Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 5: Winning at all costs

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This week, Ping Pong aims for the heartstrings.


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• After a heaping of humble pie, Kong decides to stay in Japan to do what he was actually brought over to do in the first place: help to improve his host team. Now, you could argue that he has no other course of action to take. After all, he can’t return home to China without bringing shame upon himself, so it’s not as though he’s suddenly turned or corner or anything. Sure, that makes sense, but becoming a good person isn’t supposed to happen overnight anyway. It’s a gradual process, and taking responsibility by helping his host team out is the very first step for Kong to take. And who knows what will happen afterwards? When you take responsibility for something, it starts to hurt when you fail. In other words, he may learn to care for someone other than himself when he takes those players under his tutelage.

• I’m a bit surprised to hear Dragon had gone on to win the Youth Olympics, i.e. an international competition. Sure, Kaio Academy has state-of-the-art facilities and everything, but Japan suddenly emerging as a national power in table tennis? That’s just hard for me to believe.

• It’s so odd how Dragon continues to single out Smile as someone his teammates should aspire to become. I wouldn’t react very positively if I were in their shoes. I mean, Smile didn’t even make it out of the third round of the high school tournament. Granted, he threw the game, but I wouldn’t know that. So here I am, being compared to some kid who has never won anything from a middling school that also hasn’t won anything in recent years. It’s just like, “What’s your deal, man?”

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• It’s clear Kazama and his girlfriend are only dating for appearances. There’s a tremendous gulf between them during the scene in her convertible.

• Peco pauses when he sees Smile’s name in the news. I wonder what he’s been up to lately. What has the loss to Demon done to his psyche? Sure, he seems happy to frolic in the waves here, but has he even bothered to play table tennis since then?

• As predicted, there’s fallout from Dragon’s brief interview. The relentless pursuit of victory can take its toll on people. We have to remember that these are kids we are talking about. With their shaved heads and black uniforms, it’s easy to mistake them for some sort of relentless army, but at the end of the day, they’re still kids. I certainly don’t begrudge a professional athlete for doing whatever it takes to win — short of raping and murdering people, of course — but can the same really be said for students? I don’t think so. I think there are more important things in life for students to worry about than victory at all costs.

• Speaking of achieving victory at all costs, Kong finding his mother’s hair in the care package he’s been sent is a nice emotional touch and a callback to a discussion in the previous episode. Kong’s basically the poster child for the very issue of imposing an extreme sense of competition on a young child’s development.

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He’s lost his family as a result of table tennis, and he didn’t even achieve his dreams of becoming the best or even one of the best at the sport. After all, only one person can ever truly reach the pinnacle of any game, but plenty of individuals will have to make sacrifices just to even get the chance to compete for that honor.

• More importantly, these side stories occurring in parallel perfectly frames Smile’s current situation. Elsewhere, we see Butterfly Joe continuing to push his talented student hard, but is Smile happy? Will he be happy?

• Smile watches as his upperclassmen walk away and discuss their post-high school plans. It’s not as though the idea of victory at all costs has no upside. After all, these upperclassmen admit that they have few prospects after college, nor is running a small appliance store exactly a comfortable life. You can certainly be perfectly content living this sort of life, but you’ll have to admit it’s not exactly a glorious path to take. The path that Butterfly Joe offers to Smile at least gives him a shot at greatness. It’s just a question of whether or not Smile truly wants such a thing in the long run. Still, he continues to train under the old man, so he might not be as opposed to the idea as he was at the start of their relationship.

• From what Butterfly Joe says here, it sounds as if Peco has definitely taken table tennis less seriously for the time being, though it’s hard to say that the kid ever took anything seriously to begin with. Perhaps we’ll see Peco seriously compete again at some point later in the story, but I wonder what it’ll take. Will Smile have to pick up the pieces for Peco again like he did at the end of the first episode?

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• Like with Dragon, victories are starting to come Smile’s way, but the cost is equally as huge. The upperclassmen bitterly complain that there’s no longer a sense of team anymore in the club. Butterfly Joe is hellbent on molding Smile into a champion, and he’s neglecting the rest of the students in order to do so.

• To instantly mirror what’s been going on at Katase, we learn at Kaio that Demon has uncharacteristically ditched practice. Apparently, he has decided to challenge Smile to a match in order to prove his worth in Dragon’s eyes. In both locations, team morale is low. Dragon is warned that he may end up losing his entire team as a result of this need to recruit Smile. Still, Dragon feels as though Demon has already lost a match that hasn’t even begun. In fact, he seems to have given up on Demon entirely: “The hole that Sakuma left… Filling it with a strong player is our most pressing need right now.”

In response, a teammate says, “You hold it right there. How do you figure Sakuma’d feel if he heard that?! Well? He’s been with us through thick and thin!”

