27 CommentsFirst Impressions / By Scamp /

Ping Pong episode 1 – China saves the show

Ping Pong - 01 - Large 05Anime 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.

Ping Pong - 01 - Large 28The 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.

Ping Pong - 01 - Large 23Now, 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.

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  1. T1g
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    My friend read the manga and is incredibly excited for this anime. Other than that, I haven’t heard anything about this beforehand

  2. Curious George
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Honestly I was amazed by the episode just because of China.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      China is pretty much everything good about the episode.

  3. Posted April 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Yuasa is a director, not a writer. We can all hope for an “exciting plot”, but I think that part has less to do with him.

    The show to me, yeah, mastered the basics, the simple parts of how to convey a scene. Too many shows try to cover for basic holes exactly via plot, and judging by online fora, that’s what most fans care about – not characters, not world, not direction.. . but plot.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      You have point there. It’s just he has directed anime that had very fantastical plots before and his style works great with them.

  4. gedata
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I like how coach is confident enough in himself to rock a Corsola haircut and still expect to be taken seriously.

    • Ken
      Posted April 12, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. What would make this anime more interesting to watch would be if coach changed his hair every episode. On second thought, no. Any other hairstyle would not be as outrageous and a letdown.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Next episode he’ll have a poliwhirl hairdo and we’ll all be hypnotised

  5. Ken
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Smile does not make me smile. Why doesn’t he smile? Why is China so angry? Because they are both stuck in this ugly anime.

    I’m an animator myself and one of the rules you live by is to make your character designs appealing. The only interest someone would have in looking at the art and character designs here is the kind of interest people have in going to an ugliest dog contest. Okay, it is interesting to see an experimental art style once and a wile, but I don’t feel like revisiting this every week.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      I don’t think they have to be appealing since you can make a point with ugly character designs. I just don’t think Ping Pong is making a point with its

  6. asdf
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I though Tatami Galaxy was very unappealing to look at for the first few episodes, but it grew on me. I’m hoping the same thing happens here. I have faith in Yuasa, so I’m sure there must be a reason that he chose to adapt a sports series of all things.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      I liked the look of Tatami at first, but what originally bugged me at the start was the hyper fast talking. It slowed down after the first episode so I was able to get into it

  7. Posted April 12, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I loved this first episode. It seemed incredibly confident in all technical respects (outside of the less consistent animation you mentioned), I actually really liked the visual style, and I tend to think of plot as largely irrelevant anyway. The actual writing seemed quite strong, so I’m excited to see how Yuasa continues to elevate it.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Pah, not caring about plot is what people who like shitty s’life people do nothing animes. Are you one of those losers? Don’t be one of them losers.

  8. Mr. Anon
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    There is no dichotomy between plot and writing. Plot is one part of writing. It’s not comparable to how you can distinguish between animation and character design. You could contrast plot with other things though, like theme, style, dialogue, character development, setting, etc. All of which are part of the writing/narrative.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      All right then, let me distinguish between the plot and the dialogue then. Dialogue is what I meant by writing.

      • Wodes
        Posted April 16, 2014 at 3:16 am | Permalink

        You can reasonably distinguish between the content of a story (the who/what/when/where/how/whys) and the manner in which a plot is presented; i’d wager that’s what people generally mean when they try to separate “plot” from “writing”.

  9. roundline
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Well i think the art is BEAutiful, in terms of animation, budget is probably a huge restraint, ping pong is such a fast sport that animating every other frame just isn’t enough (this goes for how fast the players are moving but doubly so for the ball). I suspect the lack of inbetweens makes the ball hard to follow but also effects the feeling of acceleration. Ah well, (judging by the china match) it seems they know to make good use of slowmo and this episode was by no means poorly animated.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      I thought it looked a bit choppy but hey, that’s just me. I too liked the use of slow-mo in the China match.

  10. Pusswookie
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame that anime writing seems to be generally stilted, even in good shows :/ Too many lines that people wouldn’t actually say.
    I wonder if it’s because of the translators or because the medium was originally for kids?

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      I had this discussion with some folks the other day, but people don’t talk like they do in movies. That’s kinda natural. Nobody talks like they do in Lord of the Rings or in Jojo’s. You take some artistic liberties with speech.

      • Posted April 20, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        I’ve seen too many people who think they talk just like characters in The West Wing or The Gilmore Girls (or Monogatari), which then feeds the fanfic they almost invariably write, and thus the chain continues.

  11. Lazy
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    I don’t think calling this ugly justified, unconventional seems a better fit, if you don’t like the very few instances of unconventional artsyles we get to see in anime it’s your loss. And it’s not unconventional for the sake of being unconventional since it’s just based on the manga’s artsyle.
    It is indeed a real pleasure to see Picasso or in our case Taiyō Matsumoto in motion, just like it was with TekkonKinkreet.

    • Scamp
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Umm, I happened to mention in the post that I really liked Yuasa’s style in his other two latest anime but dislike this one. And saying it’s ok because it’s based on the manga doesn’t ‘justify’ it. Not everything is made ok because it comes from the source material. I dislike the art in the manga too.

  12. Eoin
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s not evident so early in the anime but the manga is half sports, half drama. It explores a lot of the same themes as Tekkonkinkreet, particularly brotherhood.
    And Smile definetely becomes less of a cardboard cunt as it progresses, you’ll be glad to hear.

    Also I don’t think it’s fair to call the style ‘ugly’. ‘Crude’ maybe. Their lines are loose but very selective, and sometimes the faces and anatomy seem exagerrated but it’s just the other end of the spectrum when you consider how far removed typical anime designs are from the real thing anyway.

    It’s far from ‘ugly for the sake of ugly’.

  13. Johnny Joestar
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Loving it myself. This is exactly how I’d want an anime based on a Taiyou Matsumoto manga to look and move like. You can tell Yuasa has a lot of respect for the man. I hope he adapts more of his works in the future.

    And yeah, Wenge is best girl.

  14. Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    I’m kinda confused at what you (and others) mean when you call the animation spotty. It isn’t at a high framerate, esp compared to Yuasa’s Madhouse shows, but the character animation is really well done. The shot you mention, of Peco hitting the ping pong ball between his legs, looks dynamic and fluid. Maybe you just don’t like the style?

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