With a now somewhat broken Peco left reeling after being thrashed utterly by star Chinese player Kong Wenge, perhaps this is Smile's time to shine?
If nothing else, it seems as if everyone has suddenly taken an interest in this quiet, sullen lad - Kong himself is still desperate to play against him, but more importantly for Smile his ping pong club overseer Koizumi has decided that Tsukimoto is a ripe talent that simply must be developed. Thus, Koizumi tells Smile to start coming in for training at 5am every morning - something Smile himself has no intention of doing - and as time goes on his pursuit of the student becomes more and more all-encompassing until Tsukimoto really can't say no.
The fact that a formidable former middle school champion is also seemingly head-hunting the bespectacled star-in-waiting only serves to further confirm his potential, but for his part Smile really couldn't care less - all he wants to do is have some fun and enjoy himself, not work hard to win matches and competitions. None of this reasoning sticks with Koizumi however, as he pushes his pupil harder and harder, culminating in a one-of-one match between teacher and student with Tsukimoto's future on the line. Even here, Smile is happy to just go through the motions, but as the match progresses and Koizumi's lead becomes greater, something changes - snaps, even - in Tsukimoto's head, and suddenly we see the real force of nature that he can be expose itself in spectacular fashion.
After a solid opening episode, this week's instalment of Ping Pong felt - much like Smile's own transformation - like the moment that this series spread its wings and took to the sky. It manages to blend taking parts of its subject matter seriously with some deft touches of humour, and its unique animation style works incredibly well once it's put to use depicting a ping pong match itself to make for some compelling stuff that is hugely enjoyable to watch. If the series can continue in this manner now that it's set up its characters and their core motivations nicely, this could well be everything that I hoped it would be as my potential stand-out show of the spring.