It’s an insult to other sports shows when I say Ping Pong is more than a sports show.
But look at the final match. Sure we get some great action. We see Peco scoring a couple points and then Smile scoring one, but there are gaps in between these points while we watch the people watching or get an extended flashback at how the two boys become friends. Reflecting on their lives so far and then seeing them tear it up at the ping pong table, both at full power and loving the moment, like what Peco showed Kazama to do last week, makes the actual outcome an afterthought. Even Koizumi and Obaba leave the match early, to sit on a bench and reflect on their own pasts and get interrupted by that Kaio guy, another old friend. We only learn about it in the flashforward at the end, in an already-fading photo at Obaba’s dojo.
That was a little surprising, but not much. The show had things to tell us about ping pong that a single match couldn’t tell us. We see it best in a segment midway through, where we watch each each of major characters as toddlers or children, at the table, hitting the ball back to an unseen person, while the music sings about being alive. There is a joy to playing such a simple game, the simple repetition of it, swinging an object to hit another object, maybe instinctual, almost therapeutic. And the fact that someone is hitting the ball to them in the first place means it’s a shared activity, whether between friends, strangers, or parents.
And then everyone moves on. Peco reaches a standard, not sure who he’s playing for, but he’s playing. Kazama is at a slight low-ebb, but the fact that he can talk to Smile while skipping stones on the beach says something about his characters. Glad to see Kong decided to stay and is being rewarded, though I worry about his mom. As for Smile, you might wonder why he’s settling for the life he’s in now–a middle school teacher? Really, Smile? But look! He smiled! He laughed! He jokes with kids! Something he had kept locked away for years is free now. It might be that he’s the happiest character in the show now.
Yeah, it’s an insult to other sports shows, because they all have something to say about life when they have their characters improve their game and climb the ladder, or face setbacks. And even a lesser show like Free! did something similar with its finale when it showed the four boys not terribly concerned with winning, but simply swimming together. But Ping Pong is a grittier, messier show, closer to how ordinary people live than any other sports show I’ve seen. It wasn’t about the game, but how the game can make or define or teach you as you grow up. It depicted these rough, grotesque-looking lives so well that I was drawn into it more than any other show this season. Also, the story seems perfect for an 11-episode season, nothing was rushed or dragged. I know it’s been a manga and a movie before, so I found this impressive. Well done.
Selector Infected WIXOSS doesn’t really end. They’re coming back in the fall, but before they leave us they decided to confuse us even further.
Let’s see, Hitoe, Ruuko and Yuzuki exchange speeches and ideas and it boils down to Ruuko’s original plan, to wish that all the Lrigs were free. She wins, and suddenly Hitoe can be with her without pain, which wasn’t part of the overall plan but nice nonetheless. Still, how come that wish got granted? Now it’s off to battle Iona, during which, Tama-chan is whisked away so that the oversaturated Mayu can plant seeds of doubt into Tama’s feeble mind about Ruuko’s ultimate desire. So that, while the battle is still going on (?), Tama begins to make the contract with Ruuko but doesn’t say all the words. So instead, Iona’s wish gets granted, Ulith takes Iona’s body and Iona becomes RUUKO’s Lrig. Just what she wanted. Tama is left to drift.
That last part actually makes sense. Iona gets to team up with someone who loves battling as much as she does. I suppose if you’re going to be an Lrig anyway, that’s the best situation for you. Smart wish, Iona! But where is Tama? Why did Hitoe’s wish get granted? Was the battle over? Who won? Who lost? It’s a shame that we got a season finale where the cliffhangers are outdone by the confusion, but the show had been heading in this direction for a while. The early episodes were nicely plotted, letting peer into the mystery little by little while developing the characters and needs, but then it fumbled the ball, and while it still had some compelling moments, it was harder to see them past the weirdness. Well, I’ll probably pick it up again in the fall. I liked the characters enough that I want to see what happened to them, and that carried me past the show’s flaws, like the battles, which the lightshows couldn’t salvage (overall, the show looked great), and, er, all the confusing things I’ve already mentioned. Let’s see if they can right the ship in the fall.
I think Nanana’s Buried Treasure ended too, but they were tossing in so many little hints at the end that I wasn’t sure. But noitaminA shows traditionally run 11 episodes and there was no real preview. At the end, we’re no closer to finding Nanana’s killer than we were before. All they did this episode is drive Hiyooi away, maybe catch him in the closing credits. After that we get a rather nice scene between Juugo and Tensai over the artifact they found and Juugo’s promise. Tensai’s grown on me a lot this series, but Juugo still holds maintains his front of uncaring cynicism that no one really believes. To prove my point, he and Nanana have a fight to decide what she really wants and it’s revealed that they both have hearts, which we already knew. Really, not much of anything in this episode, making it feel like they’re expecting a second season. I wonder if they’ll get it. The first season had its moments but it failed in its attempts at telling mystery stories. But I liked some of the characters. Like WIXOSS, I’ll probably watch one just out of momentum.