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Date A Live II – 01 »« Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? – 01

Ping Pong – 01

OP Sequence

OP: 「唯一人」 (Tada Hitori) by (Bakudan Johnny)

「風の音がジャマをしている」 (Kazenooto ga jama o shite iru)
“Way of the Wind”

It was a given, but Ping Pong The Animation is quite unlike anything else on the schedule.

There are a lot of things one might say about Ping Pong, not least of which is that it represents yet another distinct type of sports anime on a calendar that’s incredibly rich with them at the moment, or that it comes from an award-winning manga by Matsumoto Taiyo (Tekonkinkreet). But any discussion of the series starts and ends with director Yuasa Masaaki (who’s also handling series composition). Yuasa-sensei is a truly singular figure, as much as anyone can do so representing a true “auteur” in anime, in that his series are instantly recognizable and recognizably Yuasa. You know, kind of like Shinbou Akiyuki if he were interesting.

There are those who consider Yuasa a true genius and some of his works (The Tatami Galaxy or Kaiba as recent examples) to be all-time classics. I’m not one of them, though that doesn’t mean his talent is lost on me. I generally tend to favor directors who don’t impose their own style on everything they touch to the point where everything else is secondary (compare it if you like to a winemaker who flattens out the effects of weather and terroir to make a recognizable style every time), and I generally find Yuasa’s style to wear on me by the end of a series. But there’s no denying he has a unique and fascinating sensibility, interesting taste in subject matter and that his shows are never generic or boring.

That roundabout introduction brings us to Ping Pong, an anime about a sport that’s quite popular in Japan (especially at onsen ryokan, for some reason) and exponentially more so in China but as far as I know has not had an anime centered on it in recent years (though it has had memorable scenes). I played it a lot as kid on basement rec room tables, but I know almost nothing about it as a competitive sport – the lingo of the player introductions was mostly lost on me. Nevertheless it’s an interesting and dynamic game to watch when played by those really good at it, and it’s a better fit for Yuasa’s art and animation style than one might have thought.

The core focus of Ping Pong The Animation seems as if it will be on three people, all high-schoolers (well, that’s hardly an anime revolution in itself). Most important seems to be Tsukimoto Makoto (Uchiyama Kouki), universally known as “Smile” because he never smiles. Or laughs, or gets angry – he just plays on his PSP and occasionally hums to himself. His best friend is Hoshino Yutaka (newcomer Katayama Fukujurou) universally known as “Peco” for reasons I don’t know yet. These two have just joined the Katase High School Table Tennis Club as freshmen and instantly become its best players, much to the displeasure of the third-years. Smile dutifully shows up for club and rarely speaks unless spoken to, Peco prefers to spend his time at the dojo next to the station (run by Obaa-san Nozawa Masako) hustling pigeons for easy money, and isn’t shy about telling everyone how great he is and how he’s going to move to Europe as soon as he graduates.

The first half of the episode is mostly spent in these two locales, watching Smile and Peco interact with each other and Peco piss off everybody else. Their playing styles reflect their personalities – Peco is a “Hitter”, all aggression and attack, while Smile is a “Chopper” who relies on backspin and guile to wear down the opponent. It’s immediately apparent that Smile is sandbagging when playing against Peco (this is proved out later) for reasons that aren’t as immediately apparent. This is interesting, though pretty abstract stuff – a lot of dialogue and Yuasa’s characteristic oddly angled close-ups – especially of the club advisor Koizumi Jou (Yara Yuusaku) who for some reason despite his Japanese name is prone to slipping into very bad Engrish.

It’s with the arrival of the third character that Ping Pong really hits its stride. This is Kong Wenge (Bun Yousei) – universally known (to Peco) as “China”. He’s a Chinese transfer student at a rival high school, a former table tennis power in decline that’s paid Wenge to come to Japan and restore their glory. Wenge is edgy, arrogant, and undeniably talented – it seems he was kicked off his prefectural team in China for reasons unknown. The best scene in the episode comes when Peco and Smile come to spy on China and end up playing each other in the empty gym (Peco with China’s paddle) and China and his manager/translator listen in on their game, perfectly analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each player strictly by the sound of their ball-striking. It’s here that we learn that Smile is the real talent of the two, and it’s he that interests China immediately as a potential opponent – but it’s Peco who takes up China’s challenge instead, and is thoroughly humiliated – an 11-0 skunking.

