(Note: Episodic notes are still mostly to be found on the Episodics Notes’ page, but up to a couple every week will have their write-up appear on the main page, when I think they warrant it. For those who don’t know, I take the notes as I watch the episode, and merely re-order them afterwards.)
Ok, nap and having to finish writing something put me several hours behind, but Ping Pong will surely wait! Time to see where we’re going this time around. I’m expecting a lot from Peco, who had lost, and who had seen what Smile is capable of. Is this gonna be Peco’s episode, or one where he acts as a supporting character for Smile? Or will it be something else altogether? Well, time to find out.
Thoughts and Notes:
1) The Previous Showdown’s Fallout:
1) Sakuma, nick-named “Akuma”? The whole pre-OP part was all of his moments from the previous episodes. So, will we get to learn more of the world and characters through a tertiary character? Show me what you’ve got.
2) A parting between master and student. Usually, they break apart when the master has nothing left to teach, but here it’s the student leaving, even if it seems otherwise – to find his own place in the world, to prove his own worth.
3) Wow, talk about a rude awakening, and a call-out, to his own school. Almost like the master of a dojo slapping his students awake. “My disciples are weak! We need more players like that person, from the other school! Look to him!” – I’m actually not too fond of the message he’s sending to his disciples, and I can understand why Sakuma is pissed. Peco – talent without effort. Sakuma? Effort to overcome lack of talent. Smile is a combination of not caring about effort, and not caring about winning. Smile currently is almost a raw ball of talent. The message Kazama is sending is you’re either born good, or you don’t matter.
And now reality, as opposed to the message to the media, “You’re World Champion, but you’ve got it rough.” – Everyone has their own problems.
4) Hm, this dude who is an ass, complaining about the prices, looking at Ping Pong news over rubbing lotion over his girlfriend (!), then calls for ice-cream and leaves his girlfriend to pay? Sure sounded like Peco. The long hair though? Makes me think we’ve had somewhat of a time-skip, as Kazama got to go to the Juvenile Olympics as well.
Also, the dude selling them the ice cream? That’s the beach lover whom Smile crushed. He’s a nomad. He doesn’t know his place, he doesn’t know himself, so no matter where he is, he thinks he should go elsewhere. But until he finds his core, his roots, he’ll keep wandering.
6) Sakuma is unhappy. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him happy, since he was a child and admired Peco, alongside Smile. Even when he defeated Peco, he was filled with venom. Not a good life to have. He’s looking to find someone better than he himself, and to be recognized by that player. He wishes Kazama to acknowledge him. He would’ve wanted Peco to acknowledge him, but here is the thing – to be acknowledged by a player, he needs to defeat them, and then that person is no longer better than him, so acknowledgement becomes meaningless.
2) A Brand New Smile:
1) The same scene we’ve seen of Kong leaving his mother behind, but where before he seemed cool and uncaring, only caring for his future and destination, here we see him crying for his abandoned past and childhood. A child, alone.
2) The small chatter amongst the upperclassmen – “Oh boy, you get to work in a convenience store. I’m so jealous! I get to go to college!” – “You don’t know how rough it is, man” coupled with Peco, “Wandering Hairdo Dude”, Kazama, and last episode with Coach’s little speech about how “Talented people who know themselves never crave anything.” – Everyone here is looking for something, everyone is unhappy with their current lot.
And Smile? Supposedly he cares for nothing, but look at him staring at the retreating backs of his upperclassmen, after he just finished running, and ended right where he began, and after we know of his dream of being like Peco. Smile has desires, and they are to have emotions, to be part of a group, even as he rejects it, in order to protect himself. The Hedgehog’s dilemma. Or perhaps, he just looks at those so unlike him as to be a different species.
3) Smile moving the practice, being into it. How things had changed. So, what is it Smile wishes for? Or is it just to play ping pong?
4) Smile gained a Father-Coach, and Kong had lost one. Kong is moving mechanically. No change, no emotions, no friendship. Will he be able to grow like this? Or perhaps quieting down his emotions is what he needs.
3) Alone in the Crowd:
1) “There is no “team” in this club anymore.” – Very interesting. Notice what was said before, Smile can’t play against other schools on his own, so his fellow team-mates have to play against schools out of their league. Either Smile, or the rest of them will suffer. One for all, or all for one, but not both – one or the other will have to sacrifice for the others. You can’t get better playing against people infinitely superior to you, but you also can’t get better by smashing those infinitely inferior to you.
“He’s the one man-army, and we collect the balls.” The warrior who can defeat a hundred men, and his standard bearers.
2) This conversation made me think of Kaio academy. Kazama is thinking of his school, he’s thinking of his team – but he’s not thinking of his teammates, who actually make up the team. Is he there for them? His victories give the whole school a reputation, and they’re not really doing anything for him, but the school still thinks of itself as a team, including its constituent members. Kazama’s little speech is a bit problematic here, even if it’s born out of love, a tough love, to his disciples.
