Jun 2, 2015
Rqt (All reviews)
I recently reviewed something and gave it praise for the narrative it was able to achieve in 13 episodes. I can’t help but share that sentiment in regards to what Ping Pong is able to accomplish with its 11 episodes. A transformation story from angsty adolescence to enlightened and matured adults, Ping Pong goes well and truly beyond the generic confines of the sports genre illustrating a beautiful narrative of complex emotional growth and maturation, truly cementing its place as a modern classic.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Masaaki Yuasa a genius. Those who have been exposed to his past works will understand that his left wing approach goes completely against the grain and standard expectations of animation by today's standard. Combined with the fact that his works are highly intelligent, often profound and filled with a philosophical depth Yuasa earns his place at the pinnacle of the industry. And here he is again. After Mind Game. After Tatami Galaxy. Yuasa has returned bellowing from above, telling us once again that life is simply worth living. That despite anything that happens in one's life, there is always a reason to push on. That in and of itself, is what Ping Pong is truly about. Living. Living life to its fullest, enjoying every twist and turn it brings.

“We’re alive, that’s why we’re happy!”

Understanding that, its no surprise that the characters, above all else, make Ping Pong truly special. They are the driving force of the series. Genuine, believable and one way or another it is likely for their emotions and struggles to resonate with the viewer. These character’s are not perfect, they are flawed, burdened and they struggle. The hero of the story - Peco - is so full of hot air and arrogance at the beginning that once he is brutally beaten by someone worlds ahead of him, and by someone he once thought was beneath him, he falters and loses hope almost giving up on the sport he has loved his entire life. Yet it is his inevitable acceptance and reinvention of himself that results in not only his transformation to maturity, but also the transformations of those he meets along the way.

Similarly, Kong Wenge finds himself in a comparable position, being ostracized from the national Chinese team, he finds himself in egotistical ignorance like Peco, thinking he is above everyone else. It is only through his acceptance after playing with Peco that Kong evolves and is truly able to succeed. Kazama sacrifices everything in an attempt to maintain his family and club’s status. Ping Pong is simply a means to an end for Kazama. Through his match with Peco, he finally learns to let go of his burdens, to play for himself, no longer seeing the sport as a mandatory duty. Through exposure to the hero Kazama also transforms not only being able to enjoy the sport for what it is, but also his life. Yet no transformation is more rewarding or majestic than Smile’s. Peco finally breaks Smile’s robot shell in their final match and for the first time since he was a child, he smiles.

Its understandable that the art deters individuals. By no means will everyone like it, it is far from mainstream but there is reason for everything that is drawn and animated. I am certainly bias when it comes to Yuasa’s art, it reminds me of older series, back when things were largely hand drawn, they felt genuine. Now everything seems cold and straight and lacking any warmth or sincerity. And for the majority that’s probably fine. That bias aside, I believe Yuasa’s eccentric art compliments the series brilliantly. The genuine art resonates with the genuine characters and their plethora of emotions and complications. A wide range of cinematography techniques and symbolism are used to emphasize the deeper aspects of the series. What makes Yuasa’s art truly special is they way he is able to use this symbolism to highlight certain aspects, such as the armor breaking away as Smile is playing against Peco in the finale, this signifies both visually and metaphorically that he truly has transformed. The artistic style is truly limitless in what it is able to illustrate, which is why I truly believe Yuasa’s art to not only be aesthetically beautiful, but also carry depth.

Just like the art, Ushio’s OST is equally synergistic to the series. The score has a wide range of sounds and tracks that have a wide variety of applications for all emotional ranges and actions. Just like the art, there are many tracks on the OST that go beyond an enjoyable listening experience, which is to be expected when it comes to any high quality score. The “Hero Theme” is not only a phenomenal composition, but the use of it really exhumes raw emotion, it is engaging to listen to and it harmonizes well with what is transpiring. Smile’s “Monster” theme really reiterates the robotic personality he has. Ultimately, the OST has a brilliant atmosphere that only strengthens the series. Not only this but both the sound effects and editing are done phenomenally, nothing sounds out of place.

Ping Pong reaches a standard very few anime will ever reach. Driven by flawless characterization, a beautiful story of growth, maturation and life itself is expertly illustrated. It is a series that certainly breaks the mould, avoiding the restrictions and cliches that run rampant through both the genre and animation in general. It is a story that’s message and characters are likely to resonate with the viewer, something only true art can accomplish. Ping Pong is Masaaki Yuasa at his best. Ping Pong is true art.

Thanks for taking the time to read.