Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 2: Gwaaa…?

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Let’s fighting spirit.


Smile: “I don’t want to sacrifice things or drag people down to win.”

This almost makes Smile seem selfless. In a flashback scene, a younger Smile is trapped inside a locker — it seems as though he’s been a victim of bullying in the past — but while most people tend to dislike both the dark and confined spaces, the kid finds his “prison cell” relaxing: “It’s safe and quiet here. I feel really comfortable. It’s okay. I’m fine here. I want to stay here.” You could argue that the younger Smile was merely lying himself to make the best of a terrible situation, but even so, I think there’s a kernel of truth here. I think he honestly doesn’t mind locking himself away in a small, enclosed space and I mean this in more ways than one. I’d even venture to say that Smile has been inside that locker of his this entire time, if only metaphorically.

The way Smile throws games, the way he limits his interactions with his peers, the way he enjoys his solitary time on the train — this all points to a kid who has chosen to put himself in a small, enclosed space away from the rest of the world. It doesn’t matter that this space isn’t physically real. Instead, what matters is that Smile is deliberately holding himself back not just from beating others in the game of life, but he’s holding himself back from living his own life as well: “Ping pong and English vocab are both just ways to kill time until I die.” This tells me that the kid has no personal aspirations of any sort. He simply doesn’t want to put himself out there. He doesn’t want to take risks. He’s just hoping to make himself as comfortable as he can as he awaits the inevitability of death.

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Honestly, I can almost empathize with the kid. Do trophies matter? Does winning matter? Let’s not kid ourselves — who wouldn’t want to win? Seriously, winning itself feels awesome. The problem is that winning by itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but I’ll get to what I mean by this in a later paragraph. For now, what I’m saying is that I’ll even bet Smile would love to win if he could guarantee it. At one point near the end of the episode, you can hear Smile say, “Can I be like you?” Here, he seems to be referring to Peco. More importantly, he seems to be referencing a memory of a past event where an even younger Smile voiced his desire to be more like his best friend. What happened then? Did something disastrous occur when he tried to emulate Peco’s approach to life? Let’s revisit this topic later.

What do you do when you hate losing more than you like winning? This is what I mean when I say winning itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Let’s face it, there’s only a small chance of victory in any given scenario. In a tournament, only a single person can rise to the very top. And while hard work and patience will certainly tip the odds in your favor, it is by no means a guarantee that you’ll win. After all, unless you’re competing against idiots, others will be working hard too. And oh yeah, there’s that pesky thing called luck. What you can definitely guarantee, however, is that this struggle for perfection will require nearly 100% of your emotional investment. Nobody is ever near the top of any given field without caring. If you could turn in a half-assed effort and still come out near the top, then let’s be honest, you’re not exactly competing in the right division, now are you? So yeah, just even aiming for the top requires a ton of mental focus and emotional investment. But again, if you hate losing more than you like winning, then it seems as though you’re destined for disappointment. Isn’t the smart thing to do then is to simply not play?

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Smile: “Why won’t anybody leave me alone? I haven’t done anything. I’m not angry, and I’m not laughing… I’m just here! I’m even breathing silently!”

At the same time, however, I can understand where Butterfly Joe is coming from too. It sucks to watch someone with so much natural talent just squander it all away. It’s especially infuriating when the talented individual refuses to apply him or herself simply because he or she doesn’t care. When Butterfly Joe thinks to himself, “You don’t chase the ball. The ball chase you,” he just wants Smile to stop sitting back and allowing life to pass him by. He wants Smile to dictate his own life instead of always reacting to it. The way Smile holds back against his opponents and plays defensively is merely a microcosm of a bigger problem: Smile doesn’t want to live his own life. He simply takes what life gives him, and tries to return it as best as he can. And should Smile ever fail, he just tells himself, “I’m only in it for a good time. Having fun is enough.”

But let’s move on. Smile says something else during the flashback scene that might tie into the whole thing about being him once wanting to be more like Peco: “If I go out there, it’ll happen again.” What will happen again? What was younger Smile talking about? We don’t quite know yet, but the story has given us a few hints. Shortly after a hero frees the younger Smile from the locker, we cut back to the present day where our protagonist proceeds to absolutely mop the floor with Butterfly Joe. He had been losing the match up until this point. But despite Smile’s reluctance to win, his newfound aggression isn’t what’s actually alarming here. Rather, what’s potentially concerning is the kid’s total disregard for Butterfly Joe’s health and well-being. The defeat pretty much sends the old man crashing to the floor, but Smile stays cold and self-admittedly robotic. Granted, he’s been badgered by Butterfly Joe all week, but it takes a special extra something to just walk away from someone who has just collapsed and hit his head on the ground — an old man, no less. Is this what Smile was afraid of? Is this why he refuses to win? Is it because he ends up being a more heartless, brutal version of Peco?

