Ping Pong – 02

Ping Pong - 02 -8 Ping Pong - 02 -23 Ping Pong - 02 -35

Ping Pong and Nanana are both anime in the same way a Great Dane and a Chihuahua are both the same species.

It’s almost as if Yamamoto Kouji and the team at Fuji TV looked at the schedule for Spring 2014 and said, “OK, we’re going to have two shows – a full hour.  But every bit of the creativity, daring and originality is going to go into one show.  The other can just be whatever.”  If you ever wanted to find two series whose juxtaposition could clearly refute the possibility that NoitaminA still means anything as a cohesive presence, you couldn’t do better than these two.

But then, Ping Pong isn’t responsible for NoitaminA, if NoitaminA even still matters.  Ping Pong is quite bold and brilliant enough to speak for itself.  I wasn’t 100% sold after the premiere (maybe 80%) and Yuasa Masaaki’s visual trickery still isn’t my favorite style of direction.  But among the many things that became crystal clear after this majestic second episode, two stand out for me.  The first is that Matsumoto Taiyou’s source material has the potential for greatness in it.  And the second is that it’s a perfect fit for Yuasa-sensei’s aesthetic.

If the standout character of the premiere was “China”, without a doubt the breakout of the second is Koizumi-sensei.  As usual Yuasa has stocked his series with a bunch of voices that don’t sound like the usual suspects in this day and age, and Yara Yuusaku is delivering such a performance here.  He’s actually a veteran seiyuu but hasn’t been heard much lately, and he sank his teeth into the role this week with glee and aplomb.  I found his Engrish to be more odd than anything in the premiere, but it was truly hilarious here – first when he corrects Peco’s pronunciation of “burger” (though his isn’t much better) and the second when he calls Smile “Honey”.  There’s a lot of context behind that second one which I’ll get to shortly, but in the moment it’s pure comic gold.

We do get just a few moments of Kong Wenge here, before the opening credits – and it’s enough to make me want to see a lot more – but the rest of the cast more than ably carries the rest of the episode.  Koizumi, as I said, takes command quickly.  He fills a role that’s much more akin to an American-style sports coach here than a Japanese one, like a reject from “Friday Night Lights”.  His dialogue (like that “Honey”) is pure Hollywood.  There was little sense in the premiere of just how intense, driven and talented he was – but boy, this ep sure makes up for it.  Koizumi takes it upon himself to bring out the beast inside Smile, the kid whose talent he’s spotted even as the boy has tried his best to hide it (“You don’t follow the ball, Smile – the ball follows you.  You feel it, don’t you?”).  And the methods he uses (a romance like no other) are decidedly un-Japanese – and thus far, unsuccessful.

Another important character makes an appearance this week, and that’s Kazama Ryuuichi (Sakuya Shunsuke, another old hand who’s not a major presence these days) – universally known as “Dragon”.  He’s the defending inter-high champ for rival Kaio High and #4 in the world junior rankings, and he’s come to practice to – of course – observe Smile.  In truth he’s come to tell Koizumi that Smile is wasted at Katase and to get him to transfer, but he too is underestimating Koizumi-sensei’s determination and stubbornness (if there’s a difference in this case – or any).  Dragon is intimidating as hell – bald, huge, and looking and sounding twice his age – but I get the sense he’s a decent sort of fellow.  We’ll see.

In structure, what we’re seeing here seems pretty clear.  First Peco, then China, then Koizumi, and now Dragon – Smile is the hub around which all these spokes rotate.  Their role in the story is going to be to shape his story, each in their own way (and they are already).  Of Smile himself we learn bits and pieces, both from his odd demeanor and through flashbacks.  Most prominent among those is the one showing him trapped inside a classroom janitor’s closet as a grade-schooler, talking to himself to keep himself calm, eventually imagining the moment when “The hero arrives” – is that hero his own submerged ego, or something else altogether?  He expresses no desire but to be left alone, yet the world seems unwilling to honor it, no matter how hard he tries to be invisible (“I even breathe quietly”) – and of course Smile’s obvious talent for ping pong is a curse for this very reason, so it’s no wonder he tries to hide it. Smile is fascinating – he of all people justifies his lax effort and resistance to Koizumi’s coaching by telling Peco “I’m only in it for a good time.  Having fun is enough.”  The contrast to the face he shows the world as he plays is inescapable.

All of this is laid out during a lazy stroll around Enoshima (I hadn’t realized this series was set there – NoitaminA has good Karma with that enchanting place) that both cements the realistic and complex nature of Smile and Peco’s friendship and offers Yuasa the chance to come as close as he ever does to conventionally beautiful imagery.  Yuasa’s vision generally reveals what’s frankly a pretty ugly world, but he finds beauty in the way he frames the boys and the landscape, in the soaring kite bird that steals a woman’s burger (“Burrrr-grrrrr!”).  He captures the moment beautifully here – the idyll of youth, the way boys take comfort in each other’s company while doing nothing overtly to court or give it.  These two are certainly a mismatched pair in the way adolescent friends so often are, but the dynamic between them is a fascinating one.

