"The hero comes. The hero comes. The hero comes. Chant these words in your mind, and I'll surely come to you..." This mantra is what Makoto Tsukimoto repeats as a source of motivation when he fights through the stress of not only grueling ping pong matches, but also in situations of his life. Makoto doesn't fight alone; he and his friend, Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed Smile and Peco respectively, are two boys who have grown up playing ping pong together nearly every day. Peco, brimming with confidence, aims to be the best table tennis player in the world; Smile, on the other hand, shows little ambition. Nevertheless, the two have always stuck together, with a bond built upon their mutual love for this sport. Every year, students from all across Japan gather for the inter-high table tennis competition to achieve national and international stardom. Through intense training and competition, only the very best persevere. From the avant-garde director of Tatami Galaxy, Masaaki Yuasa, Ping Pong the Animation serves a tale of ambition with its fair share of bumps along the way. Whatever the odds, Peco and Smile will face them together. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
It’s a rarity nowadays to find many series or studios willing to take risks. Much of the anime industry has taken to fan-service oriented pandering and it’s left me craving for something new. Something that can blow me away with it’s creativity and unorthodox presentation. Utilizing its unconventional style, fantastic character development, symbolism, and occasional moments of witty dry humor, Ping Pong The Animation is that something.
When I first started this series I had low expectations. How could a series about ping pong be any good? It seemed like the flop of the season. Fortunately, I have never been so wrong. Despite its appearances of being a simplistic show about playing table tennis, Ping Pong had a surprising amount of depth. Like any other sports anime, the series focuses on pushing the story forward by using the game as it’s major plot device. However, unlike many other sports anime, Ping Pong takes a more believable, realistic style. There is no feeling of unrealistic, over-the-top antics like you might see in Prince of Tennis, nor is there an unbeatable Gary Stu like you’d see in One Outs. Ping Pong is simple, yet complicated. Messy, yet also clean. Realistic, yet unbelievable, all at the same time.
Another thing the series does well is keeping the audience interested in the strategies, style, and skill that ping pong requires as a sport without seeming boring or tedious. In this series the games themselves also aren’t simply just games. Each game portrays something akin to a soliloquy or inner monologue for at least one character. It props the characters up and pours color into their black and white hand-drawn cutouts. If you can feel the inner turmoil, anguish, happiness, and sadness just by watching two people hit a ball back and forth across a net on a small table, then you know you’ve watched something special.
Of the few reasons people may dislike this series, the art and animation style will likely be the one. Ping Pong has a sort of rotoscope, flip-book type of style. At times it looks like a sketch or unfinished work, but it works so well for this series in particular. It’s strange, but also charmingly unique. The games of table tennis seem so fluid and realistic that it sometimes feels like I might be watching people playing the game live right in front of me. It feels like a perfect match.
Ping Pong delivers on the sound criteria just like any other. The beginning of the series didn’t feel quite complete since it was missing its real opening, but the timing and placement of each sound felt spot on. It’s easy to tell that the attention to detail is there. The opening will get you hyped for the episode and the ending will simmer you down. They compliment each other very well. The soundtrack, overall, is great.
The two main characters of the series are Tsukimoto, “Smile” Makoto and Hoshino, “Peco” Yutaka. Despite being polar opposites, these two characters mesh together other with ease. Smile takes the role of the passive, quiet, and soft-spoken character, versus Peco, the energetic, loud, and cocky personality. They act as yin and yang in the series. While the main story is about these two, their friendship, rivalry, and camaraderie, it also takes the time to give the supporting characters their turn in the spotlight. All characters, whether it be the main or supporting, are dynamic and, as the series progresses, grow based on their experiences. Characters who come to realize their faults, and begin to instigate change to better themselves, are a rare occurrence in anime, yet Ping Pong is no stranger to utilizing the unordinary and implementing it with finesse.
Although Ping Pong The Animation may be a more serious, somber sports series, it’s easily a worthwhile watch for any audience. It’s a shame that Ping Pong didn’t quite get the attention it deserves. Despite being one of the most under-appreciated series from the Spring ’14 season, it was truly a diamond in the rough. If you give it a bit of your time and a little polish I guarantee that it’ll shine for you as it did for me.