Ping Pong – Episode 6

Heroes don’t exist. What exists is reality, and the fact that only those who can adapt to reality win.”

There’s a kind of fatalism to Ping Pong, something that separates it from a lot anime out there. Some of its characters aren’t very good, or have damaging weaknesses. Because of this, they fail. There’s no “I’ve got to give it my all anyway” here. There’s no “genius of hard work.” Yeah, you do have to work hard – everybody has to work hard. But sometimes working hard doesn’t mean chasing any dream you choose.

Ping Pong

Sometimes working hard can mean doing what Smile’s captain does, who’s proving himself a quietly sympathetic character moment by moment. It can mean promoting team unity, and trying to smooth things over for the ace that might bring credit to your school. It can mean working part-time at your family’s appliance store, and accepting your love of ping pong will never be more than an idle hobby. It can mean walking home late after practice and a shift, and still stopping to check out that new equipment your teammate was asking for. It’s kind of funny that Kaio’s motto is more or less “win on the grand stage!”, because a large part of Ping Pong is dedicated to demonstrating how small ping pong can be in the grander scheme.

Granted, life isn’t so heartless that we shouldn’t find room to dream. As I often say, moments of happiness or triumph don’t really mean anything unless they exist in a world where they are precious, and Ping Pong understands this well. It exists in the real world, but even in the real world, people still dream. Smile has currently traded one extreme for another – instead of shutting himself off from the world by ceding entirely to the dreams of others, he has now shut himself off by ignoring them altogether, and letting cold faux-pragmatism do the talking for him. Ping Pong often seems to cast ambition as inherently selfish, and Smile is currently the living representation of that image. When Peco said he wanted his friend to one day stop pulling his punches, I don’t think this is really what he had in mind.

Ping Pong

And dreams aside, the world isn’t nearly that black and white. I like that Ping Pong doesn’t dedicate itself wholly to the dream-reality dichotomy – looming concerns aside, life is full of tiny gifts. Sometimes they are bittersweet ones, like Wenge’s beautiful moments with his mother. Sometimes they are silly but needed ones, like Peco relaxing at the beach after a crushing loss. And sometimes they literally mean stopping and smelling the flowers.

So this week was Ping Pong’s Christmas episode, and like all the best Christmas episodes, it captured both the promise and loneliness of the holidays in beautiful fashion. After all this time seeing Wenge suffering alone, it was incredibly uplifting to see him of all people surrounded by supportive friends and family. As for the rest… yep. Their ambition has left them stranded, alone with their dreams. “Not respecting the feelings of their teammates” is a constant refrain in this show, and most of its characters have earned “does not play well with others” marks. Chasing a dream can be empowering, but it’s not always the adrenaline ride we tend to see. The road to the top can be as lonely as the summit.



14 thoughts on “Ping Pong – Episode 6

  1. Meanwhile, that one guy is thinking about going abroad instead of the mountains. I freaking love how they just insert him into a scene and it works well!

    • Haha, yeah, this show doesn’t forget about anybody. I hope that guy finds what he’s looking for (or that he can’t find it by looking for it).

  2. I think this has been my favorite episode thus far. The flow in this one was unbelievably gorgeous and moving. It finally hit me that all five characters are the protagonists.

    And hey, since we’re all giving all our love to the genius of Masaaki Yuasa as of late, you ARE going to review his upcoming Adventure Time episode, right?

    • Yeah, the show slightly prioritizes Smile and Peco, but this story cares deeply about all of its characters. They’re not just important as competitors or drivers of conflict, and this episode emphasized that by just being a collection of small human moments from each of them.

      Probably not watching the Adventure Time episode, though. I just don’t want Adventure Time!

  3. I lked how Wenge and Smile’s situation was somehow reversed here.
    Last time, Wenge was training alone, while Smile has his personal trainer, but Smile really is the one who is the most alone.

    Fantastic episode, indeed. I’m loving thsi serie more and more, with each ones.

    • Yeah, Wenge’s happy moment here felt so richly deserved. That earlier moment when he was remembering his mother on the train just killed me.

  4. Another beautiful episode. The karaoke scene instantly reminded me of that scene from that great movie, Magnolia, both in terms of emotional impact and as a device to pull all your characters together under a single, shared cinematic moment so instead of semi-random occupiers of adjacent storylines they feel like a real ensemble cast moulding the same experience together (…or something.)

    Also: I see some people still complaining about the ‘low animation quality’ but I’m not seeing it, honestly. There may not be much motion, but the storyboarding is great, and the mastery of color usage and transitions is unmatched this season. Make it a Powerpoint slideshow and I would still watch.

    • I think people talking about the animation quality is partially just a byproduct of the manga-panel style. That actually seems to require more animation on average than a lot of anime (though there are definitely places where it strains) – each panel shifts into passive place after a few frames, so it’s a lot of little bits. Contrast that to a normal anime walk-and-talk, where you basically just have to do some lip flap work, and yeah, they’re doing some work here. Dynamic direction inherently requires more animation than the sterile stuff.

      Granted, this also still looks pretty scrappy compared to a lot of Yuasa’s other work, so that might also be hurting it in people’s eyes.

  5. I feel like Kong has already gone through a phase of absurdly high ambition back in China, and losing in Japan made him really value those friends and moments enough to be able to balance them with his ping pong dreams. He feels like the happiest character of the show.

    • Agreed. I think Kong’s loss has been the most positive thing any of these characters have experienced so far.

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