The culmination of the episode is a challenge from Koizumi to Smile, which both cements Ping Pong’s status as a great sports anime and stamps it as a sports anime unlike any other (and what a glorious time it is for the genre).  The 72 year-old and the 16 year-old are even more of a mismatched pair, but their duel is psychologically and physically brutal – the old man teases and taunts the young in the first game, having encoded his game deduced his weaknesses unerringly.  But this match brings out the savage in Smile, which I suspect is exactly what Koizumi intended – I don’t think the old bastard ever expected to win his bet and turn Koizumi into his “dog” but to spark a fire in him that the boy would never be able to extinguish, thus accomplishing the same goal.  But when the heat of battle causes his blood to boil, Koizumi can’t do anything but try for the kill – once an athlete, always an athlete.   That’s one of many fascinating themes we’ve seen teased out over the first two episodes, and the potential for the next nine weeks is tantalizing to say the least.

Ping Pong - 02 -10 Ping Pong - 02 -11 Ping Pong - 02 -12
Ping Pong - 02 -13 Ping Pong - 02 -14 Ping Pong - 02 -15
Ping Pong - 02 -16 Ping Pong - 02 -17 Ping Pong - 02 -18
Ping Pong - 02 -19 Ping Pong - 02 -20 Ping Pong - 02 -21
Ping Pong - 02 -22 Ping Pong - 02 -24 Ping Pong - 02 -25
Ping Pong - 02 -26 Ping Pong - 02 -27 Ping Pong - 02 -28
Ping Pong - 02 -29 Ping Pong - 02 -30 Ping Pong - 02 -31
Ping Pong - 02 -32 Ping Pong - 02 -33 Ping Pong - 02 -34
Ping Pong - 02 -36 Ping Pong - 02 -37 Ping Pong - 02 -38


  1. M

    "NoitaminA has good Karma with that enchanting place"
    Enzo, what other anime are set in Enoshima?

    And, my god. This episode was just as amazing as the last. That's a rarity even in this season of genuinely impressive shows.

  2. Z


  3. t

    ping pong the animation is very unique series.
    despite its oddness in character design and old-school animation, this series shows has some really interesting points.

    the sports element(aka ping pong) – it's not the usual sport we know of from other sports series. sure, it's a main element and all.'s not really the heart of the series, it feels more of an element to drive the characters, but it's hard to say the characters really "breathe" it like others.

    I think it's more SoL. we see it how the characters(the chinese guy, now dragon and even peco) revolves around "smile" (Tsukimoto) and little by little we are exposed to how he sees the world – he doesn't care what happens. he just wanna pass some time (through ping pong or gameboy or whatever). there is his past that probably left a scar on him. we see it through this game with the analogy of the robot and all. there's also the talk about the "heroes" and the "blood tastes like iron". there is some..melancholic atmosphere and it's very interesting with the characters and their own point of view and how ping pong actually tie this whole complex.

    in the end of the day, although this show may look quite bizarre and even feel like it, there is something behind all of it. and there are some comic moments that makes everything go smooth, I really enjoy this.

  4. S

    Refreshing to see an atypical sports anime. This show feels a lot more realistic and down to earth than most others. I initially thought Baby Steps would be the number one sports anime of the season due since I love the manga, but I have to admit that Ping Pong is actually the better one.

    This episode was all about Smile’s personality: A pessimistic, unambitious boy with hidden talents who doesn’t want to face pressure and expectations. It’s depicted as a beautiful allegory with a closet representing his comfort zone.
    I can really relate to the guy, but I personally don’t like him. His total lack of drive is grating. It doesn’t even fit with his defensive style, since these type of players rely on their competitiveness. Hope to see more passion starting to burn in him when he unlocks his potential.

  5. E

    have to say im loving this series, i agree in that they chose the perfect director to adapt it. The flat bright colors and all the little visual flourises add a different sort of dynamism to the original material.

    peko's nickname comes from "peko chan" a candy mascot:

    Personally i see where smile comes from. whenever i compete with my older brother. i dont sandbag, but i dont go in for the kill ( whether its ping pong, street fighter, chess) like i do with other people,

    P.S. ive been following the blog, and ive found some great series thanks to it. so thanks and keep up the good work.

  6. Thanks, Emiliano – nice to hear.

  7. m

    Alright if this show is half as good as I'm hearing I'm going to swallow all of my prejudice against the "sport" ping pong and watch this. Cross Game's character designs were something I never liked, but watching that despite that was the best anime related decision I've made. I know I've said I dislike tennis, but tennis is a sport in any conceivable definition of the word…ping pong is the opposite. But your review makes a good case for the show being an interesting character driven show, which always means it's worth checking out.

  8. Wow – are you really suggesting Ping Pong isn't a sport? Have you ever watched it played at the competitive level?

  9. l

    Ping pong or in its official name, table tennis, is a major sport. It is also an official Olympic sport. Please back up your assertion that "tennis is a sport in any conceivable definition of the word…ping pong is the opposite". It is easy to disprove your assertion:

    "Sport" as defined by the Oxford dictionaries:

    An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment

    Playing table tennis requires a lot of physical exertion as it involves a lot of fast reactions and lots of quick running and change of directions. Exerts a physical toll on the body. It also requires a high level of technical skill in the various types of shots needing to hit such a small table area – combination of power and delicacy. Table tennis has significantly less room for error than tennis in terms of accuracy and finesse. Entertainment-wise, it is subjective because it is in the eye of the beholder. You may not be entertained by it but a lot of other people are in Asia and Europe.