As always, it’s not that easy to get a handle on a Yuasa series right away, but I find the dynamic between these three interesting. I like the fact that Tatsunoko has cast a Chinese actor as Wenge, and given the perpetual state of tension between Japan and China I’ll be very interested in seeing how that side of the story is portrayed here. The OP, ED (directed by Yuasa disciple Choi Eun-Young, who directed the stellar “plants” episode of Space Dandy) and BGM are all excellent, and the look of the series is classic Yuasa – restless, free-form, often monochromatic, disjointed. This is what you always get with him, so it really boils down to whether the story is going to be compelling enough to keep the Yuasa stylizing from becoming exhausting. Early indications are pretty good – the manga is very well-regarded and I can see why, and it seems to suit Yuasa’s aesthetic very well. I expected one of the most interesting premieres of the season here, and that’s what we got – now comes the hard part.

 

ED Sequence

ED: 「僕らについて」 (Bokura ni Tsuite) by (merengue)

April 11, 2014 at 3:47 am
47 comments »
  • April 11, 2014 at 3:58 amUsami

    I can’t help but think of “Aku no Hana”, sorry!! >.<
    Still thinking whether to watch it or not since art preferences plays a huge part in my decision making xD

    • April 11, 2014 at 11:52 pmpetitorenji

      Hmmm… Think Studio 4C and Tekkonkinkreet instead

  • April 11, 2014 at 3:59 amShanHaxx

    The animation looks like Aku no Hana. That asides, like Aku no Hana, I enjoyed it a lot upon giving it the chance it deserved… considering I really loved Tekkon Kinkreet as well.

  • April 11, 2014 at 4:08 amtsukioniisan

    Another one to add to my watch list. It’s like Shaft on weeds.

    - Aku no Hana’s craziness is about to end. One of the most gripping manga I’ve read in a while.

    • April 11, 2014 at 8:44 amJ-Luke

      Hmm, I thought Shaft and weeds already went hand in hand…

  • April 11, 2014 at 4:34 amHoshi

    I actually enjoyed this episode quite a lot. I re-watched some bits quite a bit already which is more than I can say to other premiering episodes this season.

    I can see why some people compare the art style to Aku no Hana but the series are obviously totally different. For one, I dropped Aku no Hana a few episodes in and skimmed its manga to see if I was really missing out on anything. All I saw was some dark, psychotic, uncomfortable themes, none of which appealed to me. This series seems to be a “regular” sports anime which is fine by me.

    Btw, Wenge was awesome.

  • April 11, 2014 at 4:52 amguardian enzo

    Leaving aside the glaring differences in content and tone with Aku no Hana (which I could talk about for hours if I got started) the animation and art is very different as well. Nagahama used a rotoscoping technique for AnH, and cheaply and poorly – though in his defense, he was at a lower-tier studio with what was obviously a tiny budget. Yuasa is simply doing weird things with traditional animation here, which he always does.

    • April 11, 2014 at 5:43 amNΞØTΛSTΞ

      Watch the scene in Ep7 Show Spoiler ▼

  • April 11, 2014 at 4:55 amBigFire

    Not sure how many episodes this is supposed to be. The manga ran 5 volumes. Two additional main characters have yet to be introduced, but are shown in the opening animation, Dragon, the king of the hills in the local ping pong scene and Akuma, a mild nobody that was beaten by Peco earlier.

    Quit a few of us watching this because of the excellent live action adaptation 10 years ago.

    It’s clear that they got an actual Chinese speaking voice actor to handle China’s role. His Mandarin is perfect with actual Chinese accent.

