Where are the other two shows? Like I’ve said on Twitter, I broke my glasses, so I have a hard time seeing until I can replace them. Nah, it wasn’t an accident or anything. Those frames were merely ten years old, so it was bound to happen sooner or later. I know I should’ve replaced them years ago, but I just kept putting it off. But I digress. My point is that until I replace my glasses, it’s a hassle to watch or write anything. I’m still going to update, but let me just lessen my workload for a bit. I’ll catch up on Baby Steps and Haikyuu! one day. With that said, onto Ping Pong…
• At the start of the episode, we see a bunch of young boys talk excitedly about The Robot Onslaught, which appears to be some sort of cool manga in the anime’s universe. Oh Smile, what have you become? Apparently, he is now a “giant rampaging robot [that] destroys everything in its path.” He’s also “cold-blooded” and has “gone berserk.” Nevertheless, we are also told that the robot is “really nice on the inside.” Thanks to this last part, there’s still hope! We simply need a legendary hero. After all, “[o]nly the legendary hero can stop [the rampaging robot].” Still, remember when Smile had that flashback about the time he was trapped in a locker. Eventually, the legendary hero came and saved him. You can thus see the parallels to our current situation: Smile is trapped in the “metallic locker” once more as the “cold-blooded” robot, but the legendary hero will come when he is at his greatest need for help. Naturally, however, you have to wonder who this legendary hero will be. Perhaps Peco?
• And if you are not yet convinced that Smile is now a robot, we see a trio of older boys discussing Smile directly. The way they describe him as to remind you of the rampaging robot that the younger boys had been talking about: “Apparently he thoroughly analyzes his opponents and goes after their weaknesses with pinpoint accuracy. … Yeah, he leaves nothing but ashes in his wake.”
• The anime then cuts to a competition between Katase and some other school. You can see how the pendulum has now swung all the way in the other direction. When an upperclassman loses his match and thus apologizes to Smile, our hero harshly replies, “It’s fine. I didn’t expect much from you anyway.” He used to care too much about people’s feelings, but nowadays, he has no regard whatsoever for anyone.
• Not only that, gone is any sort of camaraderie within the team. Hell, you can hardly call it a team anymore. After all, Butterfly Joe is singly obsessed with turning Smile into the ultimate winner at the cost of the rest of the students. As a result, it’s not just Smile’s behavior that is lamentable. Butterfly Joe is setting a poor example as someone who has been put into a leadership position. It’s his job to cultivate and motivate all of the students as they transition from their teenage years into adulthood. Instead, they’re simply used as fodder so that Butterfly Joe can get the best possible opponents lined up for Smile. Yes, gifted students should ideally receive the attention they need in order to bring out their fullest potential, but this should never come at such a drastic cost to the rest of the students.
• This is also why I had insisted in a previous post that sports isn’t always about winning. We play sports for all sorts of reasons. Most of all, however, sports clubs within schools are supposed to teach students about teamwork. In that sense, both Smile and Butterfly Joe have failed their sport.
• The robot sound effects for Smile’s walk is a neat touch.
• At Kaio, Dragon parallels Smile’s progress or descent depending on how you want to look at it. His teammates note that he’s rarely around the club these days. In fact, they wish Sanada would be the team captain instead, since the real team captain is off doing commercials for weird-looking shoes and whatnot. Plot-wise, it is actually crucially important that Dragon mirrors Smile every step of the way. In doing so, this shows that the toxic “We must win at all costs” mindset cannot be prevented by merely having state-of-the-art facilities. Kaio Academy is certainly vastly richer than Katase will ever be, but they face the same problems. What they both lack is proper coaching or, even better, proper leadership at the top. It thus comes to no surprise then that Smile’s own teammates would be happy to see Kaio poach him away.
• We get yet another scene in which Dragon and his girlfriend show that they’re nowhere near being on the same wavelength:
Girlfriend: “You know, your dad was my hero for doing what he loved.”
Dragon: “Heroes don’t exist. What exists is reality, and the fact that only those who can adapt to reality win.”
Really though, there’s no reason why heroes couldn’t fit Dragon’s world view.
