Anime Spotlight: Ping Pong the Animation

Ping Pong the Animation is an anime based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto. The series is produced by Tatsunoko Productions, and is directed by Masaaki Yuasa. The series aired on Japanese television from April 10-June 20, 2014.

As of this writing, FUNimation Entertainment holds the North American streaming rights for Ping Pong the Animation.

The series focuses on two boys who participate in their school’s ping pong club: Makoto Tsukimoto (aka Smile) and Yutaka Hoshino (aka Peco). They’re both first-years who are good enough players that they caused a couple of members to lose their spots as regulars, which has caused some friction in the club. It doesn’t help that Peco has a tendency to skip practice in order to play against people at the tennis table dojo in front of the Odakyu station in order to bet against them. Smile, meanwhile, doesn’t live up to his nickname and is basically rather aloof to most other people. Even though they may have opposite personalities, Peco and Smile are best friends.

One day, Peco gets the idea to skip out on practice in order to check out Kong Wenge, a Chinese ping pong player who has been recruited to play with Tsujido High’s team. He convinces Smile to go along with him. When they get there, there’s no one in the gym, so the two of them start playing against each other while they wait for Kong to get back. Kong and his interpreter are on the roof, and they hear the two of them playing.

When Kong goes back inside, he challenges Smile to a game; however, Peco insists to play with them. Kong is able to beat Peco rather easily, which upsets Peco because he’d been considered an impressive player until this point.

Koizumi, Peco and Smile’s coach, takes an interest in Smile’s abilities and eventually persuades Smile to have Koizumi train him. As Smile trains with Koizumi, he has a major change of attitude that causes his teammates to like him even less than they did before. But as time goes on, Smile learns how to balance having his talent and relating to the other members of his team.

Peco, meanwhile, quits table tennis after losing to Wenge, but then comes back to the sport and rejoins his school’s team. When Peco loses to his old adversary Akuma from the days when he and Smile trained at the table tennis dojo, Smile decides to quit again; he also grows his hair out long and gains weight from eating so much junk food. It’s after a chance meeting with Akuma that Peco realizes that he needs to retrain from the beginning, and asks Ms. Tamura, the woman who runs the dojo, to work with him again.

Kazama is a ping pong player from Kaio, and he has been the reigning champion of the sport. His grandfather owns Poseidon, a company that creates and sells ping pong equipment and accessories. Kazama takes an interest in Smile, and keeps trying to get him to leave his school and to come play for Kaio; unfortunately, he never seems to convince Smile to change schools. Kazama’s cousin, Yuri, stars in Poseidon’s commercials and seems to have an interest in Kazama; however, Kazama is so intent on training for table tennis that he doesn’t notice her feelings for him.

Within the course of 11 episodes, the series basically goes through a little over one year in time, and culminates with the singles qualifiers during Smile and Peco’s second year of high school.

First off, I have to say that I have to give credit to Ping Pong The Animation for not being a “typical sports anime.” Unfortunately, I have to say that the pacing for the series ended up being a bit awkward, especially since the series was trying to condense about one year into the course of 11 episodes. This meant that the first seven episodes tended to feel rushed. Then, starting with episode eight, the pace slows down and the series spend its final four episodes focusing on one event; this would be the singles qualifiers that takes place for the series’ climax. But then, during the final episode, there’s a timeskip that takes place from the end of the qualifiers match to several years into the future.

Unfortunately, with how rushed those first seven episodes were, this didn’t allow for as much character development as there could have been in order to help the audience care more for the characters. I wish there had been some more episodes for the series in order to give the story and the characters a little more room to “breathe” and to develop even more.

Now that I’ve finished watching the series, I find myself wondering why Kazama’s cousin Yuri was ever introduced. Honestly, she didn’t truly add much of anything of any real relevance to the series and was quickly written out in Episode 10.

When it came to the animation, I have to admit that I did have some issues with the animation style right at first; however, I became accustomed to it around Episode Three. Once the animation style didn’t distract me, I was able to better focus on the storytelling aspect of the series.

I’m glad that I was able to see Ping Pong the Animation through free streaming, but it’s not a series that I’m going to go out of my way to watch again or purchase on home video if a North American anime distributor ever gets the home video distribution rights for the Ping Pong The Animation.

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