We have been talking about sports anime a lot on Beneath the Tangles recently, and for good reason. Sports anime, in addition to being lots of fun to watch, provide many moments of wisdom that fit well with themes of Christianity. Of course, that means if you do not like sports anime and you are the type of reader that does not read posts about anime you have no interest in, you might be disappointed that I will be going into More Sports Madness today.
If your issue, though, is that sports anime is too full of testosterone and/or bishie sparkles, you are in luck, because I will be bringing the sports talk to the realm of cute anime girls again!
Scorching Ping Pong Girls (Japanese title: Shakunetsu no Takyuu Musume) is one of the anime series currently airing this season, and one that I have referred to in my post about Saki as a show that marries competition-based anime—this time featuring an actual physical sport—with waifus. It is so far quite a good show, too; you have to get past some basic moe humor and the fact that one character is literally nicknamed after her chest, but when the show actually focuses on the ping pong, both in the gameplay and the motivations and actions of the players, it provides straight-up sports anime goodness.
The early episodes of the show focus on two girls, Koyori and Agari. Agari is the current ace of her middle school’s table tennis club. Individually, she made it to the top 8 of her local city tournament, she has tons of adoring fans in the club, and the newspaper club frequently seeks her out for interviews. Quite frankly, she loves the attention. The very reason she picked up table tennis was because of how everyone praises her for how good she is at it. However, her status as the “idol” of the table tennis club gets threatened when she meets Koyori, the new transfer student.
Koyori is generally a very shy girl who becomes a nervous wreck when meeting unfamiliar people, but once a ping pong paddle is in her hand, she becomes far more confident and excitable. She plays table tennis because it is fun, and she developed her skills to have the most fun she can with the sport. Her skills are nothing to sneeze at, either. Her individual tournament record is top 4 of the prefectural tournament (the level past the city tournament), and in practice matches against other high-ranked club members, she displays an incredible ability to adapt to others’ playstyles and counter them. To Agari, she is a threat to her ace status, and someone she absolutely cannot lose to.
Pride Before a Fall
It is interesting to see a character like Agari as one of the protagonists of the show. Normally, if a prideful character who plays for a base motivation like being adored by everyone appears in a sports anime, he/she is a rival or part of a rival team who then gets beaten down by the protagonist(s). Especially in an anime featuring cute girls, for such a character to actually be a protagonist is refreshing in a way: it shows that, even among the ranks of innocent moe girls, not everyone is all that “innocent”. Of course, it helps that, despite her motivations, Agari is a nice enough girl, one who obviously takes on a tsundere archetype but is helpful and kind enough outside of the club.
More importantly, though, her motivations are actually quite relatable. Growing up, she always performed averagely in everything, which led her to be largely ignored as others paid attention to those who did better than her. Only when she picked up table tennis, and realized how good at it she was, did she finally get attention from others. I believe that many people can relate to the feeling of finally finding something you are good at, and at being recognized at it by others. For better or for worse, it is human nature to feel good when others praise us for when we are good at something. Agari’s motivations might not be the “right” motivations, but they definitely are very human motivations.
Of course, her pride in her ace status means that Koyori is inevitably going to strike a blow to that pride. Sure enough, in their in-club ranking match, while Agari gains an initial advantage with her “loop and smash” playstyle, Koyori finds a way to counter it and shifts the momentum of the match in her favor. However, as victory starts to slip out of Agari’s hands, she starts to find something more important instead…
As Agari got caught up in all the praise she was getting, somewhere along the way she forgot to enjoy playing table tennis. She even had a forehand smash that she liked to use, but abandoned it because it was too inconsistent and focused on improving her more reliable backhand smash. However, as her match with Koyori went on, she saw how much Koyori enjoyed playing with her, she started to remember how to actually enjoy the game. She even got to the point where she dared to start using her forehand smash, as error-prone as it was.
Ultimately, she lost the match, and her top ranking in the club. However, at that point, it did not really matter if she won or lost. She had found something to enjoy about table tennis that did not rely on what others thought of her. Of course, she still wanted to win and become the best, but now she would have fun doing so, from improving her forehand smash to playing more games against strong opponents like Koyori.
It seems simple enough to say that pride blinds us to the more important reasons for why we do something, but I think it is something Christians need to be aware of. Many Christian communities encourage people to recognize others’ gifts, since by recognizing people with diverse talents and placing people where they serve the best, those communities become much stronger. For any one Christian, being told they have a gift in something feels good, and not necessarily for bad reasons. Discovering a way you can serve God effectively is something worth rejoicing over. The problem is, it is all too easy to start judging the value of our gifts based on how much they get recognized by others. We see our gifts as worth developing and using for God’s kingdom because everyone else tells us how great our gifts are. Unconsciously, we start thinking that the more people praise us, the better we are.
The problem is, the praises of man can be fickle, and when things start getting worse for the gifted person, those praises may not be there to support them. An artist falls into a slump, and starts hearing how he is not as good as he once was. A musician sees that the congregation is not getting into the music as much as before. A blogger finds that his posts are not getting comments. (No, this is not a stealth plea for more comments.) Even when the praises continue, they can sometimes mask the fact that the person really needs to take a break, such as a pastor who is starting to get burnt out. In all cases, perhaps the biggest threat is when someone who happens to be more gifted at the same thing comes along, and suddenly everyone’s attentions are turned to someone else. That is the point where pride leads to a fall, or worse, something more malicious.
That is why it is important to always keep in mind the reasons why we use our gifts for God. We must remember that our identity is not in what we are gifted in, but in how we are children of God, and that God’s love for us does not depend on how well we are using our gifts, or how much others recognize our giftedness. At the same time, we should realize what purpose our gifts serve in advancing God’s kingdom, and develop and use our gifts with that purpose in mind, rather than trying to get the recognition of others. This is something I will personally admit I always have to work on, remembering that the opportunity to share my experience with anime is far more important than the number of comments I get on each post. (Hence, why this is not a plea for more comments; I have learned to be okay with my posts not getting any comments, though I do have to keep putting an effort into that way of thinking.)
And of course, sometimes the most important thing is to just have fun.
With that said, if you are looking for a fun time with girls playing ping pong, with some surprisingly good character development mixed in, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is available on Crunchyroll. There are some of the usual teases of yuri, and while the fanservice only really gets as bad as showing sweaty girls, that part is definitely there. Still, if you are a fan of both cute girls and sports, or even just sports with a tolerance for cute girls, this is definitely worth checking out.