What They Say:
Smile and Peco. Peco and Smile. Besties from the beginning, both with a badass backhand. Peco is known for his arrogance on the table tennis court, and Smile for his silence. But with a new school year and a new high school table tennis team, both boys are in for a challenge, on – and off – the court.
Peco’s slacker ways are hurting his game, and after getting crushed in a tournament, he decides to quit. Smile is finally learning to harness his natural talents, but can he squash his sympathy for his opponents enough to beat them?
Contains episodes 1-11.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and the new English language dub in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that uses the forward soundstage very well considering the kind of sports show it is, as there’s a lot of sound back and forth and it has a good sense of directionality and depth that’s well captured. This is mirror in the English language mix as well with the sound effects. When it comes to the dialogue, the series is one that’s still largely straightforward in that it’s focused as a more center channel oriented piece, but it captures the mood of the show well since it’s a mixture of feeling sparse and then very talkative. The music within it is decently done, with the opening and closing sequences naturally standing out. There’s a good mix here overall and it comes through clean and clear with both tracks, resulting in a solid audio presentation.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:! in 1080p using the AVC codec. The eleven episodes are spread across two discs with eight on the first and three on the second, the second of which has all the extras as well. Animated by Tatsunoko, the show has a naturally distinctive look about it in how it captures the character animation and dynamic motion, which definitely comes across well here. There’s a great detail to the character designs and the motion of the animation is captured well. It has a naturally rough and raw look about it, but the transfer is definitely clean here and it comes across well with what it has to bring to life. Colors are solid and detailed without any breakup to be had and the amount of detailed lines is just as well represented with no noise or jitter during it. The shows distinctive style is one that can be problematic in a transfer, as we saw from some of the standard definition streams, but it looks great here.
The packaging for this release is straightforward, and considering the nature of the series it’s no surprise it didn’t get a limited edition release. The show gets a standard sized Blu-ray case to hold all the discs for both formats and it comes with an o-card over it that replicates the case artwork. The front cover gives us a good look at the main cast of male characters here in their various uniforms and representations. It’s done in a more illustration style but it highlights that the show isn’t your standard looking series, which is good. The back cover carries through the tan background, giving us some of the tables along the top with nobody around them, which sets the mood nicely. The right side has a decent string of shots from the show that makes it clear the designs, but it doesn’t make it a throw it in your face kind of approach. The left has a couple more character images while in between we get the premise covered well in a clean way as well as the extras included with it. The bottom strip with the technical grid contains a solid breakdown of what’s there through both formats in an accurate and easy to read fashion. We do get artwork on the reverse side of the case, which is the front cover piece done sideways so we get the full body image of it all. No other materials are included.
The menu design for this release is interesting and fun with what it does. With a white background that has the logo in black through the middle, we get various character animation pieces moving across it with the kind of wild takes that they performed while playing. It’s fun, active and it definitely stands out with the color design of it all. The navigation is kept simple along the lower right where it’s a blue box that’s “taped” up along the edges to the screen to keep it in place. It’s easy to navigate in general and it looks good when brought up during regular playback as well as the pop-up menu. Everything loads quickly and easily and we didn’t have any problems getting around in it.
This release comes with some fun extras, particularly for English language fans with a pair of audio commentaries. In addition to that, we get a good selection of promo spots and commercials from the original broadcast and release, the next episode previews and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. It’s mostly familiar extras, but welcome ones that are good to see and check out.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the five volume manga created by Taiyō Matsumoto back in 1996, which inspired a live action feature a few years later, Ping Pong is an eleven episode series produced for the noitaminA block. That block tends to produce some very interesting shows along the way that stretches outside of the usual style, which is a big advantage to it in that it uses the creativity to draw some solid talent. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa at Tatsunoko Production, the show is definitely eye-catching in the visual sense, but it also avoids using familiar story structure to get things accomplished. That may leave you feeling a bit unusual about what the show accomplishes, but it’s the kind of series where the more you think on it and of it, the more you’re drawn in by it.