3) “Clinging to old ideals in time of crisis. Winter will come soon.” With the birds, and the flowers. Is this a haiku writing primer? Not literally, but in terms of style. Also, notice how Kazama already speaks of Sakuma as a has-been. And that is why Sakuma is going to try and defeat Smile, to show their club still has what it takes. It is all about honour.
4) Best Coach – A coach for life, a life-coach:
1) Man, the coaches in this show are so awesome, “Is this guy good?” – “Any art gallery running an exhibit about “Awkwardness” would snap him right up.” The coach’s daughter? To me she’s not bored, but going to sleep with the soothing sound of her father talking of what he loves – Ping Pong, and his students.
2) Here it is, “But table tennis is a sport where natural talent really matters.” – Sakuma wanted to be like Peco, who was all talent and no effort, and then Kazama, who’s talent honed by endless hard work. But what Sakuma wishes for is something he can never have, as he doesn’t have talent himself.
3) Interesting. Kaio’s coach has a strong team, with an ultra-strong player, and would be fine with less victories, so long they feel like home. Coach Koizumi has an ultra-strong player, and a weak team, and chooses the player over the team.
5) Showdown and Truth:
1) Samurai Showdown visuals, and soundtrack. I’ve told you guys this show, especially when Sakuma is involved, is a samurai show/manga, using Ping Pong. Well, here it is, out in the open.
2) Ah, now it explains why Kazama was talking of Sakuma in a past tense, “If I lose, I’ll be expelled from the club immediately.” – So it’s not about the rules, it’s about power. Should Sakuma win, he’d get to stay in the club. It not being about the rules also explains why Kazama’s lieutenant was saying he should be allowed to stay.
3) I really wonder how it’d turn out – not wanting to destroy another’s dream of Ping Pong is perhaps why Smile had lost to Kong, but this is a new Smile, much more driven to victory, or is he?
4) Shinsegumi, committing seppuku… more samurai show notions! It’s more than that – he left on his own to defend the honour of his dojo, so if he loses, he’ll have to sacrifice himself so his dojo won’t end up even more shame-faced than it’d been prior.
5) Honestly, my favourite part about Sakuma, and which I really loved when he and Peco faced off, is their trash-talk, the checks their mouths write and which they can’t cover. Smile is like Kong here, reflective glasses, no emotions. One does not converse with the bugs one is about to crush.
6) The breakdown. Everything he cries out, I’ve covered above. Yes, this is his role in the story, this is his burden. No matter how hard he works, no matter how long he chases after acknowledgement, he just wasn’t born good enough. Why do we see his childhood? No, it’s not because he has some inborn “fault” of stigmatization that keeps him from winning, but that he doesn’t have the inborn talent. He keeps chasing after others, but he has a loving father, and his childhood didn’t seem too bad. But that is life, chasing after that which you do not have.
6) Consequences – As We Begin, So We Close:
1) Smile replies the only way he can, with a truth-bomb. Perhaps Smile truly is merciful – he’s dashing Sakuma’s dream which he could never realize, so he could go after something he might obtain. Is this why he spared Kong, whose dream follows his talent, even if not its scope?
I truly think Smile simply saying it, especially considering Sakuma’s shocked mien, is an act of kindness, rather than one of cruelty.
2) Sakuma’s life sentence, is it written out in the form of stitches on his samurai cloak, or as thorns and brambles, to tear his soul apart?
3) Hm, Peco throwing away his racket, and it’s only the 5th episode? I’m surprised. I’m almost certain he’ll pick it up again, or at least have some discussion with Smile, some witty one-liner that’ll change everything. Also, “Goodbye, partner.” – Is he talking of the racket, or of Smile?
Post Episode Notes:
This episode hammered the final nails into the “Talent versus Effort” coffin. Peco and Sakuma are both kids, and we could see how similar they are in attitude when they faced off against one another. Both wanted to prove something with their Ping Pong, and both had been lacking. One was all talent and no effort, and one was all effort and no talent. In the long run, effort beats lazy talent, but neither can stand up to the places where talent and effort combine.
More than that, this episode was about the situation of being alone at the top. Does Kazama wish for Smile to join Kaio for the sake of Kaio, or so he won’t be alone? A case of “One for all, or all for one?” and these superstars being put out there. Why do Smile, Kong and Kazama play? Kong plays so he could return home, to the home his game had driven him out of. Why does Kaio play? Is he trying to make a new home, a home for people such as himself? And what of Smile?
They all play for the same reason. They play because they can use their rackets to hold discussions. But only with their equals. They all play so they’ll get to the highest levels, where others such as them exist, others who could understand their lonely existences, and in so doing perhaps alleviate the sense of loneliness. They fight, because through their rackets, they can have a dialogue, and they are all oh so hungry for it.