Zen Buddhism and Enlightenment in Ping Pong the Animation
I’ve recently been catching myself rewatching the last few episodes of “Ping Pong” over and over again. Although much of the anime is inspired by the 2002 film based on the Ping Pong manga, every frame and shot of the show is made with the complete dedication that only a genius like Masaaki Yuasa could uniquely offer. “Ping Pong” is far from a typical sports anime; it’s a complex story of emotional growth that traces itself through a group of ping pong players. It’s difficult not to scream out in internal joy when we see folks like Kazama and Smile finally becoming enlightened at the end of the show.
Yes, enlightened. The main character Peco, despite his initial flaws — his arrogance and indulgent personality — is a hero who, in his own quest for personal enlightenment and self-improvement, touches and changes the lives of the people he meets along the way. Through his hardships and experiences, we see Peco learn from his mistakes and develop into a perfect Buddhist teacher, capable of uplifting even the most ignorant and unenlightened of people, doing so so with the sublime and simple grace of a true hero.
“Ping Pong: the Animation” shares the common narrative of the Ping Pong Learner, always on his quest for enlightenment, continually interpreted and reinterpreted in the personal lives and emotional developments of the characters. Ping pong is the human activity that has brought a cast from far-flung and diverse backgrounds and dispositions together, each of whom carrying a personal definition and purpose to ping pong in his or her heart. We see this when Butterfly Jo, the Old Lady of the Dojo, and the CEO of Poseidon come back together for a brief reunion, talking among one another with the coarse, lively language of young friends; this scene is the first and only time we ever see all three of them on screen at once.