But the thing is that Dragon doesn’t care about Demon’s feelings: “Here’s what I’d like to know: How is that compassion going to help us restore our club’s great name?” It’s sad how Demon had worshiped Dragon only to be cast aside so easily. A fellow teammate’s feelings matter less to Dragon than Kaio Academy’s prestige, which, let’s be honest, cannot have really diminished all that much. Yes, the team failed to win back-to-back team championships, but it’s not as if this makes them a joke in the eyes of others. Again, it seem as though Dragon is going too far.

• Nice product placement:

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• The words ‘Demon’ and ‘kawaii’ should never belong together in the same sentence. But yeah, Dragon’s own coach doesn’t even share his sentiments, but I doubt there’s anything the old man can do about the situation anymore.

• Kaio’s policy if that if you lose to another school’s player, you will be kicked off the team. A lot is definitely riding on the line for Demon here. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that his table tennis days are coming to an end, though. Unless, of course, Smile hasn’t changed as much as we’ve been led to believe.

• But Smile has. Demon is getting stomped so hard that his life is even flashing before his very eyes. He thinks back to his childhood, and how he got his glasses and everything. This is only fitting. After all, this match against Smile represents the death of his career unless he is willing to join another school’s team, but I doubt he’ll do such a thing.

• Demon breaks down before the match is even over. Smile is forced to give him the cold, hard truth: “Because you haven’t got a talent for table tennis…” To compound matters, Demon ends up being suspended for beating someone up on the way home from Katase.

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• Even though Smile’s words are meant for Demon’s ears, we see that Peco has taken them to heart as well. He ends up throwing his paddle away as a result. I can only imagine that Peco had been on the brink of quitting the sport for quite some time, but hearing his friend’s harsh words sealed the deal. After all, Peco had lost to Demon easily in last week’s episode. Still, what’s wrong with simply playing table tennis for recreation? It seems that along with Smile’s transformation, everyone has lost sight of the many different ways sports can be enjoyed. All that seemingly remains is this selfish pursuit of victory.

Baby Steps Ep. 5

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• Eiichiro meets Ryo, his opponent, and instantly thinks, “He looks really good.” But, uh, all they do is share a handshake, so I have no clue what our protagonist is talking about.

• For what it’s worth, the anime goes into the tournament structure in Japan. I don’t really care about that, though. I mean, eh, there are varying levels of tournaments for varying skill levels. So what? Isn’t this true of, well, anything that is remotely competitive?

• Eiichiro can’t decide what to do for his pre-game preparation, and all of the advice he overhears just ends up confusing him. They all sound good to me though. You should stretch. You should take practice swings. You should do some light jogging. Why would you only pick one of them to do? This is what annoys me the most about Baby Steps. If the main character is this clueless about the basics, why the hell is he even playing an official match?

• The anime over-dramatizes Eiichiro’s nervousness.

• Eiichiro is definitely right about one thing: no one can help him. What appeals to me about tennis is that you can’t simply wait for the time to run out. No one can rush to an early lead and just sit on it like you might be able to in a lot of other sports. If you want to win a match, you’re going to have to tango until the very last point is won. Now, there have been debates over whether or not tennis should allow players to consult with coaches during the change-overs. Eh, I don’t know where I sit on that.

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• Really? The fifth-seeded player just allows his opponent to hit a return winner? Hell, he didn’t even look at the ball as it whizzed by.

• I love how Eiichiro can hit backhands now. Not only that, a guy who has only been playing the sport for four months can paint the lines with his returns. Sure, sure, you can argue that he’s been working hard, but four months, man. And we didn’t even get to see him go through the trials and tribulations. We just immediately time-skipped to some demon who can hit return winners and paint the lines. It’s just silly how dramatic the difference has been. Eiichiro isn’t simply surprising his opponent with solid play. He goes up 0-40 on the guy. C’mon, man, at least be a little realistic.

• And no, the second point isn’t a return ace because Ryo gets his racket on it. Sure, he nets the ball, but that’s not an ace.

• Why are we not watching the match? Why are we listening to a lecture on the different kinds of vision and how they are important?

• Like Eiichiro, Ryo likes to judge players by merely looking at them: “He didn’t look good to me.” Man, how can you fuckers tell by just staring at them?

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• Whoops, it turns out nobody’s taught Eiichiro how to serve. I guess this match will be decided by like six breaks of serve. I had no idea they were playing on clay!

• Eiichiro takes about as much time between points as Djokovic. Ref, where’s the time warning?!

• Anyway, our hero gives the break back. Ryo then proceeds to hit nothing but slow serves to take advantage of Eiichiro’s lack of power. Welp, so much for upsetting the seeded player. You’ll notice, however, that Ryo has rarely had to volley.

