Scorching Ping Pong Girls (Shakunetsu no Takyuu Musume) is a sports show which is about cute girls playing ping pong (or inexplicably table tennis according to the Crunchyroll subs despite ping pong being in the title). The series follows the experiences and challenges of the Suzumegahara Middle School ping pong club, especially the competitive Kamiya Agari, and the new transfer student Tsumujikaze Koyori, as they aim to get their team at a standard to go to the Nationals.
Agari who has been solely concerned about winning at ping pong as she feels it is the one aspect of her life where she can receive accolades and positive attention is challenged by philosophy of the new student Koyori. Koyori enjoys competing in ping pong solely because of the great enjoyment that it gives her, and isn’t motivated by winning. The two continue to challenge each other to improve throughout the series, and all the girls learn about ping pong, friendship, and doing the things you love.
I spoke about the series in one of my 12 Days of Anime posts, as being a new experience for me as I haven’t previously watched a show from the sports genre. I picked it up part-way through the Fall season because of some of my friends on Twitter speaking about it. Not being especially interested in sports (with the exception of cycling), I had always assumed that sports anime also had nothing to offer me, but this show challenged my view of the genre. I’m not sure how much I just liked watching the cute girls, which I already know I like, and how much of the charm of the show was from the sports genre elements, but it’s certainly made me more open-minded towards sports anime. Of course, as a first of the genre everything is fresh and new to me, so I do realise that things which excited me in the series may possibly feel old and tired to others.
Whenever I watch something which is about subject matter which I am unfamiliar with, I’m always interested in what aspects of the subject I can understand better via fiction (with some fact-checking on the side). Ping pong seems to be a sport where the basic rules are simple and in line with my experience of playing the game on holidays or in people’s garages (but with less hunting for the ball in corners or bushes and more successful returns), but it was interesting to see some of the more technical aspects come into play. For example, I had no idea that different rubbers (racquet coverings) would change the way the ball behaves and that serious players choose a short which suits their style of play. If anyone other than me is enough of a curious creaure to want to look at official rules for play, the International Table Tennis Federation has this information.
Owing to the short 12-episode run time of the series, we really only get introduced to the characters and see them play in a single competition, and the Nationals appear to be a long way off. I am uncertain as to where the manga the show is based on is up to in terms of story and whether there is enough material currently available for another arc, or whether there are any potential plans for an additional season in the future. As it was though, while we didn’t see the girls come at all close to their goals, the ending felt satisfying in its own way. I don’t believe that all loose ends have to be wrapped up in order to create a conclusion that feels satisfying, and while I certainly wouldn’t say no to seeing these characters face further challenges, I’d also be satisfied if this was all the anime we got.
The show does contain some actions which could be considered bullying if they occurred in real life, although they are treated in a very light-hearted manner. Interestingly, I actually think among young teenage girls, this is not unrealistic. In the desire to fit in and be accepted by your peers, sometimes you can be okay with people directing towards you things which are cruel in the name of joking and fitting in at this age. I know that at my school, one of the girls I knew had a nickname based on her bust size, rather like Mune in this series. It didn’t feel like a big deal at the time, but it’s certainly not something I’d feel okay about now. Are things light and funny because they are intended to be light and funny? The jury is out for me personally, but I can understand people on either side of this divide.
One of the things which really stood out to me about the series was the soundtrack. While most of the show is scored with light-sounding music which wouldn’t feel out of place in almost any slice-of-life show, when the ping pong matches reach dramatic moments, this is replaced with pounding electronic music, emulating the feeling of the ‘racing hearts’ which are frequently mentioned during the show. I felt that this really added to the excitement of the matches and helped contrast them with the rest of the show.
At its heart, the show is about the fact that winning is not the most important thing, but that it is of value to enjoy what we do, win or lose. This is a message which resounded with me, as it can be easy to become caught up in being the best at what we do, and becoming distressed if we cannot meet these standards, but it’s really of value to just enjoy what we do regardless of the outcome. Perhaps this is the sports version of the ‘fun things are fun’ philosophy which I have to admit I like. I have no idea how this succeeds as a sports anime as I have no real basis for comparison, but I’d definitely suggest it for people who like watching ‘cute girls doing cute things’ shows. I feel that I owe this show a debt of gratitude for encouraging me to broaden my horizons.