(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.)
Last episode wasn’t about conflicts, as much as it was about fallout of conflicts, and about acceptance. Accepting that being at the top means you’re being alone, and the only ones who can understand you are your rivals. Friends, cast away; allies, discarded.
Smile is a lonely robot, he can do it on his own, but then, why did he lose to Peco, to stay around him? Why did he idolize Peco with his sure manner and quick tongue? And Peco is heart-broken and alone. Without his old friend, without Ping Pong to affirm his status as a victor, rather than a cry-baby.
Thoughts and Notes:
1) The Destroyer is Here – But He’s Nice Inside:
1) Yesss, the first scene in the episode follows my pre-amble! The giant robot is attacked by gnats, who keep poking at him, drawing his attention. But he doesn’t care, he’ll just smash them all. That’s Smile, and the others are his weak opponents, and his weak teammates, and perhaps his own emotions, which he eliminates, in one fell swoop.
“Only the legendary hero could defeat the robot, but he is absent!” – First, I love the 40s (?) cartoon style narration we’ve got going on here. Second, it shows the war within Smile’s soul, for both the hero and the robot are he himself. He needed to win, he needed power, and he couldn’t let the hero burst out, and put himself out there, so he drew even farther in, and had allowed the robot to envelop him in its cold and nerve-deadening embrace. This is the demon-angel dichotomy, and as one rises, the other fades.
1) “Robots are cool! What do they mean when they say “hero” anyway? The robot is cold-blooded, but he’s really nice on the inside!” – Aww, kids sure are cute, idolizing the powerful one, and not following the nebulous idea of a “Hero” they had never met, before being corrupted by how narratives are expected to play out. Power lurking is a powerful concept, but so is an all-powerful character, who is actually kind, but hides it behind a cold shell. One can see how a child will grow to idolize the most powerful character in a narrative (and then grow up to write an LN about it, making the heartless and all-powerful “robot” its protagonist, and call it “Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei” :P)
3) And now, just in case you somehow missed it, the high school students speak of the robot, and then without missing a beat we realize they’re speaking of Smile.
2) Team and Member:
1) “It’s fine you lost, I don’t expect anything from you anyway.” – That burn. It burns all that much more because it’s said so matter-of-factly, there is no vitriol here, just saying how it is. He doesn’t even try to be mean, it’s just how he sees things.
2) Sakuma living up to his nickname (Akuma = Demon), and also to the “Samurai Show” sensibilities. He wasn’t thrown out of the team, so now he’s planning a betrayal, a coup! “I wish you were the captain!” – He’s got a point though, just as antler-hair is still Smile’s captain. The captain doesn’t have to be the strongest player, but the motivator. And yes, when your school is founded on “Strength!” as a concept, it might lead to picking the wrong captain.
3) Man, this show is structured so well, every time I make a point, they move to a scene that is directly an answer or a continuation of it – here we see Smile and his team, “Whether you’re right or wrong doesn’t matter! You’re pissing us off!” – Smile thinks of objectives and objects, forgetting you play games and form clubs with people. Alone at the top, only increasing the distance – as the distance in skill increases, so does the interpersonal one, and vice versa.
4) “I just want him to do his job.” – “Humans aren’t perfect.” – Smile must accept weaknesses from others, and to accept he has flaws within him as well – failure to accept others’ flaws, for instance.
5) Hm, so he did quit, and that was someone else? Kaio is hard, with all of them having shaved heads :P
6) Are they truly going to turn Captain Ota (“Antler Hair”) into a character? He does care for his team, and for Smile as well, and now he’s told – “It’s fine if Tsukimoto stands out, his goals and ours aren’t the same. We’re here as a side-dish, and he’s here as the main-course.” Time to make everyone co-exist, Captain.
3) Dreams and Reality – Talent and Loneliness:
1) Thinking-man statue, and a thinking man to go alongside it. The shower is indeed one of the two best places for some heavy thinking. From one captain, to another.
2) This little chat between Kazama and his cousin touched on so many things. Those without talent shouldn’t follow their dreams – was this about his father, or himself? It’s possible he turned his talent into his dream, and his original dream was otherwise, such as taking care of flowers? And while his cousin adores his father for following his dream, which is the spiel they always sell us on athletes, Kazama isn’t as appreciative – heroes are “heroes” because they don’t bend to reality and always follow a predetermined course of action, like Don Quixote. To win, one must adapt – which makes me think he perhaps had indeed given up on his dream.
What of Smile, then? “The Robot” doesn’t truly adapt, only changes how he demolishes his opponents, but demolish them he shall.
3) So, why are we here with Peco and his “girlfriend”? Remember how I said the scenes in this show follow one another perfectly? Earlier I spoke of objectives and objects, of having subjects, instead of friends. Kaio’s president is treating the players as people he hires or bribes with gifts, rather than as people with dreams – and Peco’s girlfriend shows us there isn’t much difference between those who demand gifts, and those who foist “gifts” on another, and demand tribute.
