Every time I write a post I wonder, “Is this good enough?”
In high school, I had two close friends: Erica and Tory. Erica was a friend I had made in junior high school. She was manipulative, funny, and charismatic. Frequently, she drew caricatures of various people in our classes, and teachers, making fun of them for various physical traits or perpetuating rumors about them. Erica was fun to be around in a mean way, where being close to her meant that you too had to be mean. It also meant that you could not best her in anything, lest she become jealous, placing you immediately on her blacklist. Tory was the exact opposite. She was loud and warm – sometimes to the point of awkwardness – as her actions were always genuine. This made her a prime target for Erica, especially as she was far more naturally talented in the arts than Erica was.
If I had to honestly rank the three of us in terms of natural talent or skill at drawing and painting, I would list Erica, myself, and then Tory, from worst to best. Compared to the two of us, Tory was simply on another level. To this day, I know of few people as naturally gifted. Erica and Tory both heavily-influenced my own art while I was in high school, along with a heaping cup of my own insecurities. Around Erica, I had to sandbag it, and compliment her constantly. I hardly wanted to provoke her wrath, so I laid low. When she said that I won a prestigious award because of favoritism, I shrugged it off and agreed with her, in spite of knowing that it wasn’t true. Worse, when it came time to vote for yearbook superlatives, I voted for Erica when I should have voted for Tory.
When I painted with Tory, just the two of us, it was wonderful. We were relaxed and comfortable. We made some hilarious art together, especially when we both hit our Sailor Moon phase in high school. However, when I went home and was inevitably alone with my thoughts, I couldn’t help but feel threatened by her talent. Around Erica, I stopped trying because I didn’t want to be considered as better than she was. Around Tory, I stopped trying because I knew I would never be as good as she was.
“No man so good, but another may be good as he.”
-Club Advisor Mr. Koizumi, Ping Pong: The Animation, episode 1
Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto purposefully plays down his ping pong skills for the sake of his childhood friend, Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino. The premiere of Ping Pong: The Animation takes careful steps to introduce Smile as one who is below Peco in talent, specifically in the eyes of their teammates. Peco is the first-year star of their ping pong club, with Smile just behind him. As the world of Ping Pong: The Animation expands outside of their practice gymnasium, it becomes apparent that Smile is holding back.
At first, one could deduce that Smile restrains himself because he knows that he’ll never be as good as Peco, regardless of the near-equal amount of talent he possesses himself. The fact that you will never be the best at something is an insurmountable emotional obstacle for some. That the person to best you is someone close to you can be a far more difficult pill to swallow. Smile’s purposeful hiding of his own skill is something that is not only detrimental to himself, but Peco as well.
When Peco is defeated by Kong “China” Wenge, he rolls on the floor, crying in defeat. It is a brutal and vicious loss, but a loss that allows Smile to pick his prodigious friend up off of the floor and comfort him. Peco is a bit dependent on Smile, asking him to reiterate simple things like where their train stop is, or waiting for Smile specifically to tell him to come to club practice, even when the orders actually come from their advisor and other club members.
Additionally, Peco depends on Smile for personal validation of his ping pong skill. This is the shakiest and most dangerous piece of their friendship. Peco will not get an accurate representation of his personal skill while Smile is pretending to be worse than he is. More poignant is the momentarily somber demeanor that Peco adopts when speaking of Smile’s attitude. Peco admits that he likes the quiet side of Smile, but “even he” does not want to see Smile stay that way forever. There’s a hint that Peco is already aware of what Smile is doing – always holding back – but is unable to address or deal with it.
It’s difficult to tell whether Smile’s lack of motivation is a direct result of his relationship with Peco, or a broader feeling that there will always be someone out there to best him. Ping Pong: The Animation seems to be hinting at both, with Wenge’s words that Smile naturally lacks a competitive nature combined with the lack of truth in Smile and Peco’s friendship. Wenge is right in taking Smile to task for disrespecting his opponent. Most importantly, it is disrespectful to Smile himself. I stopped drawing and painting for a while, because I did not want to be competitive, and knew that I wouldn’t be as good as another friend of mine. Even now, with my writing, it’s often difficult to post something. I wonder if it’s good enough to be read. If it’s as good as what I know others to be capable of. If it’s “the best.”
The answer is simple. Of course it’s not “the best.” However, that shouldn’t stop me from writing or painting, and it certainly shouldn’t stop Smile from trying to improve his ping pong play.