    • April 11, 2014 at 11:08 amNKNKN

      As a Chinese guy, I was really surprised when he came on and both him and his advisor spoke perfect Chinese. Kind of jarring, since I’m used to hearing the occasional unrecognizable Chinese (or Chinese characters simply speaking perfect Japanese for some reason) and it made me sort of happy. I wouldn’t say it’s completely natural, since it’s a bit too enunciated and not as casual as I’m used to speaking and hearing, but that’s not a big deal.

      Wenge’s backstory also made me kind of sad; I know a couple people who were really good at ping pong when they were little; that shit’s real competitive in China. (I totally suck though.) The animation is also really fluid; the style will definitely turn away a lot of people but that can’t be helped. Good thing I’m not one of them.

      • April 16, 2014 at 7:06 pmcshin9

        Wow, this is a very international production. (But not counting all the busy work outsourced elsewhere.)

      • April 27, 2014 at 2:07 amLGM

        I second the Chinese spoken, I’m a Chinese that is from Malaysia, I have some relatives that are Singaporeans & their Chinese sounded pretty much like that.

        –Which my father who went to China twice told me Singaporeans’ Chinese are very similar to China’s Chinese.

        I also agree that their Chinese sounded very stiffed, you could almost picture them reading those lines straight from the scripts. This make me wonders if those Japanese that we hear from those anime is the natural spoken Japanese or not?

  • April 11, 2014 at 5:14 amAmiluhur

    That sure looks . . different. But honestly i really enjoyed it. While i wouldn’t call the artstyle very unique compared to Yuasa’s previous works, it has pretty much the antithesis of the clean, minimalist Kaiba or Tatami Galaxy. But there’s also a very distinct heaviness in the line work that Kemonozume lacked. Regarding the story, nothing much that i can ramble about since it’s still the first eps. The ping pong contest itself, the main highlight of eps, was really enoyable to watch. That was definitely one of the most intense one-on-one contests and there’s a lot of depth to the techniques and tactics of each blows without outright resorting to shounen superpowered hijinks. Nothing feels excessive, and that’s a very refreshing breath of fresh air.

    Oh, and that was definitely the very best spoken chinese i’ve seen in anime in a very long time.

  • April 11, 2014 at 5:33 amdanpmss

    My personal favorite this season.
    I love ping pong and don’t give a single f#ck if the animation is “too odd to be watched”, like those crybabies-moeblob-lovers on MAL said(and plus, I actually quite enjoyed the style for this kind of anime).

    • April 11, 2014 at 7:28 amSol

      Yeah. Maybe not quite as beautiful as Kemonozume or Kaiba, but I still find Ping Pong better looking than 90% of the other moe-fag-pedophile oriented anime out there. So far, it’s my second favourite premier this season, behind Mushishi.

    • April 17, 2014 at 5:09 pmcshin9

      Please pick up this series.

      • May 12, 2014 at 7:09 pmcshin9

        Why isn’t anyone blogging this?

  • April 11, 2014 at 5:33 amActus

    In regards to why Wenge was kicked off the team, I thought it was quite apparent – at least to people who watch ping pong at least. He said that he was the best in the prefecture and was thus promoted into the national team – which I presume means the national team as a whole rather than the actual players in the Olympics etc (there are loads of benchers on the national team – possibly hundreds if not thousands, and only a select few make it to the very top).

    In his monologue during the match, he said that he was taken off the team due to his ‘mistake’ possibly during practice on the national team. As mentioned before, since there are hundreds of benchers itching to replace one another, losing a prefecture champion would not be too great a deal on the national team. As national athletes – especially top players – are paid quite well, being kicked off the team is also quite a blow, financially – and that is perhaps the reason why he flew to Japan. Indeed, with all the competition nationally, Peco was not wrong to say that a top player in a prefecture is probably better than most top players in other countries.

    What I am actually surprised is the detail of research in the game. Not only using all the lingo – Smile uses the shake-hand, and Peco uses the penhold, detail is actually paid to what Wenge uses as well, which is the penhold. For those who are interested in the differences: the shake-hand is generally recognised as the more versatile and easier to use grip for average and professional players, but the penhold is the one used by past champions in international competitions. The blade for the shake-hand is also longer, but narrower, whereas the blade for the penhold is shorter, but wider.

