When I was looking over the anime airing this season, this is one of several that caught my eye. A sports anime about ping pong (or table tennis, if you prefer) starring a cast of cute girls. And as far as my criteria for anime-selection goes, cute girls playing sports is really just a specialized version of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, a genre which, as far as I’m concerned, we can never have too much of. So take a look with me, and see how the first episode turned out.

We start off with an intense match in a national tournament where a girl with hidden eyes and a slasher smile defeats the representative of the reigning champion school in a shutout match, driving her opponent to her knees in tears. But while the champion school being dethroned by an upstart newcomer is interesting, it doesn’t have much significance for the rest of the episode and the rest of our cast at the moment. Most of our characters are still at the “Oh wow, there are people who play at the national level! That’s amazing!” stage, so the results of that tournament don’t affect them directly. Yet.

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The first main character we meet is Kamiya Agari. “Agari” apparently means “ascend,” according to some folks on reddit, thus explaining both her upwards pointing hairpin, and her determination to always be in the top spot. Agari is the ace of her middle school’s pong pong club, a former quarter-finalist in the city tournament. She’s good, and she knows it, and everyone around her constantly praises her for being so good, and she loves it. And any viewers who are familiar with how this sort of thing works will quickly be able to spot the trouble she’s heading towards.

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Agari builds her entire sense of self-worth off of being the best. She plays ping pong because people praise her for being good at it. She practices hard to become better at it, because the better she is the more people praise her. She loves the attention. That is her entire reason for playing, and very nearly her entire motivation for living. Being at the top is the most important thing to her. It is the best feeling she’s ever had, and she’ll do anything to ensure she stays there.

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Into this situation comes Tsumujikaze Koyori. She’s a new transfer student who loves ping pong. She loves playing it, and she loves playing against skilled opponents. She’s also extremely shy and timid about all subjects aside from ping pong, so when Agari first meets her by “rescuing” her from a little misadventure at the front gate, Koyori latches on to Agari as the only safe person she knows. And Agari, to her credit, is kind right back to her. I think this is probably her real personality, and it may be what saves her when her position as ace gets yanked out from under her.

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Which it will. Koyori is good at ping pong. By the standard of that ping pong club, she is very very good. Good enough that a casual exchange of hits back and forth between her and Agari before the club begins turns into something like a real match. Moreover, Agari can’t beat Koyori, and she finds herself getting fired up by the game in a way she’s never felt before. I believe this will turn out to be what Agari really needs out of ping pong. Not attention for being the best, but the challenge. The thrill. Being able to face off against someone that she can’t beat easily. I believe through this she’ll learn how to enjoy playing for its own sake. Not just from being on top, because when it comes down to it, victory is fleeting. There is always someone better. But playing for the sake of playing, because the game itself is enjoyable, because the challenge of facing someone who can actually beat you is enjoyable? That’s something else altogether.

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There are other members of the ping pong club, and they’ll probably play important roles later on, but for now they’re primarily there to provide commentary, aside from the large-breasted Munemune-senpai. Her name is probably one of the least subtle names possible, as it literally means “breasts breasts senpai,” and they are both her distinguishing feature, and her weakness when it comes to ping pong. Because her upper body is large, she isn’t as fast on her feet as the younger players, and Koyori is able to take advantage of this by rapidly switching the direction of her attacks back and forth between the left and right sides of the table. That prevents Munemune from being able to use her powerful attack, which is her strong point, and allows Koyori to beat her.

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It’s the end of this where things heat up, so to speak, as Munemune reveals she’d been told that Koyori had been a prefectural semifinalist in ping pong at her previous school. That puts her ahead of Agari’s place as a city quarter-finalist, and the ever fickle flow of popularity causes the club girls to flock around their “new ace,” leaving Agari shocked and alone in the darkness as her treasured first-place spot is stolen away from her.

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So, in some ways this story was pretty predictable: I could tell where it was going almost immediately after Agari was introduced. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily see that as a flaw. Just because this type of story has been told before doesn’t mean that it can’t still be interesting to see thisĀ particular story play out. The characters here are all likeable, and I think they’re interesting enough to keep me entertained. I suspect that the national tournament issue is going to come back up as well: there were glimpses of several unique-looking girls waiting in the wings when the champions lost, and all of them make appearances in the OP. Also, I have to give the show credit for showing that girls playing a sport like this actually do sweat. And not a few standard sparkling droplets that leave them looking perfect, but sweat running down their faces, their clothes getting visibly damp, all of that. It’s a degree of realism that I approve of.

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So for me, I would say this show is worth taking a look at. It’s not the most unique of offerings, but it looks like it will be entertaining. There will be sports matches, and challenges to overcome, there will be cute girls going through emotional trials and forging friendships. And there should be fun. It may not be for everyone, but if any of those things sound appealing to you, I’d suggest giving it a try.

 

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An anime fan in his mid 30's, Random Wanderer has been actively following anime since the early 2000's. Is generally a fan of almost anything upbeat, optimistic, and/or having a happy ending. Is new to the blogging scene, so he hopes readers can give him a little patience and understanding as he gets his feet under himself.

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