Okay, clearly I’m on a bit of an anime streak right now. Ping Pong is a really unique anime in that I’ve never seen anything like it; then again, I haven’t seen a lot. It’s a special one in that I don’t think it would suit everyone, but it’s got a good heart and I really appreciate that.
Ping Pong is an 11-episode anime that does not look like any other Japanese anime you’ve seen. The artwork a little rough around the edges with a rotoscoped effect, and looks like a mix of Lichtenstein-pop-art and realism. It mimics a comic book with its use of panels to highlight different reactions and angles in order to add to the story without taking away from the scene. It unfolds the story slowly so that you understand everyone’s past as you go along rather than learning it all in the beginning. And it makes table tennis really fun. I personally love playing the game, so watching this anime made me itching to play more.
The Story (with some spoilers)
Our two leads are Tsukimoto Makoto (Smile) and Hoshino Yutaka (Peco), best friends who trained in the same table tennis hall and attend the same high school. They couldn’t be more different, but ever since they were children Peco would protect Smile from bullies. Smile is the bookish sort who seems quite robotic and never smiles – hence the ironic nickname. Peco on the other hand is a gregarious braggart who isn’t afraid to stand up to others or show off his skills.
Both are part of their school’s table tennis team; while Smile attends every day, Peco does not. Nevertheless both are really talented, and their coach, Koizumi, takes notice of Smile’s innate talent. Koizumi has to “woo” Smile to try and get him on a more rigorous training regimen, but ultimately fails. The two attend the Inter-High School competition where they face off even stronger opponents and lose miserably.
Every protagonist must also have an antagonist, and in this case it’s two of the best table tennis players in the world: Kazuma from a rival high school and Kong Wenge, a Chinese exchange student who was kicked off his national team and is trying to redeem himself abroad. Both Kazuma and Kong recognize the potential in Smile and Peco but still defeat the two protagonists. In the end, Peco turns away from table tennis out of shame and Smile decides to take up Koizumi on the new training regimen.
Smile grows as a player and becomes a formidable opponent for Kong and Kazuma to face, both of whom haven’t really changed up their styles but have become stronger and faster as well. Peco has no interest in going back to table tennis until he sees a very old picture of himself and Smile winning at a competition when they were younger. It sparks another fire in his heart and he trains with the table tennis hall’s owner, Obaba, to get back in shape and reach Smile’s level. All of the training comes to a head when the second Inter-High School competition rolls around again, and this time Smile and Peco are in it to win it.
This was one interesting show because I had a hard time getting behind the protagonists. Smile was emotionless and distant to me, and Peco was overbearing. The one thing that I liked was watching the animation of playing table tennis: the way the ball hits the rubber, the spin given to the ball, and the curve of the ball’s flight across the table. The anime even made the plink-ing of the ball against the table become music for the scene. And then the show threw in some “underdog story” elements that made me keep watching as well. When the protagonists turn out to be underdogs, I ended up watching more to see if they would be able to win against those who were much better.
As the anime unfolded, more details were revealed about all the characters so that you could understand where they were coming from. Why did Smile never smile? Why does Kazuma have a drive to succeed by himself instead of caring for his team? Why did Koizumi and Obaba care so much for their respective proteges? And what was the past that links Koizumi, Obaba, and Kazuma’s grandfather together? Once all of these questions, and more, were answered it became more clear as to why each character did what they did: All of these characters were playing table tennis for others, and they were working hard to help Peco and Smile realize their true potential. Smile played for Peco, and Peco played for Smile.
It was only after episode 5 that I really started to enjoy the series and appreciate the characters for who they were. The final episode also nailed it in the coffin as to which character I liked better (it’s Smile). It’s hard to explain why without giving away the ending, but I preferred Smile’s attitude towards table tennis compared to Peco. I got a better understanding of all the characters and their dreams, and it also reiterated one very important message about table tennis: you have to love the game. The characters may have all had different motives for why they played table tennis competitively, but at the end of the day they learn that they have to enjoy and love the game for what it is first. No matter how unbearable and different the characters’ personalities were, in the end they were all the same in that they loved table tennis, and they appreciated the competition for the sake of the game.
I also really liked how, after episode 5, the side characters were fleshed out more fully. I got to know all the side characters that weren’t very important to the plot and yet were more than just background 2-D characters. It’s nice to know the world that the protagonists live in. There’s an episode where we see what all the characters do during Christmas, and it really shed a lot of light on all the characters’ lives outside of table tennis. If they had a life outside of table tennis.
My favorite episode was the last episode, and it’s not because it was the final showdown between Peco and Smile. Instead, I loved the way the match was told while cutting in scenes of the past and events that were unfolding simultaneous to the match. It went back and forth between the adult Smile and Peco and their kid-versions, and showed how the two grew up together. The episode knew when to cut back to the action in the match, and when to cut away, and it added so much heart to the show that in the end I didn’t care who won. And it really didn’t matter who won.
Try the series and see if it’s to your taste. The series can be found on Funimation.
Verdict: I’ll give this show a solid 8/10. I think I liked this anime the more I thought about it, and I have to give it major props for its unique art style.