    • April 11, 2014 at 9:08 amJif

      The penhold has traditionally been more popular in China. Its flexibility allows for a wide repertoire of slices and various attack angles that would be difficult or impossible to perform with the shake grip. The pips refers to the kind of paddles preferred or used by the players. The length of the pips, thickness of the rubber, and type of rubber are very important, especially for players who utilize a lot of spins and slices.

      I had been anticipating this show since its announcement, and was certainly pleased by the first episode. Wenge’s coach(?) spoke with a comfortable Beijingese accent that immediately made me feel at home with the show and its characters. Wenge’s own playstyle was a spectacle to behold, but perhaps even more exciting was his brief exchange with Smile.

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:20 amTLM

    Having watched Tatami Galaxy recently and had it become my instant favourite anime, this is actually the only new thing I’ve watched yet.
    It’s certainly interesting, and I’ll keep watching, but it didn’t grab me like Tatami Galaxy did. I don’t feel amazingly invested in any of the characters; perhaps because I’ve not watched sports anime before, perhaps because the setting/situation doesn’t have the same personal resonance as Tatami’s university setting.
    The animation style also wasn’t really enjoyable to me; however, it definitely works with the actual sports matches. I think I would prefer a slightly cleaner style, but maybe I’ll get used to it.
    There were things that I did like, though. The interactions between the characters all feel quite “real” (as do the characters themselves). The stand-out moment was definitely “China”‘s monologue. He’s arrogant, but the intensity of his speech drew me in a lot and actually made me want to watch the next episode.
    Also, though there weren’t that many tracks, the music was something I really liked. The voice acting all seemed great to me too.

    Other observations:
    WTF is that hero/robot thing?
    When will they get an actual opening, instead of just looping the same few scenes?
    Granny character is good, and had good interactions with both Peco and Smile.
    I expect the backgrounds are all based on real places, as with Tatami Galaxy. Would be interesting to compare.

    Anyway, my perspective as a Tatami Galaxy fan!

    • April 11, 2014 at 6:47 amBigFire

      The hero robot thing is quit important to the story. It’s an older manga/anime that Peco and Smile used to watch as kids. It’s what Peco aspired to be, a hero.

      • April 11, 2014 at 1:03 pmTLM

        I see. I wonder how that will relate to his current personality. I don’t find him to be a “hero” right now. I hope I’ll enjoy finding out in the anime.

    • April 11, 2014 at 7:35 amLitho

      Tatami Galaxy is probably my least favourite Yuasa-directed series. The directing, design and overall concept was good enough, but I just couldn’t gel with any of the characters. I think it’s due to that particular writer’s style – he always makes it a burden to like any of his characters. For me at least, it was nowhere near as good as the previous two series Yuasa directed, Kemonozume and Kaiba, which were masterpieces. One episode in and I already prefer Ping Pong to Tatami Galaxy.

      • April 11, 2014 at 1:01 pmTLM

        It’s interesting you say that, since I found a translation of part of the original Tatami Galaxy novel online. It’s only the beginning of the book, but the protagonist seems really unlikeable in the book. I didn’t find him unlikeable in the anime; I found him flawed but relatable. In the book he’s a total jerk so far.
        I’ve yet to check out Yuasa’s other work. I find it interesting how varied people’s opinions of his works are; people find different works to be his “masterpiece” in their opinion (that’s if they like his anime at all).

  • April 11, 2014 at 7:57 amKingofConquerors

    Best premiere of the season.

    Yuasa’s style manifested absolutely palpably in terms of the series’ adherence by the manga’s art, the VA choices and the narrative delivery. It’s a refreshing premise for a rivalry for a sports story too, when one is holding back from the other rather than showcasing a tight competition where the drama emanates from their reason for outdoing each other. I imagine Peco will have a helluva training arc to after the revelation at the end.

    Might not be the best spring season we’ve had in recent memory, but i can’t imagine any series taking over Mushishi’s 2nd season, Jojo, and Ping Pong’s spots among 5 top series of the year.

  • April 11, 2014 at 8:15 amWhoMe?

