***Note- If you haven’t read Irina’s review of Scorching Ping Pong Girls, it’s advisable to do so as her review leads into this one***
What’s the show? Scorching Ping Pong Girls (2016).
This doesn’t happen to be a hentai set in Bangkok is it? No! It’s a sports anime!
Oh god! Why are you watching sports anime again? You barely made it Haikyu season 1 alive what with your irrational and unexplained aversion to sport in all its forms. It’s okay this time; I’ve got a cute girl buffer to ease me in.
That sounded way dirtier than it should have. But really? You can watch this no problem because of cute girls, dude, that’s shallow, even for you. Listen, if I tell you the real reason I don’t like male oriented sports anime (and by extension irl male sports) but why this is fine, will you go easy on me?
Yeah, I suppose so, as long as it’s nothing stupid. No promises, but here goes. See, I grew up in Australia, a country so obsessed with sport that there’s multiple public holidays just for sports events. It’s safer to confess to being an atheist in public than it is to say you don’t follow sports. Sport is deep within the Australian DNA, and I’ve just never seen the appeal. Yeah, maybe it’s because I was a lazy, introverted gamer as a kid, maybe it’s because the kids who teased me in school were also into sports.
Yeah, we already know you don’t like sports, you’re just reading from the stereotypical nerd biography here, the question was why is this girl focused sports anime getting a pass whereas male sports anime undergo far more critical scrutiny from you? Because sport is about men, and I’m just a big self loathing male. Like the fact it’s taken us until 2017 in Australia for the formation of a National women’s AFL league (Aussie Rules Football) is a travesty, but even then it’s still treated by the majority of the public as some sort of “lesser” event, like it’s some unbefitting niche that can’t possibly compare to men’s sport. I have zero interest in women’s sport but at least my reason is that sport played by either sex is boring to me, the majority of the public’s reason for not embracing female sport is a deeply rooted patriarchal oppression of women daring to doing anything other than being subservient to men.
I was counting down ‘til you brought up the patriarchy I knew it was coming. Oh shut up, so what if I’m a feminist?
Yeah, when it suits you… Excuse me? You think just because I enjoy watching ecchi and fan-service anime that makes me somehow less of a feminist? Actually you know what, this is a subject for another day, don’t get me side-tracked from the main point.
Fine, what point are you trying to make then? The point is, that even if other male sports shows are better written and have more nuanced characterisation than that of Scorching Ping Pong Girl’s, I have next to zero starting partiality for ‘the struggle’ of male athletes because they already start elevated thanks to male privilege, at least that’s how my narrow gaze as an Australian living in a country that deifies male athletes over everything else sees it. So that’s why it’s only natural I would gravitate towards the ‘underdog’ who in this case is literally the entire female gender at least as it comes to sports anime.
But it helps that they are cute girls, right? Yeah, so what? Male athletes are good looking, and in anime especially, why can’t the same be true for female sports?
I’m just saying, you talk a big game about feminism and oppression and all that, but I doubt you’d be going to bat as hard if this show weren’t cute girls… Fine, I’m shallow, I enjoy watching these aesthetically appealing anime girls play sport and work hard and get excited when they win and strive to do their best, what’s the problem?!
Hey, I’m not the one arguing with himself… Right, I sometimes forget that you’re just another voice in my head… Anyway, I don’t know if this will be the same for other people who don’t traditionally gravitate towards sports anime but I found the fact it was women playing sports a lot more compelling, even if it followed the same tropes and story beats as other sports anime.
Well now that we’re done learning more about how your brain works more then probably anybody wanted to know, let’s talk about the actual show. Hmm, ‘kay then! It’s about a Junior High Table Tennis Club, and specifically Koyori, a shy second year transfer student who has an intense love of the game which manifests in an innate talent that quickly makes her one of the top players in the club. Her rival, also a second year is Agari, whose popularity as the ‘ace’ of the team is threatened by the newcomer! See, Agari has always been in the sport because her parents pushed her to be number one, and the only thing she could be number one in is table tennis. She thrives off the ‘doki doki’ she gets from being praised as the best, but this new girl threatens to take her ‘doki doki’ away!
And what does ‘doki doki’ mean? Sometimes I forget how much of a ‘normie’ you are, it means heart-racing feeling.
So she only plays because she wants to be praised by people? At first, but there’s a lot of character development, Aragi goes through the biggest changes throughout the 12 episodes and ends up all the better for it. But everyone on the team has different reasons for playing. Koyori gets her ‘doki doki’ just from the thrill of playing the game and seeing the face of her competitor as they try their hardest to beat her.
And the other girls? Right, so there’s Hanabi, an energetic girl who is close friends with Hokuto who’s the cute and quiet one with her mouth always covered for some reason. Then there’s Mune or Munemune as she’s nicknamed, she’s a confident but sensitive gal with large breasts. And finally there’s Kiruka, a powerful player and captain of the table tennis club who enjoys punishing her teammates by making them wear cat ears.
A colourful bunch then. Indeed, and I love how the show takes its time in giving every character worthwhile and interesting backstories throughout the season and establishes connections between the characters. It makes the victories so much sweeter and their defeats all the more heart breaking!
So does this mean you now see the appeal of sports in anime?! Not really, sport is still inherently boring to me, but I would like it if more female sports anime’s were made, I’d be at least interested in watching those more than the male ones.
So… in other words… no progress has been made… I didn’t realise that was the goal here, I watch things, I like what I like, I don’t like what I don’t like. Besides it’s not like I gave season 1 of Haikyu a negative score I ended up giving it a score in the high 70’s, its just sport anime will always have a harder time getting through to me by default. Well unless someone makes an anime about WRC Rally driving, now that I could get into! Or an anime adaptation of Everybody’s Golf, I’d watch that too.
Fair enough—final recommendation? I don’t know, I mean Irina’s review of the show is probably going to be way more in line with the more relatable opinion on the show; she is totally into sports anime after all. If you’re fine with or just indifferent to sports anime it might be a harder sell unless you like a lot of the moe-character clichés that come with anime’s starring cute girls. If you’re a hard-lined sport hater like me though, I guess it comes down to why you hate sport, if you just hate it because it doesn’t appeal to you then there’s probably not much for you here, but if you hate it because the culture of men’s sport in the real world has alienated you from ever enjoying it then this take might be just what you need. A powerful serve! 85 out of 100.
Irina: Wow, awesome – that pretty much answers it all and so so much more! Thanks Matt!
Wait, what are you doing here Irina? Ah crap, now the review’s longer than 20 Questions! Do I get paid overtime for this? No, now be quiet and let Irina finish. Also, no problem, glad to have last-minute’d this almost a collab with you!
Irina: But on a serious note. Your particular vision of the Sports genre was fascinating to read and a stance that had simply never occurred to me. It’s quite interesting to see that aspects that attract me to the genre in fact deter you. For instance, Sports!! anime generally features the underdogs (like most sports movies as well) The idea of rooting for the little guy is quite central. But I never even considered the fact that even the least successful athlete is still considered somewhat elite in the grander scheme. Even though they are represented as losers and dorks in these shows still I’m glad you enjoyed Scorching Ping Pong Girls. Now to see what a hardcore Sports!! fangirl thinks….Guys? Let us know!