with Ota pitching balls in the mock ping pong baseball game that made Smile angry at the stop of the episode. He still needs to look over all his players, Smile included, regardless of how unpopular they may be getting or even bugging him. And there is a personal maturity in that.
So there is still a lot here in terms of execution, even if the plot seems apparent.
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.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode nine]
Aimless journey dude Egami actually did both head out and return from overseas! Good for him, trying to find himself, realizing camels and deserts are not quite his style. So maybe we will check out some table tennis with him, together.
Something I appreciated here was how much more of Dragon’s habit of holing himself up in the public restroom stall alone prior to game time we had. He gets to overhear others competitors from outside schools talk of his looming competition. They speak of Peco’s performance dominating Wenge, how their own coach thinks he has a real shot against Dragon. Kaio in general being in some pretty tough straits with Smile against Sanada as well.
And Dragon just has to drink it in while in his contemplative chamber.
Meanwhile, Akuma getting to return via just attending the tournament as an observer is a natural way to bring him back in for a bit. And he knows where Dragon is; not just a restroom but the restroom, which stall specifically. Our pompadour sporting old competitor and Kaio’s leader not only never even look at each other due to the stall walls, but are generally facing away from each other even at that. There is a level of understanding and sympathy, but as the prior bathroom group mentioned each of their respective life events are occurring on entirely different planets as well, and even their ping pong meant wholly different things for them.
Notability though: before these talks even happened, Dragon is now wearing the specialty purple mat shoes. His team had mentioned amongst themselves earlier it would look odd if he was the only one not wearing them, after all. But after going off on his own for a bit, and especially in speaking with Sanada and the alternative vocalized answer of who he plays table tennis for, now he wears those shoes all the others had worn together at the start of the tournament. And that carries through the episode, if you follow the shots of Dragon’s feet. Because, yes, it would look odd if he was not more in line with the team that, for better and worse, he carries the weight of on his back. The investment he has given his family and all is a real weight on his shoulders.
The much celebrated Peco then has his leg injury issue pop up more and more prominently so as to mirror the situation Koizumi faced all those years and ago and the choice Smile will need to make regarding winning or the health of his friend. To the point of needing to be shot full of painkillers so as to stabilize himself for the upcoming match against Dragon.
This was on the one hand fully expected, though I would have previously imagined the game with Dragon would have been the one to push him over the edge and then require serious help to even attempt to play Smile afterward. Which can still happen in a way, of course: I am not familiar with the source material, but I suspect Peco will push through in a fit of inspired glory but in a manner where some of the limits of what pre-game painkillers can really reasonably be expected to do putters out. And everyone can already tell Peco’s leg is messed up: the Kaio staff and students, coach Koizumi out of Peco’s own Katase, Obaba and Michio are more than aware, etc.
Aside from the next episode being the second to last one so it gets to be time where an animation team would prefer to start pulling out all the production stops anyway if they have the luxury of it, I think it will make for a very solid game even if the winner is pretty much preordained.
It can be a bit slower about it and have more force behind it, since we are already in the top four. Not just the match itself, mind, but all of the associated character mechanisms that go along with the sidelines or the aftermath. Things like where this episode Wenge got to chat with his own coach for a bit and being apologetic for losing, while being met with the idea that upsets are part of what make the game exciting. Things that naturally play well into the idea of Wenge bringing up his own team of ducklings and teaching them to fly, and then perhaps a more overarching quality that somewhere the decline of Kaio would be met with the rise of others.
Which is great for those who may come to rule the roost, but there is the corresponding impact such a loss of power would have on the previous rulers, which can be just as engaging.
And I feel the series is more than equipped to show that, and what it could do to Kaio as a school and Dragon as a person.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode ten]
This show ends in less than twenty four hours!
I highly encourage you to watch this series, as soon you will be able to marathon through it all at once, if for some reason you are reading these posts but are somehow not watching Ping Pong The Animation.
But let us speak of and examine the episode we do have.
Yurie sold her car to buy a plane ticket to head overseas and away from Dragon, and meanwhile Peco has himself a shiny new ping pong racket to play Dragon with. Ideally, those acquisitions work out well for everyone and nobody ends up with buyers remorse.