    Should put Ma Long in there as a cameo and see the world turn upside down.

  • April 11, 2014 at 9:22 amTheMoondoggie

    Animation is really getting weirder and weirder. I can’t say it’s regressing though.

    Which studio is this anyway?

    • April 11, 2014 at 6:24 pmguardian enzo

      Tatsunoko.

  • April 11, 2014 at 9:49 amiRandom

    As the animation goes, while I was reminded of Aku no Hana (vaguely)
    I found that with Ping Pong – I had been expecting this art style
    and so it was easier to swallow. In contrast Aku no Hana, where I read the manga and the style was one way and yet the anime was very much changed – so it hurt a little.
    All in all, I have a feeling this will be a unique show for the season.

  • April 11, 2014 at 10:07 amNyangoro

    The only comparison between Yuasa and Nagahama’s animation choice is the general simplicity of the character models. Everything else is completely different. Aku no Hana’s rotoscopy uses uncanny valley to make the viewer uncomfortable, with both the appearance of the characters and the animation of them being just jarring enough to get the audiences attention. Since it’s rotoscopy, it has a three-dimensional feel to it, despite the minimal shading and simple lines.

    In Ping Pong, there is nothing uncanny about it (it just looks weird). Yuasa uses simple designs to serve his surrealist style, stretching character limbs and giving them wild and dynamic actions to convey energy and emotion. The general process of the animation is still largely traditional, just with a more exaggerated end result.

  • April 11, 2014 at 11:59 amKingofConquerors

    Has anyone in here watched/read Tenkonkinkreet?

    Anyone familiar with Matsumoto-sensei’s work shouldn’t be surprised by his art style. And Yuasa really sticks to that in the adaptation.

    • April 11, 2014 at 9:34 pmthankonomics

      I’m wondering the same thing. For some reason the Aku no Hana art style comparisons kind of bother me. If any of you have read a Taiyo Matsumoto manga, you’ll recognize the style. This isn’t creepy rotoscoping at work (that being said, I actually thought the rotoscope look worked with the subject matter for Aku no Hana).

  • April 11, 2014 at 12:44 pmKaioshin Sama

    It’s nice to see a raw visually creative effort rather than just running everything through the same old filter because it’s proved commercially successful of late like a certain studio that shall remain nameless. TatsuPro kind of needed a break like this after some recent duds and it’s clear that their financial situation as far as budgeting goes isn’t so good so why not something like this. It’s never going to be rewarded financially obviously, but the sentiment is very much appreciated.

  • April 11, 2014 at 10:00 pmDangerism

    This is a good dose of anti-moeblob that I recommend to everyone in order to keep a healthy anime-viewing life.

  • April 12, 2014 at 4:14 amNierTevra

    dark horse incoming….

    • April 14, 2014 at 7:04 amchaoslimits

      The best 1st ep I’ve seen this season. Sidonia no Kishi following closely behind. I’m excited.

  • April 12, 2014 at 5:31 ammagoiichi

    The artstyle reminds me of Black&White, a.k.a. Tekkonkinkreet, which I have on dvd ;p.

    I like sports anime that isn’t about the usual sport like baseball or basketball, even though I love reading Kuroko no Basuke.

    This episode was good, Peco thought he was a hustler and got destroyed lol.

    Forest Gump would destroy these guys, he’s the real master of ping pong XD.

  • April 12, 2014 at 5:52 amAndré

    This kind of art is supposed to be in comedy shows, because animation quality doesn’t really matter in these shows and this kind of art can be actually funny.

    But have Shin-chan art in a sports anime? WTF were they thinking?

    The story is actually good, but the part that showed they playing the game, that were supposed to look awesome and cool, looked freaking AWFUL.

    The animation is sports anime should help you to get excited about the game… In this anime this just won’t happen. Why? WHY?

    • April 12, 2014 at 12:38 pmJames

      Yes, because sports anime should more or less all should be the same. In fact, anime should just all be the same. Why watch anything different?

      And if you think this looks like Shin Chan, there’s really no helping you LOL

      • April 13, 2014 at 5:16 pmAndré

        I’m sorry, but this looks just like Shin Chan. You just can’t deny that.

