Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 4: Learning how to lose

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Sweet, another round of ball-smashing action.


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• After the thrown match against Kong, Butterfly Joe slaps Smile across the face. Regardless of how much the old man may think he’s helping Smile out in life, laying a hand on another person is crossing a line to me. Having said that, I suppose this sort of thing is commonplace in Asian countries. I know my mom would have given me a beating if I had thrown any of the competition I took part in as a child. Still, if you want to know why Smile doesn’t think the effort to succeed is worth the trouble, here’s one of the many reasons why. Sure, Butterfly Joe hits Smile because the kid threw the game, but how many other people would simply do the same thing just for nothing more than a lost game? Fact is, Smile had been perfectly content to live in his little bubble until Butterfly Joe insisted on dragging him out of it. And now that Smile doesn’t naturally change overnight, is it really necessarily to hit the kid? Hm.

• I like how the anime briefly cuts to Peco when someone brings up the fact that Smile had managed to take two whole games (I think the subs mean ‘set’ but I’m not sure) off of Kong. Again, lost in this quest to forge a competitive spirit in Smile is how Smile’s ascendency might affect his best friend. Despite his outwardly brash behavior, Peco isn’t as confident as he seems. In fact, the story has heavily suggested that this upcoming match between him and Demon may have some serious fallout depending on the outcome. Plus, with Smile walking away, there will be no one to pick up the pieces if Peco loses.

• Tamura suggests that Smile perhaps reminds Joe of himself. This might explain why the old man is taking this so seriously. Still, even if Joe had been the same way fifty years ago, what necessarily worked for him won’t necessarily work for Smile. Every person needs to find their own way in life. If Smile legitimately doesn’t want to achieve the highest accolades that he can get from table tennis, then so what?

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• Bit odd that Kong’s own coach doesn’t recognize that Smile had thrown the game. Perhaps he’s just too busy looking ahead to reflect too much on the match. Still, Kong already suspects it though. Let’s just see if the Chinese antagonist ends up taking this revelation as huge of an insult as it may have previously been suggested.

• This Demon guy sure has some deep-seated resentment for Peco… On a related note, the shot of Smile previously walking away ends up not really amounting to anything, as the guy has come back to observe his best friend’s match anyway.

• Considering how far back Demon is standing to return Peco’s spikes, it just tells me that Peco’s being way too confident in his own abilities. Typically, defensive lobs are a last resort since your opponent is giving you such an easy ball to strike with so much time to strike it. As a result, you have so many different angles to take whenever the opponent plays the defensive lob, but the kid insists upon hitting the ball right back to Demon 99% of the time. This just shows how much Peco expects to win, and thus, he isn’t taking the match as seriously as he should be. You don’t showboat unless you feel as though the result of the match is already certain.

• Peco does it again with the half-assed spikes. In the long run, he’ll just tire himself out as Demon has to do nothing but lob the ball back. Lo and behold, this is exactly the shot we get:

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Peco probably isn’t stupid, but he’s definitely playing stupidly. As a result of his hubris, he can’t even get the ball over the net as the match wears on. Peco then complains, “Damn it. That’s cheap, man. Just using lobs and blocks,” but any talented player of either table tennis or tennis should salivate at the thought of receiving nothing but lobs.

• Still, Demon’s words are important to consider: “Table tennis is evolving. Your game might as well be a fossil in a museum.” There is definitely this truism in sports: it is much easier for people to catch up to you than it is for you to stay ahead of them. Peco may have never really been at the top of table tennis, but he certainly believed it. And when you are that much better than everyone else (or simply believe that you are), it’s hard to keep improving at a rate that’ll keep you ahead of the curve: “What can you even do? Your game is lazy and full of holes from all those years coasting along.” After all, dynasties are rare in sports once money has been taken out of the equation. When you look across the sports landscape, certain teams definitely do tend to rise to the top, but they never win every single year unless we’re talking about a once-in-a-generation amount of talent concentrated on a single team (i.e., Shaq-Kobe partnership, Miami’s big three, etc.).

