The qualifying matches for the semifinals begin. But while Smile continues to dominate, Peco’s knee is giving out.
Oh man, this episode was fun to watch. That said, as a more traditional sports anime episode, there isn’t as much to say in that regard. Smile, Peco, and Kazama continue to dominate. Sanada is brought down by Smile’s robotically unstoppable play. As if anyone really thought Sanada was going to stand a chance. Still, while I wasn’t a huge fan of him, to see him get dismantled so definitively was kind of a shame. I suppose it all continues to contribute to the myth of power Smile has built for himself. This is a man who literally will not break a sweat while putting you in the ground.
Additionally we also get a small conclusion to Kong’s story. For better or worse, it seems he’s resigned himself to his fate. Still, not all is lost as it seems like he’ll continue as a coach. Of what little we’ve seen, it seems like Kong has the makings of a great ping pong coach. His teammates/students love him and if their ability to at least not get knocked out in the first round is any indication, he’s slowly turning them into legitimate players. Still, it is a shame this will likely be the last we’ll see of Kong in any significant manner.
The brief return of Akuma also leads to some interesting dialogue. Sporting a fancy pompadour that would make Space Dandy or Kuwabara proud, we get a bit of interesting dialogue between him and Kazama. Akuma asks Kazama what he plays for, and Kazama gives the answer of, “for himself.” Of course, this is the reason Akuma played so hard, and it ended in defeat and disgrace. It’s obvious Kazama is simply giving the answer that will please the person asking. As if to hammer this point home, Kazama responds with “for the team” when asked by Sakuma. It’s interesting that Kazama continues to evade the question, but considering what we know of his backstory, it makes his entire character even more tragic.
The theme of this episode seems to be what our characters play for. What motivates them to push their limits and play their very best. One would mistakenly think that one needs a proper motivation, as Sakuma falsely thinks that Kazama’s resolve is stronger than his own. While this is true, it’s for reasons that he could never guess. On the other side of things, we find out that the reason Peco is training so hard is so that he can finally meet Smile on equal ground after all these years. Smile loves ping pong because it’s result of the enduring friendship he had with Peco, and as Peco deteriorated as a player, so too did Smile’s passion for the game. Smile and Peco’s actions make a lot more sense when you hear their backstory, and while it’s a little hokey, it’s a tried and true standard of the sports anime genre.
That said, we’ll have to see if Peco gets his chance. With his knee failing him and up against Kazama in the semifinals, I’m not so sure he’ll be able to pull it off. While in most sports anime, I’d totally give it to the main character, but Ping Pong is a little more nuanced than that, and I honestly don’t know how things are going to go. I suppose that’s what makes this show all the more enjoyable to watch.