First Look: Ping Pong – The Animation

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Manga Adaptation by Tatsunoko Productions
Simulcast on Crunchyroll

Premise

Sullen Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto and lively Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino are the aces of their school’s table tennis club. Smile’s dragged down by a complete lack of motivation, however, so Peco drags him to a rival club to meet a Chinese top-level player, recruited to coach the other team back to superstardom.

Aqua’s verdict: Ace

Watching Ping Pong for the story is like playing a Super Mario Bros. game for the intricate plotting. Smile and Peco are rivals in a sports team who throw a lot of funky terminology around and have to get better to win the championship, yadda yadda yadda. It’s a bit of a pity the breathtaking visuals Ping Pong sports have to be wasted on a plot as down-to-earth and cookie cutter as this one — especially if sports is not your proverbial cup of tea — but there is not a single show that can even come close to it in terms of sheer visual marvel. The obscenely talented Masaaki Yuasa, famous for Kick-Heart and The Tatami Galaxy amongst others, brings the very best of his signature jittery, colourful animation style to the table. Rough, yet beautifully fluid at the same time, the visuals in Ping Pong burst and splatter off the screen, with the frantic table tennis duels an absolute highlight. Apart from some dodgy CGI in close-up shots of the ball, and some rather jarring animation loops and stock footage, Ping Pong simply looks positively gorgeous.

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Special mention has to go to the beautifully detailed, atmospheric backgrounds, watercoloured by Rayman Legends collaborator Aymeric Kevin. With its strong use of colour — subdued and sleepy during the quiet moments, yet orgiastically vibrant when the action kicks in — Ping Pong has a very retro feel to it, backed by its rather funky soundtrack and intentionally outdated character designs. The unique art style adds to the show’s sense of identity, however, and director Yuasa will make sure every single viewer knows Ping Pong is very much an auteur‘s piece of work, with dynamic camera angles, bizarre perspectives and some strong use of split-screen. Unless the plot shifts into high gear and Ping Pong starts considerably fleshing out its characters, it will probably remain little more than a visual curiosity. Nevertheless, it deserves to be watched, and praised, for the passion it oozes and the dedication it reflects. Ping Pong may not look, sound or feel like any other anime out there, but it sure as hell managed to remind me how artistic and jaw-dropping anime can truly be.

Gee’s verdict: Smash

As Aqua said, Ping Pong is a visual masterpiece. Masaaki Yuasa’s master of the craft is truly apparent here, and while it might not be the most conventionally pretty anime around, it is undeniably a paragon of technical achievement. The characters move with a stylistic fluidity that perfectly compliments their odd appearances. There are some great shots and angle changes along with some excellent portrayal of movement at work here. It’s totally fine to say that Ping Pong’s aesthetic isn’t appealing. What you cannot deny though, is the extent of its artistic brilliance as a work of animation. As an animator, it’s the kind of work that reminds me why I love the medium so much. I doubt we’ll be seeing a show that hits these kinds of unique highs for the rest of the season.

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And even better, while it may not have appealed to Aqua, underneath the show’s esoteric exterior beats a hot-blooded sports anime. As resident sports manga/anime fan, Ping Pong hits all the right notes. Not only is it fun to watch, it does a good job of establishing the intricate technicalities of the sport in question. The cast is also pretty interesting right off the bat. Between Smile and Peco’s contrast in addition to Wen Ge’s burning arrogant passion for the sport, Ping Pong is setting itself up to be a fun sports story and a visual marvel. What more could a hot-blooded artist ask for?

Marlin’s Verdict: Chop

I feel I lay with Aqua’s opinion as far as the story goes. Eyeshield 21 is the only Japanese sports story to have ever really caught my attention, so I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre. The story seems typical of anything I’ve ever seen. The main characters are up-and-up ping pong players hoping to win the championship. Their rival is a cocky dude who thinks everyone is beneath them. Unlike Eyeshield, I know almost nothing about the sport in question. While watching them play is cool, I get nothing out of the technical references. I don’t really feel as involved as I could be in the game. That said, I can’t deny it at least looks nice. I loved The Tatami Galaxy for its bizarre art style and its visually rough but technically fluid animation. It harkens back to a time when the noitaminA brand meant something, and maybe Ping Pong can bring that back.

One thought on “First Look: Ping Pong – The Animation

  1. I like how the Chinese character actually speaks Chinese. I’m not too familiar with the language, but it sounded like they got somebody who speaks it fairly well, which I think is a rarity in anime featuring characters who speak anything but Japanese.

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