Ping Pong The Animation

TV (11 eps)
4.155 out of 5 from 4,372 votes
Rank #442
Ping Pong The Animation

Makoto Tsukimoto (nicknamed Smile) is a quiet high-schooler who's been friends with the loud and energetic Yukata Hoshino (nicknamed Peco) since childhood. They're both in the local table tennis club and both have a natural talent for it, although Smile's personality always enables him from winning against Peco. The club teacher, however, notices Smile's talent and tries to make him gain some sportive tenacity.

Source: Crunchyroll

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So why is Ping Pong such a special anime? It is a blast not only for the senses, but for the mind as well. As it was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, the man behind Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy it is no wonder. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What is Ping Pong? Well my friend it is a show about Ping Pong, the only thing more boring than regular tennis. But Pinky-sama why is it a good anime if it focuses on something as boring? Well, simply because it does not focus on the sport, but rather because it focuses on the characters. Basically the same thing that makes Neon Genesis Evangelion the best mecha, use the mecha (or the sport in this case) only as a part of the form, not as the sole point of the show. So what exactly does make the characters so special? Well there are quite a few and each one has a story behind himself. Why did he/she start playing ping-pong? What does he still do it? Does he see himself as a professional sports player in the future? Is he willing to bet everything on it? Does he have the talent? But these aren't just randomly thrown in questions and themes that are here only to cheat you into thinking it is smart. They are all worked around extensively, in fact I was suprised at how coherent they were considering how it is only eleven episodes long. It also had a very fast pace so you could see how each character was growing and what he becomes at the end.  Peco is for example a very talented player that is very lazy and doesn't train a lot, but talent alone doesn't get you very far. He had to learn how to deal with hard work and training, consider if he even wants to play ping pong in the long run professionally. And every character goes through phases of thinking about his life and how he wants to live it. The animation was outstanding. As you already know who directed it it is no wonder. The style itself is very different from the standard anime norm which alone makes it a bit more fun, but that alone doesn't mean much. What is important is using animatiion as a medium different to all other mediums. And that it did, it used visual symbolism, odd angles and cut out fights to make people playing a sport actually interesting. You might say that the "action" works better than in most actual action shows. The sound was equaly pleasing. Using sounds to make the visual metaphores more vivid or simply the opening and the ending. The voice acting was also on a high level as they actually bothered to bring in a person who speaks Chinese to voice a Chinese character. That gave him a lingual background and made him distinct from the rest of the crowd. Overall Ping Pong is quality wise the best non-sequel we've had in years, basically since Tatami Galaxy.


