Ping Pong the Animation – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ping Pong the Animation

 

Similar: Chihayafuru

Free!

Fighting Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Sports Psychological

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Natural, smack talking dialogue.
  • ‘In the action’ cinematography.
  • Realistic about achieving success.

Negatives:

  • 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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Engaging DialogueExtensive Character Development

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

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5 thoughts on “Ping Pong the Animation – Anime Review”

  1. I feel that some of your criticisms of this show are rather unjustified, mainly having to do with the art and the characterization of Smile. Just because the art style isn’t traditional, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. The art in this show was deliberately made to look how it did, not because the show didn’t have enough funding or had a lack of talent from the creative team. It was made to look different because the story it was trying to tell couldn’t be portrayed well enough using a traditional art style. There should be a flexible criteria when it comes to art quality. It’s easy to see when art is good if it’s overwhelmingly beautiful, but you should also consider if the show would be as good if the art style were changed. Personally, I don’t think this show would be as good if it had adopted a more traditional style.

    Additionally, the criticism that Smile is not a deep character with a story to tell isn’t necessarily true, he’s just very different in a way that makes him less entertaining than Peco, for example. The point of Smile is that he lacks passion. To some, watching a main character who lacks passion for what the entire show is about (ping pong) could be considered boring, I thought it made for a very interesting contrast to the rest of the characters. All of the side characters care more about ping pong than he does, so one of the main conflicts in the show is Smile’s involvement in the sport and whether or not he will realize his potential or waste it away in depression/anxiety/apathy. The point of his character is to be a story of self-actualization and coming to terms with oneself, not in becoming what he isn’t. Personally, I thought his character development seconded only Peco’s within the show in terms of depth and insight.

    The final thing I would like to add is that your comment about how the side-stories and episodes not focused directly upon playing being out of place or irrelevant seems off to me. The games themselves are the main aspect of the show to get your blood boiling, but the episodes that don’t focus on this is the reason the show is so good. The character development of Kong and Peco in the Christmas episode is a prime example. This part wasn’t focused on ping pong, and it displayed the most development out of any other part of the show, with Peco reaching an ultimate low to bounce himself out of and Kong learning to embrace Japan rather than despise it.

    Either way, I am very impressed with the size and quality of your website and hope you continue to make content like this in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always a pleasure to receive such well-written counter criticism. It gives me a chance to justify my writing and perhaps change it.

      The art style is certainly deliberate. You don’t make an anime look this unique by accident. However, I still wouldn’t praise it much. If we look at the purely technical side for a moment, there is a lack of attention to detail in both design and animation, which likely caused the ‘shakiness’ in the animation. It takes a lot of time (or many animators) to go back and forth between frames to make minute adjustments for the perfect animation. If I recall correctly, one of the Animatrix short films uses a similar rough and deformed style that showcases what extra time and budget could have accomplished.

      Technical limitations don’t necessarily result in poor art. Look at South Park with art described by its own creators as trash, yet it succeeds because it all works together and matches the tone perfectly – wouldn’t be the same with any other style.

      From a creative view, I’m not a fan. Of course, art is subjective – I don’t like Picasso, but I know there are millions who do. Ping Pong’s style is surely someone’s favourite. I agree with you that a standard style would be worse here, even if made “technically” better. More anime should develop their own styles. Everyone knows of the A-1 Pictures problem where all their anime looks the same these days.

      Onto Smile. Having a protagonist dispassionate about his work is fine and can be interesting, as you said – worked in Your Lie in April – but it needs to go places along the way and lead somewhere. It would be a different case if he were a supporting character (I should have mentioned this in the review – will likely update in future). A protagonist is the driving force of a story. I think I would have accepted Smile more had he been support with possibly Kong in main position (not Peco, as his exuberance would break the tone as protagonist, despite being a great character).

      To have Smile work as main, in my mind, requires more action from him. We should see him rebel more, see him go against the grain more, see him look to others doing what they enjoy while he’s stuck here dissatisfied. I want to see more of his conflict. Imagine if Smile tries harder, even forces himself to be passionate about ping pong, more passionate than Peco on the outside, but that passion is nowhere to be found when he’s alone. He realises in the end that it doesn’t make him happy, that he has no genuine passion for it. This would give him more of an arc, a greater rise and fall.

      I was a little harsh on the side episodes. The Christmas episode was great, you are correct. My dissatisfaction with them likely stems from the Smile problem above. Had I liked his arc more, I almost certainly would have accepted that airtime going towards other characters.

      The points you raise will force me edit this review next time I do a site-wide update. I am no longer satisfied with it.

      Thanks for reading my work and don’t hesitate to write again in future.

      Like

      1. I see what you mean about still feeling as if the animation is a bit sloppy, but I still feel as if the wobbly lines and shaky animation was all still a creative choice. Whether or not that choice resulted in a better product remains up to each person to decide, but I personally never truly felt as if the animation was “bad”. Just not precise. What you said about it not resonating with you but maybe with others is very valid. Personally, I’ve always found the style to be refreshing and great, but I could see why people just wouldn’t like it.

        And I know you know this, but comparing a short film’s animation capabilities to a show’s is hardly a fair comparison just due to pure budget differences. For example, I would say Tekkonkinkreet has a very similar art/animation style to Ping Pong, however due to it being a movie, it just looks better. But they’re very similar and I would still argue to say it’s intentionally sloppy for the purpose of conveying a certain mood upon the movie.

        As much as Smile definitely is the main character, I think that the show honestly is best watched without locking into one character’s perspective as being the “main character” and others as “side characters”, but rather a bunch of characters living their lives in parallel with just the most focus being on Smile because his problems that he has to overcome are just more complicated. For example, in the scene when Kong first plays Peco, you get to hear the thoughts of both Kong and Peco, something not typical in a traditional story with a central character and numerous side characters. The show is not greatly focused on Smile intentionally. It’s meant to display how different people and types of personalities self-actualize through their sport, not just Smile. Smile just has the longest journey and needs the most help. So while I certainly agree that for a main character, Smile did not get extensive screen time, I think it was fine in the context of the overall final destination that the writers were trying to reach.

        The side episodes that didn’t focus on Smile were a result of what I stated above. I didn’t view them as side episodes, but rather just episodes that didn’t focus on Smile. Not as detours, but rather as just a shifting focus to each person in the show.

        Either way, thank you for taking the time to respond and I hope you can at least see where I’m coming from. I totally get what you’re saying and I agree with most of it, but I think that the differences just lie in the interpretation of the work rather than the actual physical quality of what was put out. I pretty much think the show is a masterpiece, so if I seem a little enthusiastic about my perspective, it’s not because I’m convinced I’m right, but just because I’ve thought about it a lot and really love the show.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand where you are coming from with your criticisms of the art style as well as the bland/annoying characters. However, to me, what makes this anime truly stand apart from the rest is it’s depth and what you wrote your review on is merely the surface.

    As 0207xander mentioned, when you dig deeper into the personalities of all of the main characters, you find yourself watching something entirely new. Suddenly, it is no longer an amine about sports but instead about deep character analysis. This anime is really about two distinct and dependent aspects, deep character analysis pertaining to oneself as well as the others mean something to you, as well as the idea of achieving greatness through something such as ping pong.

    Ping Pong is crafted in such a way that these two ideas are not separate, but instead are intertwined through every frame. They get this across using all of the tools at their disposal, be it the art style, cutting dialogue, or seemingly irrelevant sections of side/backstory. This balance of ideas is what is so crucial to creating something truly incredible. In my opinion the level to which they have successfully achieved this feat is what makes this anime so renowned.

    Liked by 1 person

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