Kazama has been struggling for a long, long time. Ever since the disgrace and death of his father, he’s had it drilled into him that only success matters – that only victory can bring him value or respect. He climbs a slow mountain, finding value in the pain itself. What else can he find value in? He knows victory is just a word, but it’s the only word he knows. His memories of his father are equal parts longing and fear – a desire to embrace his father’s love of life, and a fear of the waiting abyss. The death of his father has made him too afraid to fly.
To a man like Kazama, Peco is both threat and insult. Peco loudly brags about his status as a hero, something Kazama is sure doesn’t exist. Heroes aren’t just powerful warriors, or victors – heroes are defined by how they save others, and Kazama has been taught that you can only save yourself. Perhaps even worse, Peco finds joy in ping pong, and strength in the love of the game. To Kazama, who can only measure his value in the pain he exerts in pursuit of victory, all of this seems like a naive lie, like an ignorant echo of his father’s voice. He must defeat him – he must continue to climb the mountain, defying the abyss and proving there is no other way.
Peco doesn’t really understand much of that – to him, the Dragon just seems like an awesome opponent. Though Peco has always seemed to play for love, his defeat early on proved how flimsy his pride once was – but now, he truly does play for love, both a love of the game and a love of Smile. And even a love of his opponent, in this case – as Peco says, the greater the opponent, the higher he can fly. In the first two games, Peco sinks into fear of a greater opponent, and Kazama is the undisputed champion in the field of fear. But by the third round, Smile’s words finally reach him, and he regains that sense of fun, of love.
They’re a funny thing, heroes. You’d think they’d be defined by their ability to save others – and that is true, to an extent. But as Wenge’s team-based confidence has already demonstrated, heroism is actually a two-way street – just as heroes make us strong, our belief in heroes is what makes them strong. It is Smile’s belief in Peco that lifts him up, that makes him soar so high. And from that high of an altitude, even Kazama can see him fly – as he climbs up his mountain, fearing the abyss, he can still marvel at the bird in flight. Though the four walls of his bathroom stall encroach, the ceiling is open. Kazama can still look, can still reach, can still dream.
The match between Peco and Kazama ends not in dour dramatics, but in laughter, in a shared love of the sport. Fear defined Kazama’s play, but Peco manages to break through to him, to show him through competition and love that there is joy in these exchanges. Remembering his initial love of the game, a love fostered by his father, he realizes defeat is not death, and the abyss nothing to be feared. Anyone can soar, can be the hero, can join the bird in flight. The bird does not fly because he has wings. The bird flies because he is not afraid to fall.