Ping Pong: On Heroism and the False Sense of Enlightenment

A friend of mine wrote a very interesting post about Ping Pong: the Animation. He has a good analysis, but I disagree with some of his points.

It’s true that Dragon and Smile never realized their enlightenment completely by themselves, but a large part of the anime is meant to illustrate that complete isolation and self-denial is foolish. Buddhism is famous for the idea of the Middle Way, something balanced between the extremes of pure materialism and pure asceticism. Gautama Buddha himself famously advocated against the self-starving, hermetic asceticism that characterized some South Asian philosophies.

Smile and Dragon both locked themselves up into tight corners. They did not go on a journey to the mountaintops to understand the universe. They instead chose to stay by themselves and never improve. It was not that case that Peco was “forcing” them to become enlightened; all Peco did was create the circumstances and environmental factors that would allow Smile and Dragon to become enlightened on their own.

For example, Dragon becomes enlightened when the Hero of Ping Pong shines a bright light into the dark bathroom stall. In this scene, the hero extends his arm but quickly pulls it back, forcing Dragon to grow wings on his own, NOT by holding the Hero’s hand. Similarly, Smile becomes enlightened when he jumps up to hit an impossibly high ping pong ball; although it is true that Peco was the one who caused the ball to fly that high, Smile himself was the one who shed his robotic armor to reach it.

Moreover, Buddhist themes of anti-materialism are very present in the show. Peco is in an unenlightened state when he eats too much candy and smokes too much tobacco (Buddhism vs Hedonism). Dragon is unenlightened when he focuses so much on family obligations that he loses sight of his individuality (Buddhism vs Filial Piety). Kong is unenlightened when he was so arrogant that he did not even want to help people on the Japanese high school tea (Buddhism vs Hubris). These are all material delusions that the characters overcome.

But Buddhism is not so extreme as to advocate complete anti-materialism. Smile was so removed from the pleasures of human existence that he forgot what it means to live. That’s why Smile must be awakened at the end of the show by pushing his body to such an extreme physical limit that the red blood in his veins shakes off his metal armor.

Yes, the characters did not enlighten themselves in a vacuum. But it is foolish to think that enlightenment-in-a-vacuum is even possible. If a man walks to a mountain by himself, and the sights from that mountaintop cause him to become enlightened, do we say that the mountain enlightened the man? If a woman looks at a flying bird, and her pondering about the bird causes her to become enlightened, do we say that the bird enlightened the woman? If a student meditates under a tree, and the meditation causes him to become enlightened, do we give responsibility of the enlightenment to the tree — or to the meditation? Of course not. These are only environmental things that can stimulate a path to enlightenment that still comes — ultimately — from within.

The Daily Life of Autistic Cat

I know, I don’t have time for this: Ping Pong The Animation finished airing last season, and I need to start reviewing on animes that are about to air this week. But my fellow bloggers, who believe that Ping Pong The Animation is the best anime and claimed to be enlightened, insisted me and others to watch the show to become enlightened as well. (You can check their blogs by clicking the links at the right column of this blog homepage). We have had good amount of discussions, but I still do not think they are as enlightened as they claim. I do agree Ping Pong is a really good anime that you should all watch at least once in your lifetime, and probably the best anime in the recent years, but I feel that Ping Pong gives a false sense of enlightenment to the most people.  (The following review will…

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