Ping Pong Review - Misuta Tsukimoto!!

Jared Popelar · October 18, 2017

Okay, maybe calling Saki a sports anime was a bit of a stretch.

Look, I love mahjong as much as the next guy who probably has no clue what’s going on with it. That isn’t in question. This is more along the lines of me having a sudden realization that, over the eight months I’ve been writing for Kotatsu Club, I have never formally reviewed a sports show for the site. And I honestly feel a little dirty about that. I mean, some of the best shows to have come out in recent history have been sports shows, so the fact I haven’t been giving them all that much attention is…actually kinda doing them a disservice.

I mean, let’s think about all the major show genres I’ve reviewed up to this point. I’ve done comedy, drama, clubs, isekai, shounen, magical girls, psych thriller, whatever the hell Casshern Sins was, romcom, harem, yuri, and…I think that about covers everything. No sports anime to speak of, and again I’m not counting Saki on the basis that, when people think of sports, mahjong is pretty far down the list of things that immediately spring to mind.

So, I propose we slowly work our way up this week, and pick out an esoteric sport that’s still a sport but doesn’t immediately stand out as a major one. Let’s see, we have…badminton, squash, racquetball… Jeesh, I’m getting caught up on my racket sports aren’t I? Maybe it’s time to pull out Prince of Tennis…?

No, nononono, I don’t hate myself that much. But now I’m caught on tennis…and I don’t really want to table this review for later…

Waaaaait a minute…


I have no idea why I find this so hard.

Okay, incredibly drawn out joke aside, this week we’re looking at 2014’s breakout series that I find a lot of people say that saw but really haven’t: Ping Pong: The Animation, a manga adaptation produced by Tatsunoko Production and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, or as he’s more popularly known, the Tatami Galaxy guy. And…I’m about to confess to something kinda incriminating considering my position. A lot of outlets, this one included, cited Ping Pong as the best show of 2014, and I never saw it. Wasn’t even interested.

As I dodge the rotten tomatoes some of my viewers are likely throwing at me through their monitors right now, let’s keep at this review like I’m not being barraged by resentful comments and my credibility as a critic isn’t dropping faster than a Magic the Gathering card following a format rotation. Our show takes a look at two high school table tennis players: the quiet and always stoic Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto (Kouki Uchiyama, Amagi, Death Parade, Infinite Stratos, Yuri!!!) and the energetic and self-confident Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino (Fukujurou Katayama). The standard sports anime shenanigans happen: there’s a big tournament, there’s training montages, someone gets absolutely ruined and calls it quits from the sport. It’s the usual deal.

Except anyone who has even tried to describe Ping Pong as “usual” has had their pants incinerated before they could open their mouth. Ping Pong if nothing else stands out as a show. I don’t care what your opinion on it as a whole is; this is the one indisputable fact about almost all of Yuasa’s projects. They are recognizable right out of the gate as labors of passion and love. And Ping Pong showcases Yuasa’s directorial style to its fullest extent. Yes, moreso than Tatami Galaxy, and remember just how much I love that show in the first place.

Ping Pong hits every single chord I remember loving from Tatami Galaxy, from the esoteric and occasionally nonsense art style to the simple but engaging writing (actually, simple is not the first word I’d jump to in describing Tatami’s writing, but that’s mostly due to its presentation more than anything). The characters, despite sinking so far into the uncanny valley you could put this on during Halloween and have it succeed equally as well, are very well developed and fun to watch. The animation, holy hell the animation in this show is bananas in how beautiful and fluid every shot is. And if this paragraph isn’t testament enough, then yes, allow me to explicitly state that I deeply regret not watching this show on simulcast when it was airing.

Like, holy crap guys, this show was not only great, but it blew my expectations for “great” clean out of the water along with it. This…this is my kind of anime!


Smile seems to exercise demons via the art of paddling.