        And why watch something different?

        Sorry, man, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched more “alternative” anime than you. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Natsume Yuujinchou, Seikai no Senki series, Mugen no Ryvius, Zipang, Baccano, etc. These are some of my favorite anime and they far from being your average anime show.

        HOWEVER, just because I like creativity, that doesn’t mean that I will think that everything that is different is 100% great and awesome.

        I’m too old to be a hipster.

        AS I SAID, I DID LIKE Ping Pong. The characters and the story are really interesting, BUT this is a clearly a sports anime, the focus of the show is the Ping Pong sport. This is not a Mitsuru Adachi anime like Touch, H2, Katsu or Cross Game. And these shows the sport thing is just the background, the focus are the characters. But that doesn’t seem to be case in Ping Pong.

        In this first episode, the part showing the character playing the game was supposed to be the climax of the episode, it was supposed to look awesome… But the match looked pretty lame.

        I could be a anime hipster and say that Ping Pong’s art looks great but… C’mon, it doesn’t. It’s freakin’ Shin Chan.

    • April 12, 2014 at 8:33 pmJeroz

      why? because it conveys the speed, the flow and the energy extremely well, and that’s exactly what a fast sport like Ping Pong needs. That 1v1 contest at the end demonstrated the strength of this animation style, and it is one of the best match in recent memory.

    • April 13, 2014 at 9:37 pmoshinai

      I think the simple, although sad solution for you is to not watch it. Though you will be missing out surely. Your alternative anime cred is very anime hipster of you ironically. And your comments are shallow given that you expect this to be anything at all. Its a sports anime but it isnt like the way a sports anime should be – is a superficial reason not to like it. Saying its good but looks crappy (and therefore not worth your time) is like shitting on an interesting person and quitting the conversation because they arent a super model. Let it take you or ignore it. The fact that this drawing style (which isnt trying to be weird, its just the way he draws) is such an outlier, means that the dominant anime styles are generic. So can you really not stomach one time a year looking at something different (especially given how well its acted and written)? If not, good for you. Move along.

  • April 13, 2014 at 10:18 pmoshinai

    I have to say that I’m generally pleased with the reactions in this forum. I planned to come to the forum today to defend it but there seems to be little reason to do that. Besides the quirkiness of the characters and the animation style, which I found to be fitting, I was most impressed with the addition of a strong Chinese character that actually speaks Chinese. I live in Shanghai with my Chinese girlfriend, we both grew up with and love anime and manga, but there is a constant reminder of how the two nations don’t get along in nearly everyday life. I think in Japan, given its record of glazing over atrocities in WW2, they are a little ignorant to the reason for the tension (something about islands, right?). In China, you either hate the Japanese or you love anime, manga, sushi and Hello Kitty and are nonchalant about the actual people (though youth in Shanghai are definitely the exception to the rule). So we were both really surprised and laughing at the interaction between Smile, Peco and Kong Wenge. Especially the amount of humorous self-deprecation on the Japanese side which took a lot of guts given how nationalist and prideful Japan is (ie- the translations of Wenge’s dissatisfactions as generic and overtly polite compliments – the implication that the Japanese can’t handle this sort of social tension without forcing everything into a positive mold; the way Wenge notices the mistranslation and simply smirks kind of condescendingly – because that cultural difference is real and very contrasting even as an American in China I can feel the difference in my perceptions of “rudeness”; and not to mention the low quality of Japanese ping pong skill on display versus the high quality of one of China’s failures – the exception being Smile who has the chance to make Wenge’s life worth while). This anime already feels special and well worth the time and attention.

  • April 14, 2014 at 12:18 amSingerOfW

    You know, kind of like Shinbou Akiyuki if he were interesting.
    SHOTS = FIRED

    “Way of the Wind”
    That’s one hell of a way to butcher the episode title. It’s like the translator only knew the first kanji and tossed the rest out of the window.

    I enjoyed this episode more than I expected to, so this one’s definitely a keeper. I wish most of the shows of this season so far could hook me the same way.

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