4) Coach Kong! Awesome! He knows how important coaches are, and how terrible it is to be alone. Yes, he could be better served by ignoring his underclassmen, but he helps them. Good guy Kong.
See? Kong’s teammates want to come and be in his presence. A lively dinner-table, a family. – As stark a difference as possible from Smile’s lonely dinner-table. He ends up not eating the cake either.
5) Kaio’s 2nd in command dreams of Kazama’s cousin. Hue. Yeah, everyone in Smile and Kazama’s school is all alone, but Kong gets to have fun with others. Is it because he lost, so he knows there is life after Ping Pong? I think so.
6) Kazama isn’t completely alone either. And here is Beach Boy. Hm, with the whole “Christmas Break” episode, I take it things will become explosive soon.
Oh shit, that was her visualizing being with Kazama. He didn’t join her and instead is busy training :O
4) “I’m a Golden God!” – Rekindling the Flame:
1) Oh man, Sakuma looks like someone who is ready to join the army! “You’ve got talent, so you keep playing!” – But who said it’s his dream? You shouldn’t do something just cause you’re good at it. Poor Akuma, wanting to, but not having the talent.
2) Earlier we had Kazama speak of “adapting to reality.” Running away from it is something both Akuma and Peco had done – Akuma by thinking he can achieve his dream without talent, and Peco by acting as if he doesn’t have talent, or thinking his talent will enable him to not put in any effort. Interesting how this exchange showcases the difference in their personalities – “You can’t keep coasting on talent” – Peco took it as “Quit, since you’re going to coast” but Akuma meant it as “Get your ass in gear! Become worthy of your talent!”
3) Melodramatic Peco is hilarious, “I used to be golden god! No one could compare to me!” – Dude, you’re a first-year student in high school, and you didn’t break anything, physically. Stop running away!
LOL! “I’m a Golden God!” – and then he leaps into the water – how fitting :D
4) And here we see as Peco falls into the depths not just his history, but Smile’s. Their history and fates are intertwined – after all, Smile wanted to be like Peco, and picked up Peco’s dream from him. Smile wanted Peco to be happy, so kept losing to him. We see that Peco used to have a dream, he wanted to be the best, but as he had just told Sakuma, he never even considered someone could be better than him.
And Smile? Smile wanted a simple world, a world where you play Ping Pong to pass the time, a world without having to make trade-offs, a world without emotions. But what is Smile’s dream? If it is to win at Ping Pong, then his adaptation is to make trade-offs, to accept emotions, even as he crushes them. But if his dream is to live a simple life, than why Ping Pong? Unless he plans to lose it all, until he has nothing more to lose. Seeing him sit alone in front of his Christmas cake didn’t feel one with a sense of contentedness, after all.
5) Serial-smoker Old Lady Coach! Coaches are the best in this show!
Post Episode Thoughts – “The Hero Awakens”:
It hit me! I know what’s going on! “I don’t want to see Peco being lame.” – Peco realizes his dream may intersect with Smile’s. Perhaps it is Smile’s dream for Peco, his hero to win.
I thought that Smile thought he’s the hero, and the robot, and the two are fighting with one another. But then we’ve seen “The Hero from Planet Ping Pong” in Peco’s mind as he was sinking in the depths (well, the shallows). The Hero? It’s not Smile, it’s Peco.
Smile had been bullied, and lonely, until a hero came and saved him. That hero had been Peco, to Smile. Smile will be the monster, and Smile will crush all humans, until a hero will appear. Smile will be the villain, so Peco will have a reason to come forth, to train, and slay him.
The strong monster is only there, and only so strong, so as to accentuate the power of the hero that eventually defeats it. Yes, Smile let Peco defeat him, so Peco would be cool – but the stronger the opponent, the more glorious the hero will eventually be.
Heroes and monsters, that’s what our main 4 characters are. All of them are somewhere on the range, willing to kill their hearts, to destroy others; willing to sacrifice their happiness, to take down other monster/heroes. To some of them, they are always the hero, and the opponent always the monster. They live in order to fight, the only time they truly feel alive. And so, as they defeat other monsters, they appear as monsters in turn, and help foster the seeds of new heroes, who perhaps will turn into monsters again.
It’s a lonely path, and that’s what seeing the image of himself next to Smile (unless it was the Old Lady with Coach Koizumi) awakened within Peco – that they should be there for one another, together. Why does Peco want to learn ping pong from the beginning? Because he has a lot of bad habits to unlearn, and it’s up to the old hero to pass their knowledge to the new one. The grizzled and smoking veteran, who is also a bit of a dragon. Also, during the episode we talk of dreams and before he leaped into the water, I asked if it’s been Peco’s dream to be good at Ping Pong – talent without dream is as bad as dream without talent, but we’ve seen him recall his old dream.