  10. l

    With this 2nd episode, Ping pong pulls further ahead of the other 3 sports anime. While the 2 big name titles, i.e. Haikyuu!! and Baby Steps, attracted the most attention initially in their strong starts, it is Ping Pong that has been much better than both of them with its own strong start and raising the bar even higher in the 2nd episode.

  11. n

    "Stop being logical! It's against the sports club rules!" Gee…

  12. m

    Look, I know ping pong is a sport by the technical definition, I was making a point. Though that definition doesn't necessarily include ping pong anyway. It says AN activity not ANY activity. Otherwise you could say tag was a sport. Tag requires physical exertion and skill in avoiding others. It's a technicality but ping pong is a game not a sport. I know that sentence is stupid, but you get what I mean.

    My point was that ping pong is a fun recreational game, and taking it that seriously seems so silly. It's like when people do those cup stacking competitions. Yeah it's certainly a skill, and I recognize the amount of practice that went into it, but it seems strange to work that hard for something like that. I'll concede that my opinion on this matter is in no way indicative of what the world's opinion is or what anyone else's opinion should be.
    Calling ping pong a sport is like when ESPN calls pool and bowling sports. They undeniably take natural talent and drive to improve yourself, but does that make it the same as say Rugby? As far as the Olympics go I have that same issue with most Olympic events. Comic Doug Stanhope has a bit about how the Olympics aren't sports they are each pieces of one sport. Running, wrestling, throwing, skating. Put them together to make one actual sport. Gymnastics is undeniably one of the hardest athletic competitions in the world, but it's not a "real" sport bc a judge picks a winner.
    My point is that I fully recognize the hard work, talent, and determination that people who play competitive ping pong put into playing it at that level. And I agree that it equals the talent and work put in by any professional baseball, soccer, football, basketball, tennis, etc player. But putting in hard work doesn't make something a sport.. Dancing takes athletic skill and countless hours of training, but it isn't a sport. Though ping pong players I would assume aren't as athletic as pro's in the major sports leagues.
    I'm clearly biased here, and I certainly don't mean to offend anyone who plays ping pong or anything I've labeled not a "real" sport. Please understand that not considering it a sport doesn't mean I think it's easy or has no merit at all. Obviously whatever you choose to do with your own life is by no means my place to discourage or devalue. I just don't get ping pong at all. It's a skill to be that good at it, and I enjoy playing ping pong when I get the chance, but I can't bring myself to take it as seriously as baseball and the like.

  13. We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because I definitely disagree with a whole lot of that, LOL.

  14. l

    Look, I know ping pong is a sport by the technical definition, I was making a point. Though that definition doesn't necessarily include ping pong anyway. It says AN activity not ANY activity. Otherwise you could say tag was a sport. Tag requires physical exertion and skill in avoiding others.

    When tag is codified with rules and regulations, including fixing a playing field size for the activity, it can qualify as a sport. For example, the Indian sport of Kabbadi.

    It's a technicality but ping pong is a game not a sport. I know that sentence is stupid, but you get what I mean.

    The fact you know that sentence is stupid and standing by it, speaks for itself.

    Fundamentally, this is your main basis:

    My point was that ping pong is a fun recreational game, and taking it that seriously seems so silly.

    Just because you have the opinion that it is a fun recreational game and not to be taken seriously means it is not a sport. Therefore, if someone else thinks, say, baseball is a fun recreational game and not to be taken seriously, then by using the same logic as yours, would make baseball a game and not a sport.

    It's a waste of time to take this any further.

  15. R

    Professional ping pong players can be scary people. When you get a chance, check out some of the Chinese tournaments, it's crazy.

    Although I can see why, if you're American or European or from some country where ping pong is a "recreational sport" it might be hard to understand that. There's no need to argue, it's just a cultural and perspective divide. But ping pong is just as serious as tennis or baseball in the right setting, which this very much is. (it's pretty competitive in Japan and a lot of Southeast Asian countries)

  16. m

    Haha I certainly wasn't trying to enter the great ping pong debate of 2014.

    My point was all I have to do is acknowledge that the world considers ping pong a sport, and that people work very hard at it and that in and of itself is admirable. But I don't have to consider it in the same category as say tennis or baseball, nor is it wrong not to do so. It may be close-minded to an extent, but I find it boring and find it silly to spend that much time on it. But I'm not on the committee of sports definition.
    My original point was I don't like ping pong or the character style, BUT if it was a truly great show I would look past all of that and would want to check it out. I hate Tennis, but Baby Steps is one of my favorite stories in any format (film, tv, book, manga, etc). That's all, just that I wanted to know if this show was really as good as I've heard. I admit I may have went off on a ping pong hating tangent, but that's neither here nor there.

  17. m

    and I realize it's passed not past

Leave a Comment