Scorching Ping Pong Girls – Episode 2

Alright, let’s get right back to Scorching Ping Pong Girls! The show’s premiere was mostly just fine, succeeding well enough as a genre setup, but not really excelling in terms of either its aesthetics or its storytelling. The show’s greatest quality so far might be its charming character designs, but those aren’t really a strength that will keep paying new dividends in future episodes. My main hope for the show is that it will double down on its sports drama pretensions, as everything related to ping pong in the first episode was better than pretty much everything related to slice of life or comedy. Agari has already been set up as a satisfyingly flawed competitor with plenty of room to grow, Koyori stands as a fine foil, and the premiere’s brief tidbits of actual strategy implied to me that this show genuinely cares about making its ping pong matches parsable and exciting. I love it when things are parsable and exciting! Let’s dive right in to episode two, and see how Agari handles no longer being the team’s unquestioned darling.

Episode 2

“Unrelinquishable Spot.” Even the episode title feels encouraging – we’ve got a clear central conflict now, and a reason for our two leads to battle

Nicely composed shot panning up Agari as she herself looks up the club rankings. The pan essentially lets us mirror Agari’s own gaze, placing us closer to her headspace, while this low-angle framing presents the club rankings as an imposing mountain to be climbed. Agari is currently at the top, but this shot nicely conveys her sense of apprehension about staying there

“I’m always in first. That lets me practice more.” “I feel the same away.” Agari treats arriving at the club first as one more way to demonstrate her status, but frames it as a reflection of her diligence. Koyori just actually likes table tennis so much she wants to wake up early to play more

I can understand Agari’s frustration with someone like Koyori on a couple levels. Not only does Koyori’s talent seem effortless, but she also enjoys the grind, whereas Agari works very hard, doesn’t really have fun doing it, and won’t even necessarily succeed because of it. “Not only are you better than me, but you’re also having more fun while I’m struggling” sounds kinda petty, but it’s an inescapable sort of resentment

Equally infuriating: the fact that Koyori is so damn positive and likable and earnest. How dare our nemeses be decent people

Koyori’s body language seems intentionally designed to evoke an actual puppy. She’s constantly doing that limbs-in, head-down pose like she’s nervous and wants to be petted. You could critique the show for “infantilizing” her character, but it’s clearly an intentional effect they’re deliberately using to amplify her exaggerated character profile, and it never really undermines her active characterization (in fact, it pretty directly echoes her personality). I think we’re sort of trained as media consumers (or at least anime consumers within western anime fandom) to second-guess such deliberately cutesy affectations, but it’s all a matter of how they’re applied

The newbies gossip about Koyori climbing up the rankings. It’s interesting that our perspective character is Agari, not Koyori; normally we’re positioned with the eager new player, not the fearful old guard. But so far Koyori is more of a force than a person, whereas Agari is a multifaceted character

Oh my god Koyori’s shirt is also a dog’s face what the heck

This show’s comedy remains pretty tame and lame. The show lacks the strong aesthetic chops, snappy timing, or tonal focus to succeed as a bubbly slice of life, but it consistently makes gestures in that direction, and they’re not very good

Yeah, this thirty second gag predicated on “Koyori’s stomach is rumbling” is just not good. Though I suppose it does give us a bit of Hokuto material. This episode is prioritizing Hanabi and Hokuto asides, presumably to build them up before they battle Koyori, which is a necessary choice in a narrative sense – I just wish it had a more satisfying tool to flesh them out with than its mediocre comedy

“Hokuto can read people by looking at their racket rubbers.” An excellent impossible talent. I’m hoping the “scorching” part of the title means we’ll be running into some JoJo-tier ping pong powers eventually

And now this extended thong gag. Just… not good. Repetitive, not particularly shocking, and not a meaningful insight into Hokuto’s character. “My power lets me know what underwear you’re wearing” would be a simplistic and irritating gag even if it were novel, but it’s one of the most tired gags in anime

Obviously one of this show’s subgoals is “be kinda horny about its cast,” but we can hopefully do better than “I know your panties” gags

