Tatsunoko Production are back in my weekly anime rotation with their latest production: Ping Pong: The Animation. Adapted from a 1997 manga by Taiyō Matsumoto, Ping Pong tells the interweaving story of several ping pong players from Japan and one who’s been kicked off of his Chinese team and has transferred to a Japanese school to redeem himself. Makotko (AKA Smile, the no-nonsense player) and Yutaka (AKA Peco the carefree, but all-around cocky player) round out the major players from Katase, while Ryūichi (AKA Dragon the dominant force) leads the Kaio Academy and Kong (AKA China) is the Tsujido Academy transfer. It’s a rich, diverse cast, with the elders and coaches rounding out the rest to help keep the cocky youngsters in line.
Ping Pong not only stands out in its character approach, development, or growth but in its splendid animation style. Ping Pong is the anime “Game of Thrones;” it has no central protagonist/antagonist, you like/hate all of the characters for various reasons. It will never have the reception GoT has, nor will it reach the same level, but it’s an apt observation, and the show’s as good as Game of Thrones, in my opinion. That’s not to say characters will die/be killed forthwith, but they will grow, learn, & change your perception of them; all intelligently.
Using the avant-garde, unique, almost rotoscoped look that few series do anymore these days, Ping Pong sets itself apart with rough but fluid style. Players move a little jaggedly, but the animations still come off as believable and help maintain the illusion of a realistic presentation. There are no over-the-top motions or action ever implemented; just real action being transformed into beautiful art. Art director Kevin Aymeric and key animation director Shinya Ohira truly help present Ping Pong in a light that immediately sets itself apart from nearly anything else currently airing; or has aired recently. The team at Tatsunoko aren’t new to this exaggerated-realism, they did it previously in their 2013 series Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta, so I’m accustomed to the style; ditto for when Zexcs also did a very similar rotoscoped style for their 2013 Aku no Hana adaptation of the manga of the same name. Of course none of this praise matters if the story and plot are lackluster and not worth stomaching. Luckily Ping Pong is one of the best slice-of-life/sports anime I’ve ever seen.
Confession time however, I’ve seen only a handful of sport anime, but the one’s I prefer are more like Ping Pong than any of the other overly exaggerated iterations out there. Giant Killing, Prince of Tennis, etc tend to be more the speed of Ping Pong than anything else. Meticulous, well-approached matches and attention is paid to in Ping Pong. Most of the matches aren’t as straightforward as you would imagine however. Since the show is set for one cour (season) the matches are more internal conversations and soliloquies than outright shown. It’s a refreshing alternative than to simply show ping pong being played, and the acting is believable and tolerable; even better.
Nearly every of the players deem themselves the best, but the majority of this first set of episodes is focused on Smile, who’s arguably the best in the series. Only problem is he’s so apathetic to his own talents and future that he oftentimes is he only obstacle from succeeding. He’s willing to sacrifice a win in order to appease his opponent and their wishes. Smile’s personality may seem clichéd and obnoxious, but in the context of Ping Pong’s storytelling, it works and is well understanding. Peco is almost the polar opposite of Smile; he’s outright obnoxious and touts himself as the best, and these series of episodes show that his touting isn’t what’s going to win him games; he needs to actually improve himself. Dragon and Kong definitely have received their character development too. It’s actually quite ingenious how the tales interweave and are told at the same time without being overbearing or shoved down our throats. Ping Pong has some of the best pacing this season I’ve seen.
Although Ping Pong is only one cour, I enjoyed the journey immensely. Although sports anime are rarely on my list of series to pick up, Ping Pong: The Animation will be a series I add to my shelf the moment I can. You can stream it, in its entirety, via our friends over at Funimation. Be sure to stick with Geekenstein as we’ll continue to have more on series like Ping Pong and more!