Crying, in North American professional sports, is mostly reserved for the winners. Athletes cry when they’re emotionally overwhelmed at a win, while the losing participants quickly depart, stoicism etched into their faces until they exit the public eye. In order to appear strong – particularly if one is an athlete in the spotlight, regardless of skill level – one must hide their emotions following a loss, as to not appear weak.
I personally disagree with the idea of crying equaling weakness, as crying is a good indicator of just how much one cares about what they are doing.
Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino cares deeply about ping-pong. He played it consistently from a very young age, and was the trendsetter of his group of friends. As Manabu “Demon” Sakuma says, when Peco turned right, Sakuma and Smile in turn would face right. Not only is ping-pong something that Peco has a natural talent for, but the sport is intrinsic to his personal growth, or lack thereof. Ping-pong allowed Peco to lead his group of friends by simply being the best. He taught Smile – and presumably Sakuma as well – how to play, while bringing home trophy after trophy for his own dominant performance.
“The only way to be sure you won’t lose is to not fight.”
-Manabu “Demon” Sakuma, Ping Pong: The Animation, episode 4
It is this history of success that so stagnates Peco as a player. At some point, Sakuma moved on and began training elsewhere, inspired by the desire to best Peco. At another point, Smile consciously stopped trying to win against Peco, falsely inflating Peco’s ego. Without worthy opponents to practice against, Peco’s ping-pong has stayed at the same level from when he was young. When one is at the top, it can be difficult to see one’s personal weaknesses if that individual remains unchallenged. Additionally, Peco’s ego has so grown in size by the time he reaches high school that he is thoroughly unwilling to practice with the team, often skipping under the assumption that he is the best player on the team regardless. Somewhere between his childhood dominance and his Ping-Pong Club truancy, Peco became more enamored with winning than he did improving. He expects to win, and cries when he loses.
Smile hints in the first episode of the series that Peco has the “bad habit” of crying after a loss. This, coupled with Sakuma’s advice that the only way to not lose is to not fight at all, shows the precipice that Peco has arrived at following the first four episodes of Ping Pong: The Animation. In the first episode we, along with Smile and Kong Wenge, watch as Peco cries petulantly. These are not genuine tears of sadness as much as they are a direct result of losing. Following his match with Kong, Peco still believes himself to be better than the entirety of his school club, his best friend Smile, and childhood adversary in Sakuma.
It is only having watched Smile’s match with Kong, coupled with a crushing loss to Sakuma on a fairly large stage, that Peco sheds genuine tears. He cries while he is alone, and he cries not for the fact of the loss but for its implications. Most importantly, he cries because he cares. Well beyond using ping-pong as a tool to inflate his own feelings of self-worth, Peco does want to improve as a player. Having allowed himself to cry sincerely, Peco can now move forward.