That was gorgeous, okay? Everyone’s arc concluded with poignancy and grace, Smile was able to regain his own love of the game (MY BLOOD TASTES LIKE IRON!), and the very necessary epilogue demonstrated what Ping Pong has always stressed – that ping pong is only the beginning, and the real world is waiting. I’ll be posting my final impressions of the show in a couple days, so I’d just like to dedicate this last post to highlighting a few of the beautiful little synergies that tied this finale together. As I’ve said time and again, great stories are like little gems where all the facets reflect each other, and this finale was shimmering with beautiful, endearing little reflections.
We have to start with our wandering friend, of course. Though he travels far and wide looking for some greater meaning, he ultimately comes to realize that he was simply intimidated by defeat on the court. Witnessing the joyous match between Smile and Peco, he rekindles his love for ping pong, and ultimately finds his way to the Olympic stands.
Next we’ve got Smile’s savior, here at last. The shots leading up to this directly mirror those of episode two, and this shot itself is replacing the first appearance of Smile’s emotion-defending robot. He doesn’t have to be afraid of expressing himself through ping pong anymore.
Following that, we’ve got Smile assuming his duties as the new coach, an offer that was proposed all the way back in the first episode. Smile’s never been one who wins for his own sake – though he did defend his actions with “I just want to win” during his robot phase, it was always Peco’s presence that made ping pong so wonderful for him, so it’s no surprise that he ends up turning ping pong into a social activity.
And then Kazama arrives, bearing the same flowers that his cousin brought and father loved. Though he gripes about losing his spot on the professional team, there is no bite to his words now – he has learned to take defeat gracefully, and finally come to terms with the loss of his father. Whether his future holds victory or defeat, he will be able to face it without fear.
Next, while it’s certainly nice to see Wenge is succeeding, the key phrase here is “five years after naturalization.” Wenge has accepted Japan as his home now, and completed the journey he began by reaching out to his initial teammates.
And we end with the racket in flight. Initially, Peco tossed that racket to prove he had abandoned ping pong, and that it no longer had any hold on him. But he was still defined by the sport, and his actions were no more than an empty symbol. Now, at the end, Peco is still flying in pursuit of his dreams, while Smile has come to find happiness in life in his own way. He can set the racket free with no regrets – the symbol doesn’t matter, because he now knows who he wants to be.