Ping Pong The Animation has to be one of the most exciting, enthralling anime I’ve seen in recent times. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a huge sports fan in any shape or form – and in anime they tend to be a bit over the top in nature – surrounded by special moves and over glorified characters. But Ping Pong seems to go back to basics, a simple story about Ping Pong and the boys that play it – showing their progression throughout the game, not only in skill but personal development.
Ping Pong was originally a Manga by Taiyō Matsumoto, which was serialised in Shogakukan’s seinen manga magazine Big Comic Spirits from 1996 to 1997. From it’s fame it got adapted into a Live-Action film in 2002 and finally we got a beautifully cut, highly stylish anime in 2014. Ping Pong the Animation is directed by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, The Tatami Galaxy) and produced by Tasunoko Productions. Masaaki Yuasa does a beautiful job on the art direction of this anime – there are stylised characters which are gritty and look like they’re straight out of manga (a similar art style to Great Teacher Onizuka, The Hakkenden & Tekkonkinkreet). The angles and composition are also out of this world and they really seem to push the limits. Not to mention the beautiful water colour/wash backgrounds which create a sense of where they are without ruining the action.
The basic premise of the story is about two main characters that are high school freshman’s named Peco and Smile (Katase High School), who are childhood friends that grew up together playing at Tamara Table Tennis Club. Peco is a vibrant Ping Pong gun who beats any challenger with ease and has aspirations to become the world champion. Smile on the other hand is an introvert, but still a great player and has great skill – but is very lacklustre towards the sport and is very content to stay in Peco’s shadow. Training time at Katase High School is now over and it’s time to enter the High School Championships ‘Kanagawa Qualifiers’. Peco and Smile now have to test their skill against some hard hitting opponents such as Ryuichi (Dragon), Kong (China) and Sakuma (Akuma) to see who will be victorious and win the Japanese National Championships.
The Ping Pong story revolves around five key players in a more coming of age story, with their emotional struggles and inner turmoil – it’s more of a deep story, rather than just a generic win or loose action tale.
Peco (Katase High School) is a very strong hot headed character, who starts off being number one and invincible, but after his first defeat, he gives up completely – deciding that Ping Pong isn’t the direction he wants his life to go in – he gains weight, starts drinking, smoking and goes down hill, until a life changing moment of clarity strikes him and he re-builds his life and his Ping Pong skills.
Smile (Katase High School) who is an introvert and has been teased most of his life (called a robot) receives training and direction from Mr Koizumi (He’s coach & ex-player Butterfly Joe) in which he gains confidence and passion for the game of Ping Pong and his skills go from strength to strength. Smile also pulls his strength and confidence from a childhood game he and Peco use to play – where he envisions himself being a Manga Robot reciting the words below:
Call me when you’re in a pinch. Chant these words three times in your mind –
The hero appears, the hero appears, the hero appears! If you do that I’ll come to you..
Which you see in the matches – makes him revert out of his shell and become a calculated, unstoppable rock star player.
Kong (Tsujido High School) – a talented Chinese player who was born into training. He was previously a member of the Chinese Youth National Team until he got cut. By winning the Japanese National Championships – he hopes to return home and reclaim his spot in China. You see Kong at the start as a head strong, arrogant rude character who only cares about winning and getting back to China. After his first loss, it puts him in a more humbling state, he learns more Japanese, he helps his fellow team member at Tsujido High School train and you see him grow and define himself into a good person.
Ryuichi (Also known as Dragon from Kaio Academy) – who is the number one player and the Japanese World Champion, Captain of the best ping pong team in the country called Kaio Academy and dates a supermodel. The stress of Ryuichi being number one way downs heavily upon him. You start to see him crumble over time, having panic attacks in the toilets before every match. For Ryuichi Ping Pong is no longer about fun, but pain and you see his journey to overcome this.
Finally there is Sakuma, a vengeful former rival of Peco’s, who will do whatever it takes to surpass Peco. The story shows how much Sakuma has struggled by blood, sweat and tears to be able to surpass Peco, but he gets to a point when he realises that no matter how hard he works he doesn’t have natural aptitude to be successful at Ping Pong – which leads him to tread a different path.
I came away from watching the final episodes of Ping Pong with a smile, finally an anime that has fulfilled me! The story is deep enough to drown in. The animation style is fresh & interesting. There is a lot of fast paced animated action that is beautifully cut. The best thing about it – was I could relate to it’s characters! Which cover real life issues- each character had something you’ve experienced at least once in your life. From Smile – the feelings of being an outsider and a recluse and generally just wanting to shut yourself away from the world. Peco – living high on life and something terrible happening and life feels like it’s crashing down on you and you have to eventually re-build yourself, even though you know it will be tough. Kong – being in a new environment and having to learn new things and improve yourself and settle in. Ryuichi – carrying the weight of being successful and knowing you can’t falter or else people will look at your in a different light. Finally Sakuma – trying so hard to be successful at something and then realising you don’t have the raw talent and learning acceptance and moving on. So many metaphors for life. This really has been a true pleasure to review and I can’t recommend it enough. Please don’t be put off- thinking this is just another sports anime – it’s got real depth and I think people of all ages will be excited and cheering through matches as I was.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.