Spring 2014 was a very, very good season for anime. It aired absolute bangers such as Stardust Crusaders, Mushishi, No Game No Life, Chaika the Coffin Princess, Knights of Sidonia, and of course Ping Pong the Animation. We’re going to talk about Ping Pong.
I empathized a lot with Smile in the first few episodes, before he went completely cold and pulverized the competition. He and his coach tore apart their opponents about as hard as they tore apart their own team; Smile became the team at the expense of the other players. Because the coach would focus all his attention on Smile, the team as a whole fell apart. Not that it mattered to Smile. He couldn’t care less about what happened to the team. He just wanted to win. Even if it meant staying isolated forever.
Smile didn’t start that way, of course. He and Peco, his friend and idol, were joined at the hip. Smile stays with Peco when they play table tennis. Smile stays with Peco when they’re not playing table tennis. Smile admires Peco. He admires his talent, his charisma. Smile saw Peco as a hero and he aspired to be like him.
The problem was that Peco slowly turned into a lousy player because of complacency and being a sore loser. That’s not the person Smile knew and adored for most of his childhood, but it’s wrong to abandon his friend just because of that. However, it also feels wrong, according to Smile, to destroy the image of Peco looking like a hero in Smile’s eyes. So he plays along; he pretends to be worse at table tennis in order for Peco to stay satisfied. Smile believed it to be temporary, waiting for the day that his hero will return to his former glory, that Smile can have his friend and hero back the way it used to be.
Unfortunately, that never happened. Peco did not improve his table tennis and was satisfied with styling on amateurs at the table tennis society. His sense of skill became warped, and he thought he was better at the game than he actually was. It broke Smile’s heart.
So when Smile is put under pressure by the coach to unveil his hidden talent, he’s torn. His introverted personality made him resistant to showing self-worth, and it would mean acknowledging that he’s become more skilled than Peco. At the same time, however, he is drawn to playing table tennis. He can only hold out for so long.
Smile eventually gives up. The uncaring machine inside him boots up and takes over his consciousness. He forgot about heroes and aspiration. He forgot about Peco. All he needed was table tennis.
- Day One has begun.