Even when there’s a guy like Masaaki Yuasa handling the adaptation of one of your favourite stories, there’s always a small worry that something won’t click. In Ping Pong‘s case especially, pairing Yuasa with mangaka Taiyou Matsumoto was almost too perfect, because as any one who has read Matsumoto’s other works will know (Tekkonkinkreet and Sunny amongst them,) his drawing style is really unique, favouring jagged and uneven lines, an aesthetic that’s also much like Yuasa’s own for Mind Game, Kemonozume and Kick Heart.
Visually then, these two guys go against the grain, but that in itself is just a superficial thing and not reason enough to care. They also happen to be masters of their respective crafts. Kaiba, The Tatami Galaxy, Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong and Sunny. These two are amongst the best working in animanga today, so when the Ping Pong anime was announced, it felt too perfect; too much like a dream; something had to go wrong, right?!
Actually, no. Three episodes in and Ping Pong has been brilliant.
Speaking as someone who fell in love with the live action film version of Ping Pong many moons ago (and even wrote about it on this blog! It’s a great film, please watch it!) I feel like I know this story off by heart by now, but I’m still so excited to see Yuasa’s take on it, as well as my fellow anime fans’ reactions to it all. It’s really surreal for me to see people talking about obscure characters like Peco, Smile and Demon, characters that have been near and dear to my heart for years now. I just couldn’t be happier. Please keep watching it!
In terms of criticism, the one complaint that I’ve found quite puzzling (or lazy) is that Ping Pong is “just another” sports anime, as though it’s a story that feels like it’s been done before? For the record, I can’t get enough of sports anime anyway, but Ping Pong is still nothing like Hajime no Ippo, Aim for the Ace, Cross Game, Slam Dunk or Ookiku Furikabutte. If it’s close to anything, it’s probably Kuroko’s Basketball, because both deal with young prodigies and what it means to be (un)talented. Obviously, Kuroko’s Basketball is an exaggerated version of basketball, but Ping Pong‘s depiction of table tennis is realistic, yet laced with surrealism. Again, perfect fodder for Masaaki Yuasa, a man capable of that memorable whale escaping sequence from the climax of Mind Game.
What I’ve always loved about this story (and Kuroko’s, too, I suppose) is the way that these characters relate to each other: how Smile sees Peco, how Peco doesn’t realise that Smile idolises him, how everyone in this story is affected by everyone else around them. It’s about being responsible, trying hard, trying your best to use your talent. People close to you are watching you all of the time and you’re inspiring them without ever realising it. You’re their hero. That’s what Ping Pong has always been about to me: heroism, willing to try to live up to another person’s expectations of you. That’s not necessarily a healthy thing, but if you’re talented at something, people will look at you and be inspired. They believe in you. You’re a shining light to them. Don’t let them down.
Please watch Ping Pong.