For once, the show itself went into a ton of the overt detail work regarding a racket tech check by having folks explain it in dialogue, which surprised me a lot. That is usually something I have been able to use as ammo in these posts, on the occasions when those checks have happened! Also though, it was something I dearly appreciated, as Peco’s current one is by far the most complicated one to try and get across the use of. It is a far better idea then to have the likes of Michio give some combination for prior equipment use (inverted rubber was for when he was pushed back and it could apply spin, pips out allowed speed, etc), and then the use twiddle blade for a penhold grip for all the viewers at home.
Which “just” allows him to do what he picked up how to (forehand and backhand use within the penhold grip style), while also giving him the added vector of being able to flip the sides of racket whenever he wants. Effectively doubling his response options, at the cost of it being a royal pain to attempt to pull off either without a physical hiccup and potentially dropping the racket or the dreaded mental lockup potential of indecision. There is a certain strength in having more limited options, after all.
But, through this device, Peco can come to express himself through his ping pong. Which becomes the only thing to grant him salvation at this stage of the game.
As suspected, this match was able to be long and more drawn out.
Even though the eventual outcome was all but assured, it was able to give a degree of heft towards Dragons heavy handed weight at the start. His dominance of the match, how he sought here to not only win a game but was going into his movements as a kind of declarative response to Peco’s aspirations. This was aiming at destruction, almost erasure, of Peco’s entire worldview as Dragon works out his own issues relating to the weight that he carries. The angers or regrets, his father and family matters, to the not feeling anything at all and even victory is a matter of hollow routine. That even the Kaio bench realizing he is going at provoking Peco, and the sideline official needs to speak up (albeit timidly) about his need to restrain himself. And we have those moments of him as a kind of mythological figure, climbing the seemingly impossible mountain from down below as if it was itself a thing to be defeated representative of everything else.
And it is a nice place to be.
For all involved then, as Peco gets to soar on to Smile at the top of his tower, Dragon’s wings have reached their limit, and Yurie flies away from the country, it was all hopefully worth it for that moment.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode eleven]
“I’ll be damned — I like this sport.”
For how little screen time Egami has had, popping in and out for a little bit scene here and there since the tournament he was eliminated from, I do feel I fundamentally get him as a person and what he was trying to figure out with his life. And that is a nice thing to be able to wrap up not just from the miniplot he had, but as character writing. I mean, hell, I stopped watching anime entirely for about six years wandering around the world in my own way before coming back and doing whatever this comment nonsense I do now, so even from that perspective I can relate.
Going beyond that, very little of our final match really shows any of the direct game between Peco and Smile, which I feel is appropriate. A few minutes total, spread out between the far more substantial childhood flashbacks, the sideline reflections, and even a frontloaded few minutes of just milling about. Microphone checks, text messages, tea or coffee selections at the refreshments area. That we have some groups of folks heading home because the grand finals of the competition are irrelevant to them, which I feel is such a valid viewpoint to show.
This is “just” a regional high school qualifier for a national tournament, after all. We can have those gaps of emptiness in the stands because this really is not the most “important” thing in the world for many, it just happens to be the endgame for what we are looking at. We saw very little of the Kaio coach, but there is still the expression that he worries about Akuma, because there is the sentiment of caring for their path in life as a person beyond the sport.
And of course, we get to see the old timers together as friends again, where at least for a short while it was as if things were as they always had been. It is another case where, sure it was expected so as to be able to tie up those threads mentioned previously of the tournament from all those years ago. But, that does not detract anything from the sequence in execution, and the combination of awkwardness, embarrassment, and jovialness it has.
And it dovetails well into the whole cast being as they were in their younger days as well, and then into the further future in their more adult lives. The game itself, as has been said in so many conversations surrounding this show that even those who like it may be sick of it, was always secondary. So we only see the result of our tournament in a passing photograph. There is no grand match point action scene for Peco specifically, because in the end everyone won in their own ways that they will need to carry forwards from here for the rest of their lives, no matter the prominence, lackthereof, or transitions from ping pong specifically.
And that is what is most important, for all of them, as in the end we too did worry for each in our own ways.