• To counterbalance Smile and Dragon, we now take a look at Kong who has taken to his new role as the de facto coach for his team. He’s not perfect by any means, as his ego would never allow him to say that his teammates would ever become as good as him. Nevertheless, the guy seems more relaxed and happy than ever. Not only that, he’s even speaking Japanese instead of arrogantly sticking to Mandarin. This shows his willingness to become a part of his new culture, which he did not show in the initial episodes of the series. Kong’s mother flying to Japan to see him is thus like a reward for his positive changes in life.
Eventually, everyone works together to make wontons with Kong’s mom. The activity seems corny as hell, but it’s also no different from most team-building exercises. More importantly, it contrasts the way team-building is hardly a concern in any of the other two locations. Yes, both Smile and Dragon would probably regard Kong as a failure, but at least he’s happy. Perhaps more importantly, at least his teammates are happy too. If you want to talk about adapting to reality, not everyone’s going to make it to the top, and if you don’t make it to the top, it’s not likely that anyone will remember you either. So why not be content with life? This doesn’t mean, “Oh well, let’s not even bother to try and win in life!” But this does mean not destroying the interpersonal relationships around you in order to chase a pipedream.
• I haven’t mentioned him until now, but we’ve been getting brief glimpses of Peco’s new life every now and then. Without ping pong, he just seems lost and aimless. Peco may have felt as though he’s hit his ceiling in the sport like Demon, but nevertheless, the game was a guiding force in his life. It doesn’t make sense to tell every single person to quit a sport just because they’re not a world talent in it. Hell, we see Demon’s life instantly go off-rails as soon as he heard Smile’s harsh words about his limited talent. I’m not saying Smile is solely responsible for Demon beating someone up, but he can’t absolve himself completely. Our actions have consequences whether we like it or not.
• We see Smile celebrate Christmas alone. Meanwhile, poor Peco is drunkenly stumbling around a pier by himself. Not to be outmatched by Smile’s asocial nature, Dragon has stood his girlfriend up,
though we see him while we see Sanada lying there staring at a poster of Dragon’s girlfriend with balls of tissue surrounding him. Yeah… Last but certainly not least, Kong’s happily singing karaoke with his teammates. Again, there’s a world of difference between these characters. When Dragon’s girlfriend finally returns home, she sees that Dragon is busy training himself. Are you really setting yourself back if you spend a single Christmas Eve with your girlfriend instead of training?
• All of a sudden, Demon shows up in Peco’s life and encourages the latter to return to table tennis. Maybe Demon feels guilty for the way his victory over Peco had caused Peco to lose confidence in his ping pong skills. As such, you might cynically argue that he’s only here to assuage his guilt. Even so, Demon says something rather telling: “It didn’t take me any time to believe [Smile] about my lack of talent. Now that I’ve accepted it, I’m relieved. Let me see clearly too. … Sights you can only see when competition’s not a factor.” Of course, let’s not sandbag competition over and over. Competition gives us the motivation to self-improve, so how can that be wrong? Nevertheless, the story is about the dangers of excess. Smile was too passive. Dragon is too harsh on his teammates. Kong was too arrogant. Peco is too carefree. Demon’s basically saying, “If you focus too much on competition, you will get tunnel-vision,” and it’s hard to say that the guy’s wrong.
• He’s not wrong about Peco either. Peco never tries hard. Peco always goofs around. And now, Peco is running away like he always does.
• One thing I really like about this show is the way the characters tend to parallel and mirror each other. This conversation between Demon and Peco is very reminiscent of the way Butterfly Joe had tried to motivate Smile. We’re not simply getting a repeat of events, however, as these conversations play out very differently due to the differences in the characters’ personalities. Peco tries to echo Smile when he says, “My cells will eventually die, and my impulses will slow down,” but his circumstances are clearly very different from Smile’s. Peco gave up because he had convinced himself that he was the best. As a result, losing to Demon shattered his worldview. Make no doubt about it, however, he needs his confidence built back up. In the past, this task had fallen to Smile. I wonder if it is thus important that someone else does it this time. Or even better, perhaps Peco will just have to learn to himself back up and not always have to rely upon others. Well, for what it’s worth, Demon ends up having to save Peco’s life… from shallow water.
• In the end, Peco returns to the table tennis dojo and begs Obaba to train him to become the best ping pong player in the world.
Remember, Obaba and Butterfly Joe used to go way back, so you could say that the rival has returned in more ways than one.