Ping Pong the Animation focuses on two high school ping pong players: Makoto Tsukimoto (aka Smile) and Yutaka Hoshino (aka Peco). Peco starts out being overly confident in his abilities and constantly skipping practice until he’s dealt a crushing defeat by a Chinese player named Kong Wenge during the first episode. Smile, meanwhile, is an aloof and rather gloomy guy; however, he has a raw talent for ping pong.
Episode Five sees Kazama returning from winning the singles at the Youth Olympics. He gives a brief television interview at the airport, and says that he’s worried about his school’s team. He says that their collective strength has fallen, and that they need a player like Smile in order to return to being an impregnable fortress. While the school principal approves of what Kazama did in the interview, the coach has problems with it because the captain of the team caring about a player from another school comes across as a slap to the face to the other players on their team.
Akuma takes this the hardest, because he looked up to Kazama almost like a god. Akuma skips out of his practice in order to go to Smile’s school and challenge him. Kaio doesn’t tolerate its players playing against other schools’ athletes without permission, and if a player does this and loses, he’ll be expelled from the Kaio team. Akuma takes his chances and plays against Smile, only to end up losing…
This episode also sees Peco not going to practice, hanging out at the beach and getting a tan, growing his hair long, gaining weight, and starting to smoke. At the end of the episode, we see him throw his ping pong racket into a river and giving up on ping pong.
We also see Kong briefly in the episode, and he decides to stay in Japan alone without his interpreter. This at least leaves the door open for Kong to continue to appear as a character in the series.
As the series has progressed, it’s become clear that Smile has evolved into the main character and that Peco has become less important. Speaking of Peco… wow, that was quite a change! He’s taken losing in the quarterfinals a lot worse than I thought he would. At least when he lost against Kong he was down briefly but then returned to ping pong. But this time, he appears to have actually given up on the sport for good, and has undergone radical changes both physically and emotionally. I’m almost afraid something tragic is going to happen to him before the series ends.
Speaking of tragic, Akuma not only lost to Smile and was expelled from Kaio’s team, he also ended up getting suspended from school for two weeks for causing bodily injury when he beat someone up on his way home after losing to Smile. Losing to Smile was bad enough, but knowing he would be off of Kaio’s team for what he did just destroyed him. I wonder if Akuma has now been written out of the series or if we’ll see more of him in the remaining episodes of the series.
With this episode, Ping Pong The Animation has made it clear that it’s anything but a typical shonen sports anime. I’m looking forward to seeing how else this series will end up defying sports anime stereotypes.
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