The premise of Ping Pong: The Animation is to provide an insight into the lives of a group of young Ping Pong players who play at the highest level of competition for their age group. The show’s protagonist, Tsukimoto, who bears the nickname Smile due to his unfriendly and joyless disposition is reluctantly put through a harsh training regime by an old veteran of the sport; Butterfly Jo. Charming, well-paced and clichéd in all the right ways (see classic reluctant relationship between mentor and pupil) whilst still feeling original and packed full of well-developed and relatable characters, Ping Pong offers a very rewarding journey to its viewers. Although there are various battle sequences which are beautifully stylistic and engaging in themselves, Ping Pong is nonetheless first and foremost a coming-of-age drama. Although each of the main characters we are introduced to are somewhat unhealthily obsessed with Ping Pong, the sport itself is a transferable plot device. Whether it is Ping Pong or any other sport or shared interest between the characters, the purpose of Ping Pong in the narrative is to highlight each of their own personal struggles and conflicts of interest between them. Matches give way to elaborate abstract visual poems played out to a soundtrack of each of the players’ competing soliloquies and associated musical themes, such as Smile’s recurring Hero theme song Alongside the naturalistic dialogue and engaging character arcs, Ping Pong also exhibits a distinctive art style and at times segmented comic book style editing much like that seen in FLCL, only less manic in its pacing. The rough-edged, back to basics art style may be somewhat jarring to anime fans who have become accustomed to certain generic conventions in animation but it is not without its charm and it feels highly appropriate for this series and the realist, grounded tone it adopts in its story-telling. The unconventional animation and varied soundtrack; which seamlessly oscillates between electronic, rock and orchestral depending on characters and setting, are always in keeping with the tone of the show at any given moment. Each of the show’s main characters have chosen Ping Pong as their form of release and self-expression. During a game, a character’s style of play can communicate the character’s personality and state of mind to the audience. Playing as a chopper suits Smile down to the ground. His style of play revolves around giving up the initiative to the opponent and responding to rather than instigating attacks. This chosen style of play may be considered symbolic of Smile’s approach to life, in which he is carried along by others, finding himself pushed into a competitive approach to Ping Pong he never truly desired for himself. He plays Ping Pong for the fun of it and is initially devoid of all fighting spirit, making it hard to imagine him performing an aggressive drive or pressing himself close to the table or attempting to psyche out an opponent. Smile is completely artless and without charm, which is what makes him ‘wonderful’ in the eyes of some and a refreshingly downbeat protagonist for viewers of the show. Peco is Smile’s closest friend and also his complete opposite; as both a person and an athlete. Peco is joyful and flamboyant in his play. He is an attacking player and loves to win almost as much as he hates to lose. Peco and Smile’s matches against each other paint an accurate portrait of their friendship. Peco leads as is natural for him, and Smile follows as is his nature. However the irrepressible rise in Smile’s talent doesn’t go unnoticed for long. As such, one of the major themes of Ping Pong is the changing dynamic in Peco and Smile’s relationship as both of them grow up and how they reconcile a potential challenge to the established status quo between them. One of the show’s most interesting supporting characters in Sakuma or ‘Demon’. The match between Peco and Demon reflects the inner turmoil felt by Demon. His own anxieties regards his lack of prodigious talent come to the fore during their match. Whilst Ping Pong may be a fun pastime for Peco where victory is a natural by-product, for Demon, to defeat Peco is an opportunity to prove something to himself; that he can overcome those with greater natural advantages than himself by solely relying on effort and determination. Peco accuses of Demon of being ‘cheap’ and relying on ‘lobs and blocks’. Demon’s response of ‘Table Tennis is evolving’ is reflective of his meticulous nature and obsessive personality which are in turn reflected in his chosen style of play. Demon has worked tirelessly to evolve to a point where he can challenge Peco; someone whom he admires and also envies. Kazama and Kong, another two of the show’s supporting characters, are both shown to be motivated by family. Kazama’s obsession with victory, the restoration of his father’s honour and the prosperity of his family’s business all link themselves inextricably with his indomitable style of play. His shaven head, relentless practice regime and refusal to even visit his own mother are all products of his iron-cast will to prove himself and validate his immediate family’s position in the Kazama clan. Kong has family motivations also. He wants to pay his mother back for her support and rectify previous failures in his homeland which led to his subsequent ‘exile’ in Japan. Each of the major characters of Ping Pong encounter each other at various points as their character arcs intertwine. The changing relationships between characters magnify their personal development and the strikingly natural and realistic dialogue between the show’s major players make each of these scenes a pleasure to watch. Smile announces to us early on in the story that ‘I just quietly do as I’m told, like a robot’. This robot conceit is carried throughout the series in the form of abstract sequences in which Smile, known for both his robotic personality and style of play, calls out for a ‘hero’. As the story of Ping Pong gradually unfolds we witness Smile learn the lesson that ‘hot blood flows through (his) body’, the same as everyone else. Smile’s love of Ping Pong allows him his opportunity for both escapism and self-expression and as the story progresses the lessons he learns from his rise in the sport help form him into the Smile we see at the end of the story.