Hokuto isn’t messing around like Munemune. This is presented as a genuine competitive match

“By adjusting her spin, Hokuto can make her opponents return where she wants.” A fine conceit. Let’s see it in practice

Fantastic. Not only does the show follow through on Hokuto’s powers, it gives them a distinctive and totally understandable visual framing. Love this sequence of Hokuto assessing the percentages of her various return paths – the core nature of her talent is thus made as clear as possible in coherent and easily assessed visual terms

“I won’t let you force your way in there.” And we’ve got emotional motivation now too – Hokuto clearly wants to stay right beside Hanabi on the team rankings

We get maybe our first insight into Koyori’s head, where she essentially just reiterates her love of table tennis. She’s not naturally inclined towards any of this physical stuff, but she loves the sport

Ooh, nice little cut from the corner of Koyori’s side. Actually some pretty fluid back-and-forth between the two players

I used to get more frustrated with anime’s lack of animation, but these days I really appreciate how different shows pursue their dramatic goals within the steep constraints of limited animation. Obviously I wouldn’t be against every show having all the animation resources they demand, but there’s an art to creating the illusion of action in spite of serious visual limitations

OH WOW THAT CUT WAS GOOD. An even better cut, following the ball itself as it bounces across the field. That’s a super ambitious concept; because we’re following the ball, the table itself and both the players shift their perspective relative to it continuously, demanding constant redraws of every object on screen

Hokuto’s style has been explicated clearly enough that we in the audience can understand her shift to smashes means she’s on the ropes

I love this visual evocation of Hokuto’s dramatic turn. The cool blue of her calculating style is literally wiped away by Koyori’s presence, and then we get these great expressions from Hokuto that fall totally outside her usual wheelhouse

I feel like this show’s focus on sweat actually is a bit of a thematic point. Sweat seems tied to giving it your all, to unabashedly embracing the messiness of competition

And then we jump ahead to Hokuto’s loss. Fine economy of storytelling; this match isn’t about Hokuto getting destroyed, it’s about her style being defeated by Koyori, and that was clear enough in that one key moment. No reason to illustrate the rest of the match if it won’t offer any narrative turns beyond “Koyori successfully pulls off a comeback”

Welp, time for more panties jokes. Can’t have this show be too good

We’ve now also established how playing Koyori seems to actually change players. Hokuto shifted from a totally robotic style to a passionate one in the second half of her match

Agari is now genuinely afraid of Koyori. The sound of her methodically practicing before Agari even gets to school echoes her approaching match

Nice distant shot of Agari eating alone in front of the ping pong club

With Agari off sulking, it falls to Hokuto to narrate Hanabi’s duel

Hanabi’s style is unsurprising – explosive drives, heavy offense, a focus on rallies. You could tell her style simply by looking at her little hair-explosions

It makes sense that Hokuto’s match was the one we focused on. Hanabi is just too similar to Koyori for this to be a transformative duel

Welp, I guess Hokuto referring to all characters by their panties is just something I’m going to have to learn to live with

Apparently only playing against Agari makes Koyori feel the way playing against Koyori herself feels to everyone else

“I put away my forehand a long time ago.” Our first glimmer of Agari’s physical play arc, which will presumably intertwine with her emotional arc

“But you were having so much fun when you played forehand.” Well, I didn’t expect them to intertwine them within like one sentence, but okay. Simple enough – Agari embracing her forehand means embracing ping pong as something you do because you love it, like Koyori

And Done

Alright! That was a much better episode than the first one, which isn’t that surprising. Sports narratives don’t tend to excel when it comes to setup; they have a ton of moving pieces that have to be established for their actual dramatic core to work at all, so their early episodes tend to be preoccupied with establishing characters, motives, and play styles, and it’s only once all that’s been set up that they get to really sing. Scorching Ping Pong Girls was extremely efficient in its setup across this episode, and actually pulled off a satisfying match as well. The whole show has been building towards Agari and Koyori’s showdown, so I’m very ready for the next episode!

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