Needless to say, Smile has a long way to go before he gets his breakthrough.

Baby Steps Ep. 2

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So this is the episode that teaches you all about what a serve is, and how you should try to hit the ball when it’s waist level (if possible). This entry level sort of introduction to the sport is, I suppose, necessary so that non-fans of tennis can nevertheless enjoy the anime, but I feel as though the story missed the chance to play up Eiichiro’s methodical approach. For instance, Natsu simply tells the guy one way to grip his racket when there are multiple ways to grip a racket. Every few years, people look at the top one or two players, and declare one grip to be the ideal, but still, this is the sort of thing that Eiichiro would want to research. Should he use a full western grip? A semi-western grip? Somewhere in between? An eastern grip?

That’s thing though: if we’re going to go this basic, why not embrace the main character’s thirst for knowledge? Instead, he researches things that won’t necessarily affect his performance, i.e. the dimensions of the court. And for someone who supposedly worries a lot about the minor details, he simply picks out for himself the same racket that Natsu is also using. Instead of taking notes on what sort of string tension he would like, or how the frame of the racket might affect the way the ball travels, again, the anime takes the path of least resistance.

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I feel a bit let down by it all. The first episode gave me the impression that this would be one guy’s analytical approach to tennis, but once we get down to the nitty-gritty, the story shies away from what truly makes the main character unique. To be fair, Eiichiro’s analytical approach shows up briefly when Eiichiro asks his best friend to measure the angle of his elbow near the end of the episode, but that’s pretty much all we get to see. I think the episode could’ve done a whole lot more. Unfortunately, the tension between him and Takuma takes up too much of the runtime. I’m sorry, but some half-baked love triangle is the last reason why I would want to watch this show.

Haikyuu! Ep. 2

Ah, it’s the classic case of the side characters being far more interesting and likeable than the main characters themselves. Both Shoyo and Tobio are just painted with too much of a broad stroke. At the moment, Shoyo is indistinguishable from the masses of generic, tryhard protagonists. He’s short, he’s brash, and he’s full of energy… just like the rest of them. But by god, this kid will work harder than anyone you’ll ever know! The funny thing here is that his partner pretty much ends up stealing the spotlight in this week’s episode. Shoyo’s a little immature, but he doesn’t have any major, crippling personality flaws like Tobio. At the moment, there isn’t really much to talk about with regards to our short protagonist. As such, it feels more like Shoyo’s the sidekick than someone who’s destined to play a critical role in a setter-spiker duo.

Haikyuu 0202I always cringe when anyone ever says that they’re a force reckoned with.

As for Tobio, c’mon, let’s not mince words: the kid’s a fucking jackass. “Ugh, I hope that person doesn’t get in my way” is something I’m sure we’re all guilty of thinking from time to time, but it takes a real piece of work to say it directly to someone’s face. How this kid got through team sports in junior high with that attitude is beyond me. Hell, at lower levels of competition, they’re even less likely to tolerate your shitty personality just because you’ve got a lot of talent. But whatever, it’s clear that most of the adults in Tobio’s life have failed him. Granted, Tobio’s personality will improve over the course of the anime, so at least he’s got a character arc going for him, but still, when you’re pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel, of course you’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Still, all I’m saying is that in such a short amount of time, two of the upperclassmen already have a ton more personality than either of the two main protagonists. Daichi seems a little too corny, but at least there’s a little pathos with him. Ryunosuke at least seems like a cool guy to hang out with. The only real pity here is the introduction of Kiyoko, the manager of the team. Usually in sports anime, the female manager is just one of the guys or whatever. Kiyoko, on the other hand, is literally introduced to us as a pair of tits and a firm ass. Seriously. I guarantee that someone will want to say, “But T&A are what boys in high school notice first!” Yo, I used to be a kid in high school. Sure, some kids are like that, but you’re selling the rest of them real short with that generalization. Plus, this sort of thinking pretty much encourages the bullshit “boys will be boys” mindset.

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By the way, what’s with sports anime characters randomly launching into a mini-speech? The characters will just be talking to each other when all of a sudden one of them feels the need to make some heartfelt appeal. This really fucks with the flow of the scene, because who talks like this in real life? You can’t help but notice every time this happens too because soft, introspective music will start playing in the background, and the voice actor will suddenly sound all solemn and shit. Yeah, it’s just too unnatural for me.


One Reply to “Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 2: Gwaaa…?”

  1. “it takes a special extra something to just walk away from who has just collapsed and hit his head on the ground”

    It might have just been a silent, contrived way for Smile to say “we can keep working together” to the teacher. Since the teacher promised Smile to leave him alone had he lost, but with Smile walking away the teacher didn’t “officially” lose the game. It’s still a terrible thing to do, but not completely unlikely considering Smile’s personality. It’s also not completely unlikely considering anime storytelling.

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