Ping Pong: The Animation is one of the most astonishing anime I’ve ever seen. It’s something that could only come out of passion and devotion from an eccentric auteur who prides himself in the unique and extraordinary. Only masters and madmen could produce works as tight and uniquely crafted as this. It’s easy to see why this show is regarded as a masterpiece. Frankly, this anime deserves all the praise it gets. That’s not to say it will appeal to everyone. The art style is rough. There’s no denying that. It’s so rough that some may call it ugly, ignoring the stellar, often cinematic presentation and wonderful comic book style Yuasa mastered in the process. Some will forego praising the character designs because of the artwork, unable to appreciate how deliberately presented the matches are and how lovely the colors and imagery can be. No two matches are ever the same, and the last two are particularly stunning. They may even write off the show as badly animated despite how well-animated everything is, simply because they don’t like the drawings and because there’s some CGI (a lot of which you may not even notice) and missing faces every now and then. It’s a shame, but even if you find this Tatsunoko Production show ugly, I’d implore you to endure it for the wonderful writing and adrenaline-pumping displays of games and drama permeating each episode. It looks better than you’d expect, and better than many give it credit for. Accompanying the often-electrifying matches is the show’s OST composed by Kensuke Ushio. There are several engaging tracks that highlight the immense pressure each game instills on its players and the audience, effectively becoming memorable battle themes in the process. I’m also a fan of the one electronic track that appears in some moments of preparation and speculation in the tournaments, as it adds to the anticipation the show already delivers in spades. The only other memorable song outside of a fun karaoke track in episode 6 and another insert song in the finale, would be the opening. "Tada Hitori" by Bakudan Johnny is a raw and fun track that encapsulates the determination and passion the show’s characters have for the game. The keyboard works perfectly with the guitar, drums, and manly vocals.  Now to get to what you’re really here for. Ping Pong: The Animation’s character writing is frighteningly good. The show juggles several different character arcs in each episode, with said arcs and characters influencing and interacting with each other in meaningful and standout ways. This happens even when one character’s arc concludes, such as with Manabu the “Demon” who helps a former rival out of his downward spiral after being forced to re-examine himself and his own jealousy. The best part is that all of this is done in the span of 11 22-minute episodes. With such a tight story length and brisk pace, you’d think these character arcs would feel rushed or incomplete. Most of them do not and even those that do feel a tad rushed in places have such minor slip-ups that most people won’t notice or care. You can always see a logical start and end with every single point in each character’s arc, whether that be Wenge Kong’s arrogance and desperation to prove himself to get back on his former team, or Smile’s change from a reserved, almost nihilistic drone playing to pass the time and find some fun in Ping Pong, to a tremendous machine whose ice is gradually thawed. This isn’t even going over Peco’s or Kazuma the Dragon’s arcs, which culminate in one of the best penultimate episodes I have ever seen. Additionally, we learn about each character’s playstyle and training regimens. Their backstories are presented with a certain amount of flair even early on before certain players suffer major losses. It avoids the pitfall of explaining everything about a character’s backstory at a life or career-threatening moment, as we learn about them way before their most critical games expand on their backstories once and for all. On top of that, their character dynamics are filled with such vibrancy that these people would take on a life of their own through that alone. They’re all incredibly well-realized and tactile, so their journeys are electrifying. The way their arcs are delicately woven together adds even more chemistry and life to these characters, making their arcs all the more rewarding. It’s because of this that the revelations and conclusions regarding each character in the back half are able to become some of the most hype moments I’ve witnessed all year. Every time a character resigns to his fate, it’s as powerful as a hero’s special move. Fitting given the motif that defines our main leads. I dare not say more. Just know that you’re getting a lot out of this cast in such a short period of time, and that the big matches this anime presents are as moving as some of the best anime fights out there. That’s why the writing’s so daunting and impressive. Another aspect of this show that is incredibly intricate and tactile is the world. Exposition dumps about the major schools of Ping Pong are presented through advertisements and through characters trying to encourage our main protagonist “Smile” to join their school. We get to see their training regimens, colors, ethos, and more through careful sprinkles of information or dazzling displays. Characters also often remark on strange fads and trends regarding delicacies like the sudden thinning of soda carbonation or these chocolate bar gimmicks that make the general populous unable to appreciate the basic $1 bar. Even minor characters that get defeated in one episode often get noticeable characterization to them to make this world become even more alive. My favorite example is this one character who is constantly looking for a place where he belongs. Long after he loses his match and he declares his next destination, you see him shifting from ping pong to the beach and then to the mountains, and so on. These are all small details, little touches that make this already vibrant anime even more lively. Nitpicks like the scores not accurately depicting what the anime is conveying regarding certain games, and a few character beats feeling rushed, aren’t enough to take that away from this show. Ping Pong is an anime that soars like few ever could. Assuming you’re not averse to the visuals or a quirky style, it’s hard not to get sucked into a show this rich and explosive. It’s daunting how this show can cram so much without feeling bloated. It’s commendable on that aspect alone, but the payoffs to our incredible characters’ arcs make for some of the most glorious and rewarding experiences I’ve had with anime all year. You’ve probably already made your judgment on whether or not to take this anime into consideration long before my meager self stepped into the fray, and there are several more talented writers and reviewers that have sung the praises of this anime to hell and back. However, if you’ve never considered watching this anime before, then I hope this review inspires even one person to do so. I’ll stand among those who have adored this anime, so here’s an invitation to join us. Written and Edited by: CodeBlazeFate Proofread by: Peregrine

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