Ping Pong and the Liberation of Failure


I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it just the same.

An essential quote from Federico’s Fellini’s 8 1/2 and also a testament to me, as a person, both on and offline. Quiet as kept, I’m not a man of many words and find myself more delighted by funny faces than actually having anything meaningful to say about all these Chinese cartoons I watch (not to mention, screencapping entertaining moments with the Pun of the Day and pointing out interesting aspects of scene composition is quite frankly much easier than taking the time to carefully compose words in a more organized and coherent fashion), but I guess even I can be motivated to write a little something… as was the case when I saw a certain exchange of tweets.

In short, Ping Pong is about the liberation of failure. Most sports anime that I’ve seen (Baby Steps, Giant Killing, Hajime no Ippo, etc.) are underdog stories that use success as more of an inspiring focal point. So, Ping Pong separates itself from the pack by treating success as a burdensome dark cloud that prevents the show’s characters from seeing the forest for the trees. Striving for success becomes an unhealthy obsession, not only to the detriment of one’s enjoyment in life, but also at the cost of well-being and here lies the importance of the amusing paradox that is failure: the fall from grace is simultaneously a flight of freedom. Failure is not to be frowned upon, but a learning experience which allows Sakuma to discover the family life, Wenge to care about someone other than himself, Kazama to experience enjoyment for the first time in ages, Smile to pursue a teaching career and Peco to reinvigorate his love for the sport (Egami engages with a similar revitalized passion [as a cheering spectator the second time around] and it’s a commendable feat that a tertiary character miraculously manages to carry nearly the same weight as Peco, the heart of the show). I love ya, Failure.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that Ota has to worry about the family business and Yurie eventually seeks out fashion. While neither of them were forced to suffocate under the weight of success, the important thing to recognize is that there exists a world outside the realm of ping pong (as crazy as it sounds!), adding a good degree realism to the show.


2 thoughts on “Ping Pong and the Liberation of Failure

  1. Thank you for your essay. It was a great read.

    For me, watching Ping Pong is like looking at 5 different reflections of my past self. Like Smile, I was very much a robot who had difficulty of expressing myself. But within, I felt some of the strongest emotions among everyone I knew. Just like how smile wants to hide inside a closet, there were many times where I wanted to hide under my blanket. While Smile played Ping Pong as a means to express himself, I played the piano to express myself.

    In every piano competition I attended, I was probably one of the most talented musicians who competed. My technique was the best, and I followed the dynamic markings faithfully. But for some reason, I always came just short of getting first place, but I was always somewhere at the top. This problem hit me hard in the last year of high school. My technique was the best yet. I made the fewest mistakes in pieces that I played. I even had a much more mature tone, and could execute dynamics better. Yet, it was the year I performed the worst in in terms of competitions. I did not even place in almost all of the competitions I entered. I could even feel that my performances were not as strong as before for some reason. In frustration, I stopped practicing piano for a period of time. Just like how Peco started smoking, I took up new “hobbies.” I started watching much more anime, I started to immerse myself in other types of music, I started to program more, and I took more naps than usual. My grades dropped significantly, and I stopped doing mathematics for almost a month (that was the other hobby that was a big part of my life). I could not sleep well at night, so I held on to a “sleeping buddy” from my childhood. I was trying to run away from life, from playing the piano, from doing mathematics, and from my school work. But whatever hobby I tried to indulge myself in, they always pointed towards not running away from real life. After crying and hiding in my blanket for many hours (that encompassed many days), I decided to play the piano once more. It was at that moment that I began to think why I played the piano. It was because I loved it so much. It was a way to express myself and my love for myself, my love for being alive to be able to pursue beauty through playing the piano. Just like how Peco came to the conclusion that he plays Ping Pong because it’s fun and that it’s one of the joys of being alive. In the last music competition, I did not think anything about winning or losing. I only thought about expressing myself and expressing the beauty of the music I was playing. I no longer followed the composer’s dynamic markings faithfully and I even made mistakes: my playing was not by any means flawless like it sort of was before. Yet, this was me at my best. I got first place in the last music competition I attended, ahead of everyone who was previously ahead of me in other competitions. After high school, like how Peco cast aside the ping pong racket, I cast aside the piano. I ended up not pursuing music but it ended up staying as my hobby.

    I could relate to every single character in the main cast. For example, like how Kong starts teaching ping pong, I started teaching my classmates mathematics when I realized that there were just too many people better than me.

    Every time I watch Ping Pong, I am moved to tears (and sometimes I end up crying uncontrollably at some parts). The show reminds me of all the emotions I was experiencing as a teenager growing up. Ping Pong the Animation is my favorite anime of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

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