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Ping Pong: The Animation - The Complete Series
Adapted from Taiyo Matsumoto's critically acclaimed 1996 manga and animated by Tatsunoko Productions, the studio behind numerous fan favorite anime, including titles such as The Big O, Psycho-Pass, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, along with a couple of my personal favorites that flew under the radar like The SoulTaker and C-Control, comes Ping Pong: The Animation, a series that on the surface is a sports anime about players all over the world coming to compete in a national tournament, but deep down is a coming of age series about 4 separate players and how they deal with the pressures of life.
The primary protagonist of Ping Pong: The Animation is Yutaka "Peco" Hoshino (voiced by Aaron Dismuke), a loud, obnoxious, and cocky prodigy of the game who defeats everyone who challenges him with seemingly no effort at all. However, when he steps up to the big leagues, he's crushed by his first opponent with an 11-0 result. With Peco's first real look at loss, he feels like he's lost everything as the realization sets in that there's always somebody better out there. He quickly loses his passion with the game he's always loved, and seeks out new purpose for his life.
The deuteragonist of the series is Makoto Tsukimoto (voiced by Micah Solusod), who has been given the nickname "Smile" as a way to poke fun at him due to his no nonsense, "I don't give a damn" attitude about life in general. While Peco, his best friend, thrives on being the absolute best at the sport, Smile has seemed to have lost his passion for Ping Pong, happily being Peco's #2, not really caring if he wins or loses. Butterfly Joe (voiced by Mark Stoddard), Peco and Smile's coach, takes issue with this as he feels Smile has the potential to be THE best. Deciding to take a special interest in Smile, Butterfly Joe will bring out his true potential and help him rediscover the passion he once had for the game.
While the show mainly focuses on Peco and Smile, the show also puts quite a bit of the spotlight on the "antagonists" of the show, the Chinese team that is seemingly unbeatable, namely Kong (voiced by Alan Chow) and Ryuchi (voiced by Marcus D. Stimac.) Ryuchi, also known as "The Dragon", is the top of the top, the best in the world at Ping Pong, his goal is to continue winning the world tournament's in dominant and confident fashion, but in reality he breaks down before every single match, afraid to lose everyone/thing he's ever known if he loses. While Peco would seem like the natural target to beat, Ryuchi actually has his sights set on Smile. Kong is apparently unshakeable in his resolve, much like Peco, he's seemingly unbeatable and very cocky about it, decimating everyone in his path on the way to the championship, but behind the bravado is a isolated man whose been kicked off the Chinese national team. He's entered the nationals in hopes that he can win and to return to his home country after redeeming himself.
The way Ryuchi and Kong are handled in this series is truthfully one of the best aspects of the show, as they're introduced as the shallow and one note bad guys Peco and Smile have to overcome and thankfully after a couple of episodes, there was more to their characters than that. While a good chunk of series' only show us the protagonist's POV and motives for doing what they do, the antagonists are typically one dimensional in their motivations. And while Kong and Ryuchi certainly do start off as simply the obstacle Peco and Smile have to overcome, they end up as every bit sympathetic as our main characters, to the extent that you even feel yourself rooting for them a bit.
Ping Pong: The Animation is a huge risk on FUNimation's part. Never has a sports series really sold well for the company, as a matter of fact some of their past sports titles have been their biggest flops. If there is one sports anime i'd like to see succeed however, it's Ping Pong. Ping Pong: The Animation is a series, while focusing on the sport itself, injects healthy doses of character development and depth to the story that really sets itself apart from the pack.
+ The dub is excellent. To the majority of anime fans, Aaron Dismuke is probably best known as the original voice of Alphonse Elric from the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise. With a role as iconic in the anime world as one of the Elric brothers, it'd be hard to escape that shadow, but for me, Dismuke has done just that with his best work to date, really digging deep into the character and making Peco his own.
+ The animation for the project is a bold and risky choice, as I know it will turn some people off as it looks like manga straight from the page, but it helps set the show apart from literally any other anime series on the market.
+ A surprising amount of character development and depth for a series about something as trivial as Ping Pong.
- The series takes a few episodes to find its footing.
- The series was so rich with its characters and the 4 separate story arcs, it could have easily been expanded into a 20+ episode series without losing any of its quality.
Video and Audio:
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the video quality of Ping Pong is excellent. The image is vibrant and clean, and the details are sharp. The animation for the series, in my opinion, is quite stellar. It looks like it's leaping straight out of the page from the manga, giving it a very raw look, which I absolutely love. The character designs are wonderfully done, giving each character their own unique and distinct look. Lastly, the Ping Pong matches themselves are beautifully done, with solid fluid animation.
The audio is delivered in the typical FUNimation fashion with 2 different options. The first is a lossless TrueHD 5.1 English track and the second is the original Japanese stereo mix. Your enjoyment of either will be based on what language you prefer. I myself sampled both tracks, watching the majority in the excellent English dub. There were no signs of any obvious distortions or dropouts throughout the set.
- Episode 1 commentary with Christopher Bevins, Micah Solusod and Mark Stoddard.
- Episode 11 commentary with Christopher Bevins, Aaron Dismuke, and Marcus Stimac.
- Japanese television spots and promos.
- Next episode previews.
- Trailer for the English dub.
- Typical FUNimation trailers.
Each of these eleven episodes are superb as we watch Peco, Smile, Kong and Ryuchi grow as individuals within the ups and downs of their own story arcs, providing a wealth of character development and a depth to the story that I've never seen before in an Sports anime. With only Eleven episodes, it's a nicely paced slice of life/coming of age series that I feel will be even better with multiple viewings. Add the fact that it comes with an excellent English dub and it's highly recommended.