I have never really been that much of a fan of Masaaki Yuasa. Well, that might be a little harsh… I remember finding Devilman Crybaby an interesting series that was really well directed, and the Adventure Time episode he directed was certainly… something, but he was never a selling point for me. He was no Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino or Hideaki Anno for me, all people whom I could basically guarantee that they would make movies or tv-shows that I would like. I just didn’t trust him enough for some reason.
But there was one show of his that I always felt like I needed to watch, that being Ping Pong the animation. I had heard a lot of great stuff about it, and despite its seemingly lackluster style, it seemed like something I would enjoy. It was one of those sports shows that everyone seemed to love, but I just hadn’t watched yet. But one day I did and I’m glad I choose to watch the show cause now I’m here.
The first thing I found surprising was the visuals. I kind of expected the show to be really well animated, the style just felt like it was made to draw interesting choreography. But the overall directing was just very interesting to watch. Aside from how everything moves realistically and how well they use animation, I think the cinematography and the “editing” were the most interesting parts to look at. The way they cut scenes in the show is very interesting since they usually don’t cut to another shot but split the screen so two shots are shown. This happens a lot. There’ll be 5 different shots on screen, and it makes the show really interesting to look at. This is something you may see in a lot of anime for reaction shots, but this isn’t as common in normal scenes and it made them feel a lot more important which was really nice.
I can’t really say that I found the chaotic style great all the time, cause it did have moments where I thought it looked bad even in motion. But the directing suits the show really well and was almost always interesting.
Then we get to the music which I think is great! Kensuke Ushio has directed a ton of fantastic scores for anime including A Silent Voice and Boogiepop, which has led to him probably being my favorite anime composer ever. And when I saw that he composed for this, my motivation to watch this show doubled. The fact that I would watch an anime with a score that wasn’t mediocre as shit was good. And while I can’t say I liked the score to this as much as his more recent work, you can tell that he is starting to make his own style of music. The experimental sound I love so much in his stuff is showing in this which is great! He has truly created a special place in the anime industry.
But what makes the show so special for me though is the characters. I am often disappointed in how anime characters are written, especially antagonists. They are almost always completely irredeemable until an irrelevant backstory is created to make the character sad. I never feel genuine, so I was really impressed by how this show dealt with antagonists. Mostly cause none of them feel like enemies.
A theme that the show deals with a lot is loss. A lot of these characters lose ping pong games, and we see how that affects them as people. I find how Hoshino reacts to losing to Kong to be really interesting. For all of his life, he has been on a level far beyond the people surrounding him. But when he loses to the person who lost to Smile, he realizes something. That he was never as good as he thought. He wasn’t able to beat the person who lost to the person who was as good as him. It was all a lie. He underestimates all of his achievements, cause his identity has been taken away almost. He used to be as good as smile, now he wasn’t anymore.
He loses all hope, quits ping pong and almost kills himself.
We truly get to see what happens to Hoshino when he loses that ping pong battle. It isn’t some bullshit where he gets sad but is ultimately motivated to get better so he can finally beat Kong. They do something interesting with it and created a character that I haven’t seen in an anime before.
And the way this affects the rest of the series is equally interesting. In the last few episodes, there is a sort of tournament arc where we get to see the characters that we have been following play against each other. And in episode 9 Sanada Masuyuki and Smile play against each other, and Smile wins in the end. But I never really felt happy for Smile, rather felt sorry for Sanada. The way he gets defeated is ugly, and as we see from Hoshino earlier in the series, this usually doesn’t go well. I started feeling bad for the one who went up against the main character, and I found that so interesting. We already know that Smile doesn’t enjoy ping pong but sees it as something to pass the time with until he dies. This match brings no pleasure and only pain.
The way they deal with loss makes no one worthy of experiencing it.
Yeah, Masaaki’s a name now