Anime fandom needs to upgrade how it talks about the visuals in an anime. When I see people talk about the animation in Ping Pong, it’s pretty evident that they’re not using the phrase correctly and are referring to something different. While I’ve got my nark on, we also need to upgrade how we discuss the writing in anime too, since ‘plot’ and ‘writing’ are two whole separate things. I’m hardly an expert on how anime production goes, but I can at least try to differentiate what parts of something I liked and disliked. I’m going to do that now with Ping Pong. Take notes children.
I’m splitting the visuals into three categories. There’s the animation, which is how everything moves on screen. How the movement flows and how dynamic action scenes look. The stuff sakuga fans cream themselves over. The second is directing (which I should probably call storyboarding but whatever) which is how the scenes are shot, from what angles and how each scene flows into the other. The last is artwork, which is the visual design and the character designs and background art and stuff like that.
The animation is probably the part I’m least qualified to talk about, partly because it’s something you need a bit of an eye to spot, but mostly because I honestly don’t care that much about animation quality. To my untrained eyes, I thought the animation looked a bit spotty, particularly for a Yuasa work. Some scenes looked great, such as the movement during the match vs China (with the help of a little bit of CG from what I could tell). During other scenes though…well, you know that shot in the ping pong dojo where Peco waddles across the room to hit a ball between his legs? That looked kinda awkward as he shuffled across the room.
The directing is fantastic. It shines at its best during the match between Peco and China, with the way the action sped up as China got angrier and angrier, but in general there’s a bunch of things I liked. The split screens as the camera go steadily closer to how Smile was hitting the ball deliberately to emphasis how low to the ground he was hitting it. It’s a neat trick and I quite liked it. The artwork I thought looked fucking ugly. I go back and forth on Yuasa’s stuff. I liked the look of Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy, but thought Kemenozume was fugly as sin. It’s a pretty direct copy of the manga’s style in Ping Pong’s case, and I think it only detracts. It looks like a Picasso painting in motion, which sounds like praise, but I don’t terribly like that ugly style. Plus in Picasso’s case, the style is done for a reason. It’s out-of-sync facial expressions are making a point. In Kemenozume and in Ping Pong it seems like ugly for ugly’s sake.
Now, the writing. Writing can be awkward to review because I’m not a native Japanese speaker so the quality of the subtitles can often have a big impact on how I perceive the writing to be. It’s generally quite good in Ping Pong. I absolutely loved the scene of China and his keeper commentating on the ping pong match through the sounds alone. In fact, nearly everything good that came from this episode involved China somehow, which is where I’d start getting into talking about good characters, but let’s not get into that just now…actually no, I will get into that. Because on the opposite side to the coin is Smile, who is boring. He’s made intentionally boring, but that doesn’t exactly excuse it. Congratulations, you made a character who reacts to nothing and never says anything interesting. Perhaps he comes out of his shell later.
And then there’s the plot, which is…just another sports show. Which is disappointing coming off Yuasa’s previous works of Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy, which are both highly imaginative stories with tons of great ideas. Ping Pong is just a fairly standard sports anime. It’s like going to watch Truckasaurus wanting him to chow down on some cars, but instead watch him eat a bicycle. Perhaps more happens later on. I haven’t seen the movie or read the manga, but based off this first episode it’s not something that will light the seat of someone’s pants when you explain the plot to them.
What I’m leading up to here is I wasn’t that impressed with Ping Pong. It was all right certainly, and I’ll keep watching, but by Yuasa standards I feel a little let down.