Peco catches everyone off guard at the High School Championship Qualifiers with his newfound skills, skunking Kong in a reversal of the events of the previous championship.

Smile’s hero returns after a long struggle. Peco is the star of this episode, which puts aside story complications and dives back into pure, hardcore ping pong action. Peco’s match against Kong serves as a heads up to everyone in attendance that there’s a new contender in town, and sets the stage for a showdown against both Ryuichi Kazama and Peco’s old friend Smile.

The three key players of the show are each under the respective tutelage of a trio of childhood friends – the old lady, coach Koizumi, and Kaio president Ryu Kazama. This creates a close-tied and symmetrical web of character inter-relations. Through their young athletes, these one-time stars are vicariously re-living old struggles and grudges.

The only thing standing in Peco’s way is a knee injury. He dismisses it, but I could envision history (Butterfly Joe losing to Ryu Kazama) repeating itself if Peco were to face down Smile, and Smile giving in rather than taking advantage of Peco’s injury.

Kong steps back into the spotlight briefly, easily eliminating his first opponent, before having his dreams of flying home dashed once more for good, this time by Peco. Kong resigns himself to being stuck in Japan. With that, his role seems to be finished. I hope to see his arc get a little more closure in the coming episodes.

Yurie finally confronts Ryuichi and tells him to become his own man. If Smile plays the game for his own sake, he is fundamentally at odds with Kaio and its company Poseidon, which uses the tournament as a way to sell shoes, installing mats when they weren’t really needed. Like big sports shoe companies in the real world, they take advantage of gullible kids hoping to buy their way to skill rather than meeting an actual need. Ryuichi takes a step away from being a corporate shill when he doesn’t wear the shoes for which he’s the spokesman, bluntly admitting that they’re useless, much to the surprise of his teammates. Kong similarly dismisses the shoes as a gimmick.

The animation was on par with the norm. As usual, the show succeeds in hiding its lack of movement behind skillful directing and appealingly loose and rough drawings, but you come away wondering what more could have been done had the schedule not been so insane. I like the quick shots Yuasa intersperses to give depth to a moment. An example: when Kong is serving, he touches the pendant under his shirt, and two quick shots interrupt the action briefly—the younger him with a medal and the care package from his mom. He knows everything is on the line with this game.

Yasunori Miyazawa again provided the only bit of animation that was actually interesting as movement—Kong’s first match—although I’m not sure if he did the whole section by himself, as it feels a little different from his usual style. There’s some great moves in there that feel more authentic than usual. I wonder to what extent video reference has been used in this series. I particularly like the last shot framed facing Kong’s back. He leaps into the air to the right as he hammers home the winning point, landing on his left foot, in a way that feels particularly accurate and satisfying. The overhead shot with the arrows following the ball was more typical of Miyazawa.

Ping Pong Episode 8: The hero appears

Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Pyeon-Gang Ho
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Kenichi Ishimaru Sayaka Toda
Naoyuki Asano
Key Animation: Izumi Murakami Maiko Kobayashi
Tomomi Kawazuma Shingo Fujisaki
Goro Sessha Masami Kawake
Saori Koike Kaori Takadono?
Tatsuo Honda Yuichiro Omuro
Masahiko Suzuki Kanako Maru
Shoko Nishigaki Natsuko Shimizu
Yasunori Miyazawa

Ben Ettinger

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