• The coach explains to everyone that a live ball is drastically different from hitting the ball against a wall. That’s the thing though. In these four months that we have conveniently skipped, why has Eiichiro not had a simulated match against a practice opponent? Shouldn’t his inability to serve have been spotted a long time ago? Shouldn’t his inability to drive weak strokes back at his opponent been diagnosed? Why are we only learning of his limitations now and not during practice? The implication here is that STC simply threw Eiichiro to the wolves, and that sounds rather cruel to me. After all, a huge loss can really wreck a player’s confidence.

• Eiichiro suddenly has the ability to read his opponent’s shots. Oh god, please don’t tell me he’s going to turn this shit around despite being down 1-5. Too extreme, man. Just too extreme. Anyway, the episode ends here, so I’ll just have to wait till next week to see how it’ll all play out.

Haikyuu! Ep. 5

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• I’ll never understand how some guys will take off their shirts at a drop of a hat. Then again, rubbing it into Kei’s face is always a plus.

• Anyway, the game wraps up pretty quickly after Shoyo and Tobio manage to win the first set. It’s not that they stomped Kei and his team or anything, which would’ve been nice to see. Rather, we just get a rapid-fire montage of the rest of the game. I’m never a huge fan of montages, but it wouldn’t have done the show any good to dwell on the second set anyway.

• It’s always funny to me how seniors in anime tend to sound so much more adult compared to the freshmen. Daichi sounds like an old man talking to a bunch of children.

• At least this is amusing:

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• I dislike how Shoyo and Tobio nearly got kicked off the team — well, not really — but the upperclassmen continue to tolerate Kei’s asshole personality. Where’s the consistency, man?

• I know most people are proud to put on the team uniform, but I never cared for it during high school. It just never seemed like a big deal to me.

• The characters don’t even get a chance to breathe before Tobio suggests that he and Shoyo continue practicing. Hell, they don’t even get started before the club advisor runs in with news of the team managing to schedule a practice match against a top four team. Unfortunately, this powerhouse team only agreed to the match if Tobio will start as the setter for the game. Well, that’s a convenient way to give the freshmen some playing time when they’d normally ride the bench for the majority of their first year.

• Koshi admits to Tobio that the latter is already superior to him physically, which is odd to me. There’s usually a big difference between seniors and freshmen when it comes to physicality, but I guess Tobio’s just a freak of nature.

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• Naturally, Tobio will be facing his former teammates in the upcoming match. It’s kinda silly how overplayed this trope is in sports anime. Meanwhile, Shoyo gets to gush over stuff like, “OMG I’M ACTUALLY ON A TEAM.” This is pretty much my least favorite sports anime of the three. It’s just so… sports anime-y. Beat by beat, it feels no different from so many shows that I’ve seen in the past. Most of all, it reminds me why I’m generally not interested in sports anime in the first place.

• It’s funny how the animation here is pretty good, but when it comes time for the club advisor to explain the different positions of the game, it suddenly looks like a Powerpoint presentation with the big, block letters and the gradient backgrounds.

• Shoyo’s immaturity shows when he’s disappointed to learn that he’ll be acting as a decoy for the upcoming match. If you’re even a half-decent decoy, it means the opponent respects you as a player. Crappy players make crappy decoys, man. That’s just common sense. Great players in sports act as decoys all the time.

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• Anyway, the rest of the episode deals with Shoyo’s nervousness. Kei continues to be a dick to him, which goes unpunished, of course. Meanwhile, Tobio has to come up with a way to help his short friend out. I personally don’t see a big problem here. The other team only wanted Tobio to play. As a result, just have Shoyo sit this one out until he acclimates himself to the situation. I know this won’t happen though. After all, Shoyo’s one of the two main characters even if he is a freshmen. As a result, they’ll squeeze him into the line-up somehow… Oh well, until next time.


8 Replies to “Ping Pong & Other Sports-related Anime, Week 5: Winning at all costs”

  1. I don’t think that Kazama winning the youth olympics constitutes Japan’s emergence as a table tennis superpower. A theme that has been consistent throughout the show so far is the fact that Kazama’s monstrous strength has completely alienated him from everyone around him, and the mention of the youth olympics only serve to show that this extends to the national and world level.

    1. Well, I’m seeing it from the perspective that even getting one person to that level is remarkable enough for any country to do within a single generation. I don’t recall Japan ever having much presence in the sport.

        1. Well, that doesn’t really change the fact that I find it surprising, which is what I’m saying in the first place.

  2. “Even though Smile’s words are meant for Demon’s ears, we see that Peco has taken them to heart as well.”

    I’ve under the impression that Peco quit the gym to smoke on the rooftop before the end of Smile’s match and his harsh words towards Demon, but of course I can be wrong. I think he got overwhelmed from just seeing Smile playing. One way or another the result is the same, though.

  3. Hahaha, the dude who keeps ripping his shirt off reminds me of me. I always annoy my friends by doing that. “STOP SHOWING OFF YOUR RATHER ABOVE AVERAGE MUSCLE TONE, GEEZ”

    Alright, I’ll stop my random odd soapboxing. /rips off shirt

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