Japanese Title: Ping Pong the Animation
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Sports Psychological
Length: 11 episodes
- Natural, smack talking dialogue.
- ‘In the action’ cinematography.
- Realistic about achieving success.
- Bland protagonist.
- Dull drama.
- Janky art style.
Continuing my dive into sports anime, I went for Ping Pong the Animation, a highly rated piece of the genre in the hope of finding the best anime had to offer. Immediately, the art style tempered my hopes. Those ugly characters, especially during the opening credits, are not the most pleasing sight, but I figured it was worth staying for at least one rally.
Then once it got rolling, I started to see why people were interested. Ping Pong the Animation is not as I expected it to be, nothing like the usual sports fiction aimed at teenagers. Akin to its art, this anime took the rough and dirty approach to teenagers. Neither their manners nor behaviour was sanitised; they shit talk in every conversation as if their mothers will never hear of it. They felt like real teenagers. Couple that with the intensely stylised action, camera down low alongside the ball, Ping Pong engaged me to the end.
We follow three major characters. Tsukimoto (nicknamed Smile) is an introverted high schooler with a natural talent for table tennis, though he has no passion for the sport. Hoshino (nicknamed Peco), Smile’s friend and opposite, has passion and energy to the point of annoyance. Lastly, there’s Kong, a Chinese transfer pro who doesn’t waste time with scrubs, but wants to challenge Smile. A nearby table tennis school also provides plenty of challengers.
Like the realistic approach to dialogue, Ping Pong is realistic about talent, dreams, and winning. It never resorts to feel-good victories. I love how it focuses on hard work and drive rather than dreaming. That said, most drama unrelated to the sport itself (ambitions beyond table tennis) lacks that excitement found in the competitions. When it deviates from the sport, it feels a little irrelevant, at least relative to the amount of time dedicated to these side plots.
Protagonist Smile isn’t interesting either. He suffers from the ‘quiet character with no story to tell’ problem. I kept wondering when his story would really start, but there is no change, no real development for him by the end. The other characters simply matter more, such that removing him altogether would have changed little. Kong is much more interesting with his story of alienation from China and efforts to succeed in Japan.
I’m not sure I could have picked a more different sports anime than Ping Pong after Free! From its shit talking dialogue to its down-to-earth realism, Ping Pong the Animation showed me that the genre could become serious when needed. I admit, part of me did worry all sports anime would have a go-get-em attitude like battle anime. Glad that isn’t the case. Let’s hope my next pick keeps momentum.
Art – Medium
The art is simultaneously good and janky. The lines are rough, proportions inconsistent between shots, and animation is shaky, but the action looks great, camera angles putting you right in the action, your eyes with the ball as it tears across the table. Characters are hideous, though.
Sound – High
Ping Pong the Animation sports great dialogue – very natural, especially when it comes to the smack talk. I also commend the use of actual Chinese for the Chinese characters.
Story – High
Several students look to hit it big in ping pong. The struggles are real, the characters interesting (outside the protagonist), and the action intense.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must for sports fans. Where a lot of sports fiction goes for the feel-good vibe, Ping Pong the Animation serves competition with reality in mind.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)