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Director Masaaki Yuasa has made a name for himself over the past decade as perhaps the most consistently experimental and interesting anime director alive. Shows like Tatami Galaxy, Kaiba, and Kemonozume boast not only striking artwork and highly expressive animation, but also solidly written original scripts and concepts–a combination which has garnered the director nearly unmatched critical acclaim among animation fans. Ping Pong is Yuasa’s first direct adaptation, but lives up to his legacy as perfectly as anything else he’s been responsible for.
Thematically, Ping Pong uses ping pong the sport as a backdrop for a tale about talent, success, and failure. It focuses on the sports careers of a small handful of high school students who all take ping pong very seriously, and routinely puts them into situations of existential crises. It poses its characters with questions about what they’re doing with their lives, and whether or not they’re capable of making anything out of themselves by playing this sport.
What viewers will notice first about this series is not only the distinct artwork and animation, but also the one-of-a-kind directing style, which often divides the screen into different moving parts and uses some very bizarre framing all-around. I would say that certain visual ideas used in this series were pretty hit-and-miss, but the moments that hit did so very, very hard.
When Ping Pong is at the height of emotional tension and the animation clocks into overdrive along with the stunning original soundtrack, it produces some of the outright best moments of animation which I’ve ever witnessed. Episode ten in particular was downright transcendent at times, with moments of such high intensity that I was digging my fingers into the arms of my chair and standing half way up ready to jump. The minute that episode was over, I had to get up and do a bunch of pull-ups just to expend all the energy it left me with.
But whether the artwork be off-putting or gratifying, there is still a lot more to this show than looks. The script bears more clever language and subtlety than I saw in any other animated series this year–which honestly might not be saying much, but I think it deserves credit nonetheless. There’s a lot of nuance to the changes in characters, and more of their evolution is conveyed through actions than through words.
Ping Pong is a series which eschews believability to enter a heightened emotional state, with it taking place in a world that cares way more about high school ping pong than could ever be rational, and featuring matches that become nearly ethereal in their progression, with lots of powerful imagery; but I think that in terms of relatability and applicability, the characters in this series are all well-grounded and interesting. Seeing how each of them deals with being confronted by their lack of ability and talent can be crushing or liberating, and watching the downfalls and comebacks of certain characters throughout the show’s second half was a roller coaster of exhilaration.
Ping Pong starts out pretty slow and doesn’t really show its true intentions until after the halfway point–but at only eleven episodes, I highly recommend watching all of it even if you’re not sure where it’s going at first. I’ve tried to be sparing with the details in this post because I don’t want to spoil all of the emotional twists and turns that the story goes through, so hopefully you can take my word for it that this series is well worth your time. You can watch it legally for free right here on youtube.
So what did you think of Ping Pong? Let me know in the comments below, and in case you missed them, check out my videos on #6, Shirobako, and #7, Barakamon, and stick around on my channel to see what my fourth-favorite anime of the year will be tomorrow!
Agreed. This is a great show and I like this a lot more than Tatami Galaxy — perhaps it’s because I like sports anime and sports in general, but whatever. The show kept me guessing with its character story turns, and I can’t help but applaud in how it made Kong Wenge moe as fuck. Unfuckingbelievable. Kong Wenge is the best, and that Christmas episode… fuck man, where in hell did that come from? It’s different from any kind of heel-face-turn or morality pet kind of trope that makes villains sympathetic. Kong Wenge is a hero. What.
Kong’s arc was definitely the biggest surprise. Just the whole way that the show shifted gears from meticulous setup and artsy feeling to suddenly being this explosively emotional sports drama in the second half really blew me away.