The narrative of The Old Man and the Sea is, in essence, the tale of a last stand of the hero figure from that hero figure’s perspective. The boy, Manolin, admires the old man, Santiago, as a hero figure who was once great but who due to physical inability or whatever else has lost that admiration-worthy quality. It begins with some banter between Manolin and Santiago, and the audience is left to wonder, “Why does the boy like Santiago so much? He’s just a useless old guy.”
Ping Pong the Animation is the tale of a hero’s last stand, in narrative, as well. After the events of the show, Peco goes on to be a pro athlete. But for the purpose of the main story’s last arc, it’s Peco with his bad knee fighting to be the hero for one last time before his knee gives out on him. Smile sees Peco as, “the hero.” And his depression largely stems from the hero having left him.
For Manolin and Smile, both, these narratives are about waiting. They are waiting for their hero to return. Manolin believes, deep inside, that Santiago can catch the biggest fish ever. And Smile believes, deep inside, that Peco is the best ping pong player ever. By circumstance, Smile comes to consciously deny his admiration of Peco. Manolin’s father would likely attempt to deny his admiration of Santiago similarly, but it seems Manolin is feistier. But either way, all they can do is wait passively for their hero to reemerge in these people they respect so much.
Peco is young, brash, and lost his esteem after being defeated by Kong and Demon. Then, he works really hard to try to improve, but eventually finds himself outmatched by the ultimate opponent: a Dragon. And just when he’s up against a Dragon, his knee is really feeling it. Santiago is old and jaded, and while he humors Manolin to his face, ultimately he’s not entirely confident in his abilities. He tries, and tries, but it has been over eighty days without a fish. But he eventually finds himself outmatched by the ultimate opponent: a really, really, really big fish. And just when he’s up against this really, really, really big fish, his hand cramps up and he’s old and ain’t got all the strength in the world.
Then, both of them get, as I love to call it, D E T E R M I N A T I O N. And they both become able to move mountains! And the old man catches the fish!! And Peco flies, flies far above the Dragon. They are both victorious! But then, their victory is cut short: Santiago must fight back some nasty, nasty sharks that start eating is fish, and Peco must defeat Smile.
In the end, the old man can’t beat back the sharks, but Peco does beat Smile. But are these two part of the same story? Peco is the Old Man at eighteen, and the Old Man is Peco at seventy. They both struggle the same, but their only ultimate difference is that the Old Man’s last stand is truly his last, and his inevitable destiny is failure, but Peco’s destiny is success.
P.S. How’s the fact that the characters aren’t referenced by name much either? Aside from the coach and his “Mister Tsukimoto,” everyone call them Smile and Peco. And Hemingway always tells of The Old Man and The Boy, rather than Manolin and Santiago.