Why do we play even when we’re going to lose? Why do we invest ourselves in things that may bring us pain? Because we love it.
By Eric Porco
(Image Credit: Tatsunoko Production)
Ping Pong the Animation is without a doubt a very good anime. Eleven episodes long, it is also a pretty short anime as they go. Right away I will say that this is a must-watch to anyone that plays sports or is involved in any competitive activities whatsoever. While Ping Pong the Animation is centered around the sport table tennis, it has much to say about the nature of competition in general, and I would say that anyone who plays a sport or competes in a game of any kind will find watching Ping Pong to be an incredibly enriching experience.
With that said, Ping Pong the Animation centers around the story of two particularly talented high school table tennis players in Japan. Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto, ironically named “Smile” for the fact that he never seems to smile or show much emotion or passion at all, and Yukata “Peco” Hoshino, Smile’s childhood friend who introduced him to table tennis, and who is particularly passionate about the sport. While the story follows these two for the most part, one of the things that makes Ping Pong the Animation such a good show is the plethora of good supporting characters, all of whom bring their own unique philosophies about the sport and about competition.
Two examples that come to mind are Wenge Kong and Ryuichi “Dragon” Kazama. Kong, or “China” as he is referred to by many others of the cast, is a Chinese ping pong player who comes to Japan after being kicked off of his team, seeking to defeat the best players Japan has to offer, to reclaim his honor and his spot on the team. Throughout the story and the various competitions Kong competes in, he comes to realize that his goal may not be as easy as he initially thought. However, while initially devastated, Kong accepts this development and stays in Japan to coach his own ping pong team, and is able to learn that there is more to life than just his position as a competitor.
Kazama represents kind of an inverse to Kong in this regard. Kazama’s entire life is his ability to win, attending a prestigious ping pong focused academy whose legend he carries on his back. Kazama is an absolute ping pong monster, literally being referred to as one by the other characters, and drawn like one in a few scenes. Under this, however, is a person who has sacrificed everything to be as good as he is and win as he does. Kazama has faced enormous pressure to win for much of his time playing ping pong, and as a result, ping pong has stopped being an activity to enjoy and has turned into a hurdle to overcome.
While I won’t spend the entire review talking about every character’s motivations, this does bring us to the ultimate question the show attempts to answer: why do we compete? Many of the characters struggle with this question, and the show makes no attempt to hide the fact that even the very best do not necessarily know.
However, there is a reminder. The character Peco, the childhood friend of Smile, and one of the two main characters of the show, answers this question. Peco represents the simple fact that the reason why we compete, the reason why we try despite the threat of failure, despite the pain of losing, is because of our love for it. Peco’s arc follows his divorce from ping pong and his eventual realization that he truly does love it, and that despite everything, ping pong is a blast.
Peco’s almost childlike embrace of the fun of competing in the sport offers a simple truth about the reality of competition, that whether or not you win or lose, everyone’s there to play because they love the game.
Besides just the phenomenal story, however, there is still a decent amount to talk about with Ping Pong the Animation. Ping Pong uses a somewhat unconventional animation style, allowing for jagged lines and an overall different and more realistic feeling style of presentation than many other anime. The show backs this style up with energetic and expressive animation, allowing this presentation to work to the show’s benefit. In addition to this, the show’s soundtrack is also particularly impressive, enhancing the show with adrenaline-pumping tracks befitting the energetic and fast nature of table tennis. The soundtrack also laments and adds to the sadder moments of the show, providing a melancholic balance when necessary.
Overall, I would say that Ping Pong the Animation is probably one of my favorite anime, and would recommend it to anyone curious, but especially anyone invested in competition or sports.
It is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video, and for streaming on Funimation.com.