• The obvious lesson here is that everything you do affects others. Losing, as Smile has done, affects others. Winning, as Peco has done, affects others too. Even if Peco hadn’t been a showboating jackass as the screenshot below will attest, just the fact that he wins a lot would be enough to raise people’s ire.

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You could even argue that Smile’s unwillingness to beat Peco has stunted his best friend’s improvement, but I wouldn’t personally go that far. After all, Peco is ultimately responsible for both his game and his work ethic towards the game. Even if Smile had taken every opportunity to beat his best friend, it’s not certain that Peco would have reacted to these defeats gracefully.

• In any case, Katase High School is having a poor showing at this tournament. I’m sure trash-talking is bound to happen every now and then, but where are the adults to make sure sportsmanship is still alive and well? Why is Demon allowed to walk up to his defeated opponent and condescendingly rub the kid’s head?

• Elsewhere, Joe and Tamura continue to reminisce about old times. The old lady, however, says what I think a lot of us have been suspecting for quite some time now: “Being hard on Tsukimoto won’t turn back the clock for you.” Isn’t that how it always is, though? Don’t adults tend to push kids too hard in some bizarre attempt to make up for their own failures in life? The reasons are never as simple as one’s love for the game or the respect one has for the sanctity of competition. It’s not that human beings are inherently selfish creatures, but we can only relate to each other by putting ourselves in another person’s shoes. But in doing so, the line can begin to blur, and it becomes less “This is what he should want” and more “This is what I would have wanted.”

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• Kinda dumb how Kaio Academy’s coach’s head isn’t shaved, but his players’ heads are. Way to show team unity, Coach.

• Some bystander: “[Dragon’s] got the eyes of someone who’s killed a man!” That seems a bit much for table tennis. Anyway, I wonder how many of these rumors are actually true. The same person claims that Kaio Academy will kick a player off the team if he loses before the fourth round. That may seem excessive, but considering how every damn player over there shaves his head, who really knows what lengths the academy will go to in order to achieve results?

• Kong’s coach suggests that Dragon’s muscles must mean he won’t be very agile. I don’t know about that… Certainly, bulking up too much will slow you down, but it doesn’t look as though Dragon’s a roided out freakshow or anything. For instance, Lebron James is built like a linebacker, but he’s faster than anyone around his size.

• Ah, the coach then realizes, “I can’t believe how fast his reflexes are.”

• Even though Dragon’s shots are rather humorously portrayed, I don’t really mind it too much. I see this as nothing more than embellishment from the perspective of a layperson. Sports anime bothers me when the players come up with ridiculous names and moves every other episode. Here, Dragon is just hitting the ball really hard, and to outsiders, it may seem as though the ball has become a flash of purple lightning. That’s all it is, however, and that’s a good thing.

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• Anyway, Dragon goes on to win the match, and Kaio Academy proceeds to dominate the rest of the tournament. Three losses for the show’s three main characters. The question now is how will these guys respond? Is winning still everything to Kong? Will Peco stop being arrogant? Has Smile quit the sport for good?

• The question about Kong is especially important for the time being. When winning means everything, you also get a reality where kids are taken away from their families in order to train themselves to become the best. I mean, we’ve all heard stories about Chinese gymnasts. I doubt it’s all that different for other sports. According to Kong, he’s been away from his mother since he was eight. That’s a long time to be isolated from one’s own family. Sure, for people like him, winning is important, but is it everything? Is it worth losing your own family? Perhaps losing is what it takes for Kong to realize what he’s been missing: “I used to always dream about losing my keys… It’ll be a relief not to have any more dreams where I’m the only one without a ticket.”

• Kaio Academy sure spends a lot of money on a single sport. Still, as awesome as the place would seem for any table tennis enthusiast, Dragon must realize Smile’s a different sort of cat. As such, such extravagant appeals are unlikely to work.

