Hero ja nai…
Hero ja nai…
Once in a while, an anime comes along that “redefines” anime for a viewer--for me that was Ping Pong The Animation. The series’s unique art style, musical score, and Masaaki Yuasa’s direction created a deep and moving story about what it means to be alive… with some ping pong action. I loved it so much I placed the series in my Top 5 Anime of the Decade on the Right Stuf Anime Podcast.
At the same time, the anime also introduced me to the name Taiyo Matsumoto, the author behind the manga the show was based on. It’s what made me pick up Cats of the Louvre, a manga that I ended up loving very deeply thanks to Matusmoto’s distinct vision and push for thematic depth. If Cats of the Louvre was that good, imagine what the Ping Pong manga must be like? But considering the lack of Western interest in the Ping Pong anime, I never in a million years expected the manga to come stateside. But here it is! I can say, that beyond a doubt, the wait was worth it. Ping Pong is one of the best manga of the year and has cemented Taiyo Matsumoto as one of my favorite comic book creators.
What’s great about this series is that it is 100% character-driven and done so with great detail. The series jumps between multiple characters, but it centers around the hotheaded Yutaka "Peco" Hoshino and the robotic Makoto "Smile" Tsukimoto, lifelong friends who have bonded over the game of ping pong. They decide to join their high school’s ping pong club even though Peco is constantly skipping practice to eat candy at his favorite ping pong dojo. Peco thinks he’s a prodigy and will easily beat his opponents in the upcoming inter-high tournament preliminaries. Smile, however, goes to practice, and thanks to (or in spite of) playing with Peco, is very good, which catches the eye of the coach. The coach takes Smile under his wing, treating him as the real prodigy. Then there's the stories about the rivals from other schools, each with their own unique motivations.
I could go deeper into the characters and plot, but it would be an entire essay that I might as well submit to an academic journal; that’s the level of depth and attention to detail Tatsumoto puts into these characters. These characters are real people to me, and that’s an amazing accomplishment on its own. But Tatsumoto makes the series soar with his art.
Yuasa brought his unique flair to the anime, but he borrowed a lot from Tatsumoto’s original art. Sure, the art style is still not for everyone, but who cares when the artistic vision is so strong and well executed? Mixing realism and expressionism is Tatsumoto’s specialty, and he does so with exact precision, especially during the ping pong matches. The matches are strong and highly kinetic, and that wouldn’t be achieved without the sudden changes in lighting and anatomy, not to mention the dynamic paneling. There are pages that are pure montage and use motion and panel shapes to make events play out with the same excitement as watching a well-edited action film.
Series like Ping Pong are why I read manga. Where else can I find a sports story in comics? Where else can I read such a gripping story centered around something most people laugh at? Where else can an art style like Tatsumoto’s thrive? Thank you to everyone who believed in this series, and I’m glad I and hopefully many others will fall in love with Ping Pong again or for the first time.
Hero ja nai.
Ace high school table tennis players push their passion to the limit in this story of self-discovery, told by Eisner Award winner Taiyo Matsumoto.
Makoto "Smile" Tsukimoto doesn’t smile even though he’s got a natural talent for playing ping pong. As one of the best players in school, all hopes are on him to win the regional high school tournament, but winning is not what Smile really wants to do. Will the fierce competition to be number one bring out his best or drive him away from the game? Ping Pong is Taiyo Matsumoto’s masterwork reflection on friendship and self-discovery, presented here in two volumes, featuring color art, the bonus story Tamura and an afterward by the original Japanese series editor.