Maybe there aren’t too many anime out there about the underappreciated art of table tennis but if we were to rank them the 2014 Ping Pong the Animation would come out on top. Not really a hardcore sports anime like your Slam Dunks and Haikyuus of the world, this show geniusly uses the a backdrop of ping pong to broadly showcase two things, the often conflicting inner workings of the adolescent mind and some extremely visceral, stylistic animation.
It’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is an exercise for the heart. In just 11 short episodes, mega director Masaaki Yuasa adapts cult manga phenomenon Taiyo Matsumoto’s original Ping Pong manga into an equally brilliant and resonant TV anime we rarely ever see the like of.
Why Ping Pong The Animation Was A Miracle
The original Ping Pong manga by Taiyo Matsumoto was a five volume series that ran between 1996 and 1997. While it wasn’t a completely unknown title, it was more of a cult series than one that grew a huge fanbase. Taiyo Matsumoto comics are devoutly read by certain audiences but they don’t get animated too often. You could only call the initial meetings with Tatsunoko Productions producers linking up with genius director Masaaki Yuasa to make Ping Pong the Animation a miracle.
Old manga get new adaptations from time to time but usually they’re legacy series with a bit more fanfare surrounding them. This time though, they went with the brilliant Ping Pong and we thank everyone involved for it.
The Continued Genius of Masaaki Yuasa
Perhaps Masaaki Yuasa was the only director who could have brought Ping Pong to life and boy are we glad he did. Now best known for the 2018 Netflix gem Devilman Crybaby which brought an entire new generation of anime fans into the fold of one of our sub-culture’s greatest stories, the rest of Yuasa’s prolific catalogue shouldn’t be ignored.
Transformative works like Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy are some of the most artful and inspired shows anime has to offer. It’s clear to fans that Yuasa has both the talent and a passion for the art of animation. He continues to animate shows and films in new, inventive ways often owing their touch more to the world of western cartoons in how they move and flow.
But! Even with a stellar filmography like Masaaki Yuasa’s, Ping Pong stands out. Surprisingly the odd tale is one of his more grounded works, just look at the film Mind Game to see what we mean, which makes it an easy entry point into his TV anime work.
Despite being a more approachable tale about adolescent boys playing a sport, none of that accessibility takes away from the emotional nuance and artistic sensibility often found in the Yuasa catalogue. More recently, the beloved creator seems to be taking more work on at an ever increasing rate so make sure to check out Ping Pong before it gets lost in the shuffle.
Touching On Original Manga Creator Taiyo Matsumoto
You know the phrase ‘a dime a dozen’? Taiyo Matsumoto is the exact polar opposite. Known for routinely creating works that display the beauty and the world side by side, and writing characters who are broken and damaged in ways that reflect our imperfect world, he makes manga no one can.
If we had even one Taiyo Matsumoto for every ten run of the mill shonen manga artists, our flawed world would be a better place. An active creator since 1989, Matsumoto has been creating one exemplary left field work after another for over 30 years now. With a unique visual style that fuzes grit and tenderness, his pen game perfectly matches the nuanced stories he tries to tell.
Perhaps best known overseas for Tekkonkinkreet thanks to its excellent 2006 Studio 4°C anime film adaptation. The eclectic creator has earned himself a kind of cult status among both the ‘graphic novel’ crowd and the types of anime / manga fans who prefer less surface level, more introspective work.
As we mentioned, the original Ping Pong manga came out in 1996. Its creator must have been as surprised by anyone else that there was interest in bringing his, at the time, nearly 20 year old manga to life in 2014.
Of course with an adaptation helmed by Auter Masaaki Yuasa, perhaps the only director out there who could do the story justice, Taiyo Matsumoto had good reason to okay the production.