Having thrashed his teacher to the point of collapse by the end of last week's episode, it seems as if something has awoken within Tsukimoto beneath that dour exterior of his - what a time for it emerge to, with the Kanagawa qualifying round of the high school table tennis championship about to begin.
As you might expect however, it's Peco who appears the most outwardly confident in the build-up to the tournament, even if he has some potentially tough opponents ahead in his bracket - then again, his route to qualification for the national tournament looks like each street compared to Smile who, all being well, will be drawn against Kong Wenge in the third round.
With other parties still very interested in Tsukimoto's performance, and happy to rile him up before his first game, we see the full terrifying extent of his abilities in the early rounds - after Kong destroyed his first, Smile upped the ante by obliterating his, and with both of them progressing to their third round match-up Tsukimoto seems unusually confident. Even after a heavy defeat in his first set, there's still an air of casual confidence surrounding our protagonist, and it soon becomes clear why - once he's got the feel of his opponent's tactics, he sets about dismantling them utterly until a frustrated Kong is left on the brink of a shock defeat. Then, out of nowhere and with his opponents entire career seemingly on the line, Tsukimoto reverts to his usual defensive manner, giving Kong the upper hand and progression in the tournament - it seems that he can't shake his old compassion for his opponent quite so easily after all.
As per last week's episode, Ping Pong once again produced another great instalment here - heck, it even had finished opening credit animation! Somehow, the series is managing to play all of its super-serious table tennis talk with a straight face, but with just enough of a nod and a wink to stop it from stifling the show's entertainment value or sense of humour. This episode remains at its best during actual matches however, where it lets the action (and a slice of inner monologues) do the talking, all of which works incredibly well - particularly in terms of giving us some interesting glimpses into Smile's psyche - while also bringing forth some of the passion and drive required of any sports series. With this episode leaving us in an interesting place narratively, it'll be interesting to see how the show progresses from here.