Taking place in the present day, we get to see several different ping pong teams in different schools that are all essentially in competition with each other and aiming for as far as they can go. The show introduces us to the characters in different ways, and it avoids going the somewhat usual route of bringing them all together to be on the same team. Outside of two of the main characters being on the same team, we get everyone competing with each other and not being friends. They’re not enemies, but they are competitors with each other. And each character has his own story arc, difficulties they grapple with, and goals when it comes to the game when you get down to it. This dynamic makes it so that you can find connections in each of the characters, but it also makes it easier to connect with one over another because they’re not all playing for the greater good of their combined team or school. They’re all directly competing.
The main focus is on two players from Katase, who go by the nicknames of Smile and Peco. The two have long been friends, with Peco having been raised on ping pong and eventually getting Smile to partake in it during grade school as well. When he got Smile to play, he smiled in a way he didn’t otherwise, hence earning him the nickname since he was viewed as a robot otherwise by other kids. But as time went on, Peco lost interest in ping pong for a variety of reasons, and as the series gets underway, finds himself so disillusioned that he basically quits. That leaves Smile playing for Katase, but not having the real enthusiasm for it that he hasn’t had for years. The conflict between the two isn’t a real conflict in a sense, but it’s about both young men trying to find what path works for them and where they want to go.
Other players come into the mix as well at different schools. One brings in Kong Wenge, a Chinese player who, for reasons not made too clear, has been essentially exiled from play there and is looking for a path in Japan. Not that he considers Japanese players worthy, and there’s some great dialogue between him and his coach/interpreter who tries to keep the peace without fully translating Kong. Kong’s arc is definitely interesting to see how someone is skilled at what they do, but suffers because of their drive and personality, yet manage to find an unexpected path to try and move forward with. But one fraught with defeats that, in its own way, properly humbles him so he can learn and grow. His interactions with his own teammates doesn’t earn him a lot of friends there, and another of the sorta-main characters known as Speed is similar as he never really connects with anyone. Speed has some minor moments, but out of the main cast he feels the most disconnected from things, though he does bring some energy to it.
The character I found myself the most curious about though is Kazama, also known as the Dragon. He’s an exceptionally strong player at Kaio that’s working to fully reestablish the school’s dominance in the sport. His grandfather was one that played heavily in his own youth, and is now a bigwig at the school itself. Amusingly, he also played with the coach that’s training Smile, and the woman who runs the ping pong club that Peco grow up around and hangs out at in town. That puts a lot of the main players as a generational kind of thing, though amusingly we really don’t see their parents. With Kazama, his life is the most complicated in a way because of his position and relations, since there’s a push to use him as promotion for products and the school, and there’s interest from a cousin. Kazama’s also just a difficult nut to crack because of his strong personality, but one whose flaws and problems we see as well since he handles the stress of competition by hiding out in bathrooms to calm his nerves.
Following this group of characters through their ups and downs with their own teams, and some of the things they face, is definitely engaging to watch. Peco falling out of the sport nearly at the start puts him on a different path to discovery than the others, but it all comes back to him wanting to truly compete against Smile. Smile himself is one that has an odd view of the game in that he’s not looking to win or grow in a sense, but just to experience it in a big way if he can find the right challenge. These paths are not truly easy or linear, and the show does the best that it can in the time that it has to work through it, but since it’s following so many characters and their stories, it can’t go too deep. But we see them going through their ups and downs and as their paths cross more and more, until we get to the competition itself and see how they truly perform.
Having not seen the show during its simulcast, this marathon session was my first full exposure to the show and it’s one that I definitely enjoyed, but also think it requires some real processing and digging into in order to be able to fully appreciate it. It’s not a superficial show that you can just burn through and move on to the next thing. There’s some really interesting character motivations here that could be expanded on in a big way, but we get just dashes of it set against the larger backdrop of youth, competition and their various dreams and desires. There’s a really great dynamic feeling to it and has such a sense of energy about it that it’s very easy to be drawn in by it and wish that it was twice as long so you could really sink your teeth into their arcs and get to know a lot more about the lives that created them. It’s a very good show though, one worth putting the time and commitment into in order to get the most out of it.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentary (1, 11), Textless Opening and Closing, Japanese Box Set Commercials, TV Spots, Original Trailer, Next Episode Previews, Promotional Videos, U.S. Trailer
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 23rd, 2015
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.