“Maybe there’s no job I’m the only man for, but am I going to fade away without doing anything? Like hell, I’m going to fade away without doing anything!”
-“Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, Ping Pong The Animation opening song
What is “good enough?”
Ping Pong: The Animation tells us that the sport of ping-pong, like any passion, is conducive to an emotional state that vacillates wildly between monstrous amounts of narcissism and crippling depression. At any moment in time one can feel that they’re on top of the world, or the worst in their chosen interest. This is only compounded when one sets the goal of being “the best.”
When I began writing about Ping Pong: The Animation, I wrote of my own struggles with writing and drawing. These have increased exponentially as I’ve been writing regularly. How do I measure being the best? Quantity of articles? Quality of articles? How do I measure quality? Pageviews? Critical praise? Editors’ commentary?
Ping Pong stops short of giving us a figurative hug and saying that everything will be okay. Instead, it presents several options of how to go about pursuing one’s passions while sparing us treacly sentimentality that we can be the best if only we try hard enough.
Beaten by Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto in the first round of the high school tournament, Egami quits competitive pong-pong. After extensive soul-searching, he returns as a spectator only to witness Smile’s match with the rejuvenated Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino. The match brings him to tears, and he apologizes for leaving the sport for so long. At the end of the final episode, he is seen wearing the jersey of Team Japan, watching fellow professional Peco take on his next opponent.
“What’s wrong with unremarkable? I like players like that, personally.”
-Smile to Ryuuchi “Dragon” Kazama, Ping Pong the Animation, episode 11
Following his spectacular defeat to Peco, Kazama reassesses his personal feelings on ping-pong. Tied to lofty familial expectations, the sport had become a burden for Kazama. Before each match, he shut himself in the bathroom to focus. Eschewing social gatherings, he spent all of his time training and practicing. Blind to the ambitions of his teammates, he distanced himself further from them by looking for talent elsewhere to supplement his own. It took Peco, a person with overwhelming passion, to remind Kazama of the joy he found in ping-pong when he was younger.
Kazama responds to the above statement from Smile by saying that he is not happy with it. For him, being an unremarkable player isn’t good enough. The important distinction is that these desires are Kazama’s personal ones, rather than obligations to his father and family name.
The person who replaces Kazama on the Japanese national team is none other than Kong “China” Wenge. Kong shouldered a similar burden of expectations as Kazama, albeit with far less humility. It took a crushing defeat at the hands of Kazama in the high school tournament for Kong to find what ping-pong meant to him personally. Like Egami, Kong supported his love of ping-pong by going for the national team. Like Peco, Kong needed his ego to be put in check before he could move forward.
Most interestingly, Kong finds his passion through coaching the same teammates whom he initially brushed aside. Although they are not on the same level as Kong, he nurtures the abilities that they do have, and never denigrates them for wanting more. Notably, Kong punches his ticket to the Olympics not as a member of the Chinese national team, but the Japanese one.
With Peco as the self-proclaimed hero of Ping Pong: The Animation, Smile is framed as a villain. When pushed to perform to the best of his ability, Smile coolly rampaged through the high school tournament without a care, waiting for his hero to return. While Smile acted as a catalyst for the actions of the characters mentioned above, Peco descended and saved everyone, Smile included.
Peco became an invincible hero once he regained his passion for ping-pong. Yes, he was naturally talented to begin with. And yes, he put a lot of effort into reclaiming his physical prowess through an immense amount of training. However, Peco’s heroic ability is none other than his overwhelming love of ping-pong as a whole. He passes this on to Kazama. He passes this on to Sakuma. He passes this on to Smile.
The future that Smile chooses for himself is one as a middle school teacher. Additionally, he teaches ping-pong on the side. When Kazama presses him, saying that he could have been quite the athlete, Smile accepts the compliment while maintaining his warm demeanor. He is happy with the life he has chosen for himself, and ping-pong remains a fixture in that life.
Peco is the hero of Ping Pong: The Animation, defending not the sport as a whole nor the players themselves, but their passion for playing the game. Even at his most narcissistic moments – crying after defeat, for example – there is never any doubt that Peco loves ping-pong and wants to improve. He stumbles many times on his way to the top, and will indubitably falter again in the future. A hero is not perfect.
While he continues his personal quest to be “the best,” what is best in his mind differs from Smile’s best, Sakuma’s best, Kazama’s best, and Kong’s best. The definition of “good enough” varies for each character. Ping Pong: The Animation does not settle on one interpretation, and leaves it up to each character to choose their own path. Peco affects these characters’ perception of what their best can be through his inordinate amount of love and exuberance.
When I first began my new writing position, a friend expressed concerns over how much I was working. Embedded in his commentary were many of my own insecurities. Why are you killing yourself for little to no recognition? Why aim to be the best only to fall short? Is the effort that you are putting in worth a payoff that may never come?
Like Smile, Kazama, Sakuma, Kong, Egami, and Peco, my personal definition of what’s good enough will have to come from what I decide for myself. The units of measurement will be deeply personal, as will any eventual reward or payoff. Sometimes I will feel accomplished, and other times I’ll feel like the worst in the world. However, the one thing that others cannot take away from me is my love of whatever I’m doing, regardless of the outcome.
Like hell I’m going to fade away without doing anything.