(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.)
Peco must win, not for himself, but for Smile, and to Smile Peco must win so he’ll be Peco again. Yes, teamwork where Peco must win for himself, for his friend. What of Kazama? He’s here to do his job, to fulfill his duty. Not a hero, yet still bound by honour.
Let us observe the clash of the hero and the anti-hero, the dragon. Will the hero slay the dragon, or will the dragon crush the already-wounded hero?
(Not all screenshots made it into the write-up, here is the full screenshot album.)
Thoughts and Notes:
1) Understanding Kazama: Longing for a Hero:
1) “Overseas? Not me.” – Though Ruichi goes overseas all the time, the coach is a simple man. Yurie is leaving, and Kazama did not want to speak with her, so he is left behind.
2) “Ryuichi will be fine, no one waited for a hero longer than he has.” – YES. I so like this show for being “Simple”, in the best sense of the world. Nothing comes out of left field, and everything is a continuation of information we’ve been given. Ryuichi gave up because his father, his hero, had been exposed as weak.
Smile is a monster so Peco will have to become a hero and prove he is one by defeating him. So Kazama as well, he is a monster, so that if he’s defeated, and if it’s not by another monster such as himself, that he’ll be shown that a hero appears!
Then again, the hero appearing for Smile is his oldest friend, who will be Ruichi’s hero? Peco? Or maybe it’d be his second in command.
2) Living Kazama: To Suffer in the Solitude of Victory:
1) Kazama is a professional. He might not have the honour of a hero, but he has the dignity of a professional, caring for his opponent’s knee, and will not put up when he feels his opponent is wasting his time with a toy.
2) Peco will climb over his vanquished opponent. That’s what a tournament’s structure is. Each step you take is over the remains of your prior victories. Also a call-back to Kong. To win is to fly.
3) Kazama’s position is a difficult one. He wishes for a hero to appear, but since he’s certain one cannotappear, and how it’ll mess up with his view of his father and past, he will crush all those who would claim to exceed expectations. It’s only fitting, for them to be heroes, his heroes, they have to actually defeat him. The weak cannot speak as if they are strong, for these are but empty words. Ah, if only Kazama hadn’t been this strong, crushing all those who wish to inspire him.
Kazama isn’t just playing to win, he’s playing to crush Peco, the upstart who dared dream of flying, to claim he’s a hero. Kazama’s trauma is being shown reality, and now he’s walking around, sharing that “gift” with everyone else, letting them carry the weight of the world alongside him. Misery loves company.
4) “I’ve waited for him for so long, and today he’s coming back.” And then Smile says in his mind “A hero appears” three times. You know what it means? Smile needs the hero now. The hero that will save him no matter how deeply he’s locked, right? Smile is locked now, in a position where others think of him as a robot, where he doesn’t get to smile. Smile is locked now in his tower of solitude. Smile is hurting. He’s hurting now.
5) Peco’s reminded of a lesson he forgot, you can be cool and climb higher and look down upon others, but there’s always someone stronger, and hubris and arrogance are bad. As he was reminded, so he seeks to remind Kazama of his mortality again. Kazama keeps saying there are no heroes, no immortals, but he thinks himself one, at least as far as crushing others is concerned.
6) Ping Pong is a battlefield. This game is war.
3) The Sorrow of Kazama: Sharing Pain
1) Remember how I said Kazama is trying to find company in misery? For all of that, he’s still alone. There can be only one who is “Invincible Under the Sun” (Miyamoto Musashi <3), and it’s Kazama’s role. He is savingthe others from sharing his burden, even as he shares the burden of crushed memories. What’s the alternative? They win and then realize their dreams are for naught? Kazama is lonely, even as he surrounds himself with his compatriots, those whose dreams had been taken away. What a sordid affair.
“Victory feels hollow” he says, but “Defeat is death.” He’s fighting in order to keep fighting. He’s winning because there’s no alternative, and the only meaning is to keep toiling. Kazama needs to be saved. Will a hero appear for him?
