Peco blazes through the tournament, but his knee begins to act up, leaving his future in question. Only Peco, Smile and Ryuichi remain at the end.

With this episode we begin the ascent to the climax. The showdowns that were foretold since the beginning will decide each character’s fate. Ping pong may be just an after-school pastime to the other players in the tournament, but the three protagonists are fueled as if by an existential burden: For whom am I playing? What do I really want to do with my life? Ping pong serves as a metaphor for finding yourself.

Two characters who dropped out of ping pong earlier return, seemingly unable to exit the gravitational field of the sport they love.

The long-haired Egami makes a typically brief appearance at the beginning before shooting off on another vector, this time apparently back towards table tennis. Having taken the classic journey around the world in search of himself, he seems to have failed, because he returns home unchanged and as uncertain as ever, always looking to the other side to see if the grass is greener. He may seem very different from the ping pong players, but deep down they’re all as lost and needy. He lives a more classical example of the anomie of growing up. Some of us never do grow up, and slump around grasping at straws trying to find meaning like an eternal Egami. He’s a combination of epic and comic, going on these epic journeys but only appearing briefly as a blip on the radar.

Sakuma, now apparently a ‘yankee,’ complete with pompadour and whiny nasal girlfriend in tow, pays his mentor Ryuichi a visit. Despite his appearance, he seems the most sensitive and wisest of the bunch, appearing at each character’s moment of crisis to push them in the right direction with words of tough love. He’s deeply attuned to masculine emotionality or ‘otoko no junjo’ at the heart of spokon.

The crux of the episode is a dual confession. Warned to abort his match or risk damaging his knee, Peco admits that he’s not playing for himself, but for the ‘hero’ inside of him. The hero awaited by Smile. So he has to play. It’s almost as if he’s sacrificing himself to ensure that Smile plays to his full potential. Ryuichi, meanwhile, confesses to Sakuma that he’s playing for himself, while outwardly he tells his teammates he’s playing for the team.

Nothing remarkable or very different in terms of the quality. Only an admirably even directing style and feeling to the animation. The number of animation directors has crept up over the course of the show. Now it takes five animation directors to maintain the quality, most of them the same people we’ve seen before. Spots here and there jump out as being a bit nicer than the surroundings, while there are very brief occasional dips in quality. The portion during the match between Smile and Sanada had some of the more interesting shots of animation. When a ball approaches Sanada, we see its silhouette in the manner of a comic panel pushing him off the screen. No Yasunori Miyazawa this time around.

Ping Pong Episode 9: Gonna Cry A Bit

Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Ryota Ito
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Sayaka Toda Naoyuki Asano
Keiko Okuda Kenji Shibata
Shoko Nishigaki
Key Animation: Natsuko Shimizu Satomi Higuchi
Yuka Matsuo Yuichi Ichihashi
Saori Koike Takashi Nakamichi
Soichiro Kubo Ran Kamezawa
Sonoka Kuroiwa Yuichiro Omuro
Aki Maeda Mua Tsukina
Ryo Nishikawa Takana Shirai
Nobutake Ito

Ben Ettinger

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