What it’s about: They call him “Smile”, because he never does. While not as personable or charismatic as his friend and fellow club member Peco, Tsukimoto has begun to attract attention from the bigger ping pong societies as a potential pro-player. But his heart isn’t in the game; he lost his reason to play some time ago, and he’s fully aware that to reach the heights of any sport, one must be prepared to sacrifice everything else.
Why you should watch it: This is a sports anime, and simultaneously it isn’t. Unlike the standard entries in the genre, Ping Pong does not obsessively detail strategies and gameplay – it uses the sport as a lens through which to view the protagonists themselves. Every single character in the ensemble cast is both heroic and monstrous, obsessed in their own way, many willing to sacrifice everything they are upon the altar of the sport they love. Masaaki Yuasa is one of the most supremely self-confident directors in Japan today, and he’s one of the few willing to treat anime more as a medium than a genre, employing the tools that animation provides without indulging in the clichés. I’d be willing to say that Ping Pong is his masterpiece. The cinematography and soundtrack are without peer, and the show is one of those works where every element complements and builds off of the others to create a greater whole. If you want to see some of the best that anime has to offer as a medium, and if you have any interest in character dramas at all, Ping Pong is a show that you just have to watch.
Caveats: The art style is pretty polarising. The character designs are oftentimes quite ugly at first glance. But give the show a few episodes and you’ll find yourself warming up to it, particularly with the fluidity it lends to the game scenes themselves.
Themes: What does it take to succeed? Ambition? Talent? Passion? Hard work? No matter what you bring to the table, there will always be someone who has sacrificed just as much and is willing to continue doing so if it’s what it takes to win. The question is, at what point is it no longer worth it to you to carry on, and can you live with yourself if you don’t?
Similar works:Chihayafuru. The execution also reminds me a lot of the Monogatari series, though instead of exploring the mind of a sexual deviant, it explores competition and obsession.