2) “I love ya” spoken with admiration had never been filled with as much battle-thirst. Same as Obaba, recognizing the other’s thirst for blood, and the sanctity of the match? Samurai showdown. Defeat is death. Fight with all you’ve got.
3) “It never ends.” Man, Kazama is Sisyphus! Kazama is the opposite of a bird, which is why Peco’s declaration angered him so. His father wished for an easy way out, to just fly over his obstacles, rather than put in the hard work, to conquer them one step at a time, and that had been his downfall. Kazama learned from his father, learned that the only way is through hard, and never-ending work.
4) “Defeat is death. You better cut your arm than capitulate.” And then we see his mother capitulating to the naysayers, not standing up for herself or her late husband. Is that why Kazama turned his back on her, to not be met with her weakness?
“Win or get bullied, no one will save you.” The opposite of Smile, who had also been more bullied after winning.
5) “Does your knee hurt?” – “You’re so sweet, does that mean you’ll let me win?” – “Don’t make me laugh.” – “Then don’t ask.” – Peco the loudmouth, speaking against irrelevant chatter. Will wonders never cease?
4) Saving the Dragon – Learning to Fly:
1) Back when Peco was at his lowest, he jumped from a bridge, saying he’s flying. He was trying to run away from his problems. Well, he sure is flying now! And it’s not about him crushing Kazama, but teaching Kazama what Smile told him – the stronger the opponent, the more fun you’re having, the more you can let yourself go. Kazama was alone at the top and had no fun, so he’s being reminded what it truly means to strive with his all, and to have fun. Even as he’s crushed.
This is also related to the knee-bit; to fly high, they both need to give it their all, so mercy from his opponent will also rob Peco of his fun – as Coach Koizumi had said, no one wins when you go easy on your opponent.
2) “It’s like he loves Ping Pong so much he can’t hold it in.” And we see Kong getting emotional. From Peco’s story, we know it’s the same for Smile, even if he can’t show it right now. Perhaps Smile needs the hero to appear and play against him in order to feel alive again. Kazama believes he has no chance of attaining this feeling, but Smile knows it could happen again. He’s crushing all his opponents not to crush them, but in hopes they’d fight back.
3) Kazama, freed! You know, two episodes ago I wanted neither Peco nor Kong to lose. Here? They’ll both win, no matter how the game ends.
Kazama, actually excited, not a robot! His burst of intensity gets his club to push as well!
4) Kazama repeats his lines, and it’s fine. He’s letting go, he’d been set free. Kazama is accepting his new position, with relief. “There;s no need to be afraid. I like this place.” – This place in the light, away from his bathroom stall, where he hides. What does Kazama hide from? Kazama hid from victory. Defeat is Death, but to win is just to be forced to keep winning, to keep crushing others’ dreams, and being lonely.
Sometimes, defeat is death, and that’s fine. There is life after death.
Post Episode Thoughts:
This was a great episode. Another great episode. And next episode just might be better? With Smile against Peco? I’m not sure my body is ready (don’t listen, my body is soooo ready).
This episode was pretty clear. Last episode was about us being told the hero will awaken, and the hero regaining his memories. This episode was the hero proving he’s back, by way of slaying the dragon.
Slaying the dragon? He set the little child inside Ruichi free, the one who wanted to return to the heady days of playing ping pong for fun, who didn’t serve a life-sentence, hidden away, locked out of sight. Peco had done for Ruichi what he had done for Smile all those years ago, and what Smile is in need of once more.
You see, unlike Kazama, Smile knows his position, that he’s locked into winning, into being alone. But he also knows fun is possible, and he just needs his friend to be there, for them to have fun together.
“You can’t always climb high enough to look down upon others” has a new meaning after it all ends. Climbing is insufficient, at some point you need to fly. But once you fly, you don’t try to keep others down. This isn’t a rock where you fight for grip. Once you fly, you try to help others fly alongside you. To fly is to invite company. To climb is to fight for your sole spot.
Best show of 2014? Most underrated for sure. Aha that hero’s song was perfect, I was grinning the whole time! One more episode, let’s hope it ends on a strong note!
I don’t think Ping Pong was underrated at any point. Underwatched, maybe.