Every single frame in this show screams character, even though it is animated and drawn in a very unorthodox style compared to what we typically expect from other anime series. The visuals complement the events and dialogue remarkably well, even if a glance at a still out of context makes the shot look like abstract, surreal what-is-this-doing-in-my-ping-pong-show white noise. But that’s kinda the point of Yuasa’s shows; he specializes in using strange, out-there imagery beats and motifs to convey the importance of the show’s events and what they mean to the individual characters.

Combine this with some very unique and flashy animtation - whereby we see Smile literally become a robot over the course of a match with his coach - and Ping Pong is a visual spectacle to behold. There is not a single boring moment in this show, and it is almost entirely due to its presentation, animation and just pure passion that went into drawing every frame.

This is not to discount the writing and dialogue in Ping Pong either, both of which are remarkable in their own rights. While many other sports shows typically go out of their way to give detailed, in-depth descriptions about the strategies and minutia involved in their sport of interest (I love Haikyuu! as much as the next guy, but it kinda fell into this trap early on in Season 2), most of the action in Ping Pong actually happens away from the table. Sure, we still get to see a few good competitive matches played out between our protagonists and their rivals, and that’s where Tatsunoko really lets loose with their creative animation. But a good chunk of this show’s character and personality is lodged, where else, within the characters and their personalities.


There are three characters in this scene alone, and you can tell me immediately what everyone’s deal is.

Smile’s coach, as an example, is immediately recognizable from his mannerisms, strange sense of humor, and his always amusing injections of English when just straight Japanese would do the job. Smile is not Tsukimoto-kun, as he would probably be in just about any other show; he’s instead “Mister Tsukimoto.” He doesn’t walk into the gym and say good morning, he strides in and happily says, “Hello everybody,” in the most English way he can.

Peco is cocky, slightly arrogant and full of energy, until he loses a high-stakes game in the show’s first tournament arc. His decisions afterward keep him from being just a one-note character, and instead of watching him just dusting himself off, sticking his nose up a la “I meant to do that,” and striding out of the arena, we feel the impact of that defeat with him. This is a game that means a lot to Peco and his reactions to the match outcomes give the audience time to actually sympathize and understand just how far his connection to the sport goes.

One of Smile’s rivals (pardon the rhyme) is a dishonored Chinese student who was kicked off the national team following a humiliating defeat. Just through his dialogue alone, we can tell that he thinks very low of his competitors. He’s not striving to be the best, because he already knows he’s the best, and he sees everyone on the other side of the table as just another speed bump to reclaim his title. He’s dismissive, he speaks almost exclusively in Chinese so he gets his coach to speak to his competitors directly instead of him, and he absolutely refuses to let anyone stand in his way for longer than they have to be. None of that is explicitly stated by any of the characters, by the way. All of those conclusions I just drew are the result of absolutely spot on characterization and excellent storytelling by way of character’s actions.


Ka-paddle!!….I’ll stop now.

Ping Pong is a creative, visually engaging show that has a lot more going for it than just a unique art style. The writing and character beats are all brilliantly executed and provide some much needed depth that the sports genre can really use more of. The presentation looks rough and sketchy at times, but again, that’s kinda Yuasa’s MO. This isn’t Yuri!!! or SAO levels of polish and design, because that’s really not what Ping Pong is shooting for. The minimalistic art style allows for some very unique and colorful imagery, while also staying just far enough lowkey to where the show’s events and dialogue setpieces can comfortably remain in the foreground.

And let me reiterate, because I’m not saying this as a joke: this is probably one of, if not just the best show of 2014 by far (if you’re willing to put JBA as its own category and frankly there’s no reason not to by now). There is a ton to enjoy and unpack with this show, and I had an absolute bomb of a time watching it.

I prefaced this review saying that a lot of people seem to know what Ping Pong is but haven’t actually seen it. With any luck, I hope I’ve convinced some of you to fix that.



Enter the hero! Enter the hero! Enter the hero!

THE VERDICT: A+ Next time: More videogames

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