Leave all your preconceived ideas at the door, this is an awesome anime for the more discerning anime geek. When does play become more than play? What is the meaning of victory and competition? Should you sacrifice pleasure for success? What is it that defines adulthood from adolescence? Ping pong the Animation is so much more than a story about a sport.
What made me stop and take a look was noticing that the Manga is from the same writer of Tekkonkinkreet - Matsumoto Taiyou and the director is Yuasa Masaaki of Tatami Galaxy (one of my all time favourite anime series) - with these two heavyweights on the team I had to stop and take a look.
I confess this anime completely passed me by first time around, I mean it’s not my usual thing, it’s about Ping Pong right? Wrong! If anything the title Ping Pong is a red herring, this anime is much more about friendship, maturity, the absurdity of competition and defining yourself by one thing. Remove the Ping Pong and there’s the same posturing, battling to define yourself while growing up, egos and gang culture that permeates youth and seeps into adulthood too. At times you could easily transpose the scenes to an altercation between rival Yakuza, such was the dialogue and interactions between the characters - some people take Ping Pong very seriously indeed.
The main protagonist ‘Smile’ can be beautifully summed up by his comment in episode one
“smiling, getting angry - that stuff makes me tired” he's so wonderfully dead pan, so endearingly cynical, and yet there’s a brooding deepness that makes you want to learn more about him. His friend ‘Peco’ juxtaposes against him nicely, he’s the total opposite in many ways, it’s what I love about Matsumoto’s writing, he does characters extremely well, they’re complex, 3 dimensional and flawed in their own ways. I can see many parallels in the friendship between 'Peco' and ‘Smile' that are present in Tatami Galaxy, the main difference being the duration of the friendship - Matsumoto has a knack of writing incredibly annoying but charming characters such as ‘Peco' and extremely cynical ones like 'Smile' - I wonder if these introverted yet fiery characters are a refelction of Matsumoto himself?
Many do not like the animation style, but I love it, it’s very physical, often the bodies of characters in anime can be quite static and similar in shape, but with Yuasa’s style it’s not only their faces that express emotion, it’s as if their whole bodies reflect their personalities and show their emotions. There’s a beautiful realism to the animation style, people are imperfect, as is the world.
Ping Pong the Animation is more than just an anime about a Table Tennis it’s a story about modern life and the choices we make, it's brutal, beautiful, eandearing and funny. I love this anime!