• Immediately after extolling the virtues of his school, Dragon returns to the rest of his team where the coach is blasting them for playing sloppily. Sure, you can always find criticism even in moments of victory, but the contrast here isn’t accidental.

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Kaio Academy is definitely a top-of-the-line school for aspiring table tennis players, but not everyone wants to subject themselves to that sort of environment. If you want to be the best, sure, allow yourselves to be torn apart and built back up by a hard-ass coach. But again, being the best doesn’t mean you’ll be happy in life.

• All of a sudden, a girl in a fancy car pulls up, and Dragon leaves with her. Supposedly, they’re cousins and “[t]heir relationship is pure.” Right…

• Elsewhere, Peco sits and cries over the results of his match against Demon. This time, however, I guess Smile won’t bother to comfort his best friend. What will this mean for their friendship going forward? Surely, they’ll play another game against each other. Will Smile continue to concede to Peco? We’ll just have to wait and see…

Baby Steps Ep. 4

• Apparently, Takuma was holding back in last week’s episodes, and his serves are actually much faster than Eiichiro had initially calculated. Alright, but how fast are we really talking here?

• I don’t know why onlookers are laughing at Eiichiro for running away from the ball. The guy’s only just started learning the sport a month ago… I mean, no one’s even taught the protagonist how to return a serve. I can assure you it’s not as simple as standing there and hitting the ball back.

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• When Natsu offers him advice, Eiichiro goes, “Does she mean I’m supposed to move toward the ball?” Uh… yes?

• Even when Eiichiro gets it right, his return stroke is too wide. You’re never going to consistently return top serves if you feel the need to take wide cuts every single time.

• I dislike how the show made a big deal out of Eiichiro working on his forehand for a month, but all of a sudden, he can now hit a backhand. This just doesn’t fit his meticulous and methodical style. I would have expected Eiichiro to spend just as much time perfecting his backhand too. Plus, he simply defaults to a two-handed backhand without even researching anything about it. I just feel as though Baby Steps isn’t embracing its premise as much as it should.

• Eiichiro eventually getting the timing down isn’t all that surprising. Every baseball pitcher learns from a young age that even if you can throw a 100 mph heater, if you throw nothing but fastballs every count, someone’s going to eventually get a bat on it. And like baseball, location matters in tennis. Roger Federer doesn’t serve anywhere near as hard as, say, Milos Raonic, but his pinpoint accuracy more than makes up for the speed difference. Unless, of course, all you want are aces. Anyway, if Takuma is really as talented a server as he’s claimed to be, he could always throw in some spin…

• Heh, Takuma slices the last serve wide. At least someone here has some common sense. What do I mean by this? Well, honestly, Eiichiro could’ve won this contest easily if he had simply blocked the ball back. No one said he had to hit a good return.

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• I don’t know why the coach thinks Takuma used his last serve to win instead of to practice. What’s wrong with practicing slice serve? Shit, I personally think serves with varying spins require a lot more practice than any simple flat serve.

• Eiichiro now has a month to prepare himself for his first real match. Who’s going to be his hitting partner though?

• Eiichiro: “Does good eyesight help in some way?” This guy, man… He’s too much of a dullard in a lot of ways. For instance, he doesn’t think Natsu would get anxious before matches just because she’s the top seed. I mean, c’mon now, what a silly thing to assume.

• Anyway, Eiichiro’s first match will be against a serve-and-volley player. I wonder if anyone’s going to bother teaching him how to hit passing shots. No one will. The truth of the matter is that this show just isn’t as in-depth as it could’ve been.

• Some new characters stare at Eiichiro in amazement when they learn that he’s started playing tennis. Are these characters going to show up again? The meganekko seems a little too inconspicuous for just a one-off character in a throwaway scene.

• The story feels a touch rushed. I realize the adaptation has its own time constraints to worry about, but a month has already passed and Eiichiro will be playing his first match in next week’s episode (I assume). These are pretty giant steps, if you ask me. In the end, we hardly get to see how he practiced for the match at all. That’s a pity.

Haikyuu! Ep. 4

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• The way Tobio is portrayed at the start of this anime sort of reminds me of a young Kobe Bryant. This is what Phil Jackson, one of his former coaches, had to say about the talented but difficult star player:

“I talked to him a little bit about leadership and the quality and his ability to be a leader, and he said, ‘I’m ready to be a captain right now.’ And I said, ‘But no one is ready to follow you.'”

Like how Kobe used to be, Tobio seems a little too caught up in his own agenda. Everything that happens on the court is ultimately about him, which is silly considering how he’s playing a team game. On a related note, Kobe is a bit of an asshole on the court, but I don’t think he has ever outright bashed a teammate to his face like Tobio has done with Shoyo. That’s what I mean when I say Tobio’s portrayal is a little too extreme. It’s fine and dandy to portray an arrogant character, and we all know people who can be so far up their own asses, they may as well get cited for fracking violations. But still, assholes don’t necessarily lack self-awareness. Tobio tends to be a bit too one-dimensional in the way that he acts.

• Why is Daichi just allowing Kei to talk massive shit to the other team? It seems a bit odd to me that the two main characters of the show will be kicked off the team if they don’t learn to work together, but Kei is allowed to run his mouth like a bad sportsman. I’d rather have an arrogant player on the team than someone who maliciously attacks another player for his failures.

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• I don’t know volleyball all that well, but a setter sounds like volleyball’s version of a point guard. Point guards aren’t typically selfish, so it’s interesting how Tobio can be too demanding with his sets.

• Everyone’s just too extreme. Two episodes ago, Tobio was King Jackass. This week, Kei has taken up the mantle as he attempts to dismantle Shoyo’s confidence at all costs: “That kinda pure and straightforward shtick really gets on my nerves.” It’s like, “Damn, since when did you become a supervillain?”

• I’m going to keep drawing comparisons to basketball since it seems to be the best way for me to understand this sport. As such, it’s a bit odd to me that Tobio is just now learning to send the ball to his teammate’s location rather than the other way around. One of the first things you learn as a point guard is to anticipate your teammate’s movements even if you’re executing a set play.

• It still doesn’t feel like Kiyoko does anything but look pretty in these episodes. Hopefully, that’ll change as the weeks go by, but yeah, she seems pretty extraneous at the moment.

• These faces are too much:

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• Tobio: “…but who the hell trusts another guy completely?!” Mate… maaaate… why are you even playing a team sport if this is how you truly feel?

• Ugh, this one match is going to take more than an episode to resolve. Sports anime, man, sports anime…


4 Replies to “Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 4: Learning how to lose”

  1. I think Kong’s coach suspects Smile having thrown the game, but dismisses the suspicion, and can do so more easily than Wenge because it isn’t his pride in the line of fire. Or he just says what he says to keep Kong focused.

    About Kaio’s coach:
    Highschool teams, from my experience, often have graduation rituals as well as entrance rituals. With Kaio, the entrance ritual is obvious: shaving your head. We don’t know if the Kaio coach is an alumnus and its unlikely that he is, but even if he was, it wouldn’t surprising if he got to keep his hair as a kind of badge.
    Either way, the effort this show puts into including these little things you find in sports communities is commendable.

    1. We don’t know if the Kaio coach is an alumnus and its unlikely that he is, but even if he was, it wouldn’t surprising if he got to keep his hair as a kind of badge.

      Maybe. Personally, I wouldn’t respect a coach who doesn’t do what he makes his players go through. Then again, I wouldn’t join such a team to begin with ’cause I’d never shave my head.

  2. “Bit odd that Kong’s own coach doesn’t recognize that Smile had thrown the game.”

    I assumed that he did, but tried to reassure Kong instead of going “yup, you only won because that guy let you win”. Destroying his player’s confidence would be the worst thing he could do right before the key match.

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