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Ping Pong Collector’s Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Ping Pong UK PackagingSo this is…different…yet at the same time surprisingly normal…

What They Say:
Smile and Peco. Peco and Smile. Besties from the beginning, both with a badass back-hand. 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.

From the acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa (Adventure Time, Space Dandy) comes an innovative new series with stunning animation, memorable characters, and impressive footwork.
Contains the complete series in English and Japanese with English subtitles on Blu-Ray and DVD in collector’s packaging.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio has a 5.1 release in English and a 2.0 in Japanese – I watched half of it in English and Japanese to compare – and with the Japanese release I did have to raise the volume a little from my default settings, however, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc. The show animation is of course rather unique but the sound quality is just as good with most of their recent work especially in English (and adding the realism with the Mandarin) – a quality dub and a fantastic Japanese track make this a treat to enjoy in either language.

Video:
Video wise, this is a unique series animation wise, done in Flash but looking more like an older series than it actually is (2014) and with no issues in terms of video to audio on a 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio though set NTSC style with top/bottom wide screen, no problem on the whole with the animation giving it a very unique/trademark look which might seem out of place in this day and age, just gives it an edge to stand out and make it actually great to look at – it is very colourful and holds up well despite this – there was no animation delay during pausing and speed wise no stuttering, one of the most unique releases in a long time but doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release.

Menu:
The menu consists on both discs clips from the show – on the bottom there are your selections of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras (sometimes the clips cover it up) on a menu on a blue background resembling the paddles of a table tennis racquet. All are easily selectable and like most Blu-Ray releases have no time delay when selecting a new menu – and again like most Blu-Rays they have a popup menu that you access during your watching (though you can’t select extras) – overall easily accessible which incorporates the sheer amount of violence and darkness that this show brings.

Extras:
We have a few extras with this release – with two commentaries at the first and last episodes from the dub. For episode 1, we have Christopher Bevins (Voice Director), Micah Solusod (Tsukimoto/Smile), Mark Stoddard (Coach Joizumi) and Alan Chow (Kong Wenge) – this has a real unique bit to the commentary with the addition of Chow because like in the original Japanese, they actually keep the Chinese language in Wenge’s character and so explanation of the hiring of the Chinese/English speakers was interesting, and along with that the whole unique animation with the tone, how it is in Flash and combining what seems to be basic animation with computer effects in quite the unique way – yet also is talking about the journey the show takes, the fact it is a character-based story and has the feel of an indie movie, quite realistic and a much different type of anime that the crew are used to.

The episode 11 commentary features Chris again, but this time, we have Aaron Dismuke (Peco), Marcus Stimac (Kazama) and Anthony Bowling (Sakuma). This one isn’t as interesting in terms of the show compared to episode 1 (the first thing is joking about Eric Vales’ character who recurs after a search through life…and returns to watch table tennis) but they continue to rave at the grounded believable mechanic the anime has and yet still has the anime attitude with some of the fun moments, how Sakama peps up Peko, how Smile breaks out of his ‘robot’ phase, etc – obviously spoilers abound with this one but a lot of fun.

Other extras include the Japanese Box Set Commercials featuring different intros, TV Spots introduced by Tsukimoto, Hoshino, Kazama, Kong and Sakuma, the Original Trailer, the Next Episode Previews (which seem to be added more and more to Blu-Ray Extras than in the show themselves for some reason), a promo video, the textless opening and closing, the US Trailer, and trailers for the following shows; Inari Kon Kon, Princess Jellyfish, Michiko + Hatchin, Summer Wars and Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ping-Pong The Animation was one of those series that came completely off the radar as a UK release – it wasn’t something I was expected, and considering the care done for it, it seems to be something of an interesting project. Based on a 1996 manga (so 20 years old) yet the anime was done quite recently (2014) – the uniqueness of the style immediately makes it stand out – both in a good and bad way. The animation looks like something back in the days of Lupin III, yet the way it has done it in Flash and the computer generated imagery actually does give it a unique stance in today’s market. However, the animation aside, how is the actual show? Is it just another sports anime in the days of Haikyuu or Free?

Nope – not in the slightest. With sports shows focusing a lot of the pretty boy/girl side of things as much as the sport, this takes it in a much different direction – the characters aren’t eye candy, and instead focus on the development of the characters with the sport in question there as part of it.

The focus is on several kids in high school, but the ones that initially are looked on are Peco (Hoshino) and Smile (Tsukimoto), members of the Katase High School table tennis club – both are talented but have different problems – Peco is very carefree and doesn’t take it seriously despite his skill, whilst Smile (called that because he doesn’t ever smile ironically)is also very skilled yet lacks the drive to want to perform to his best of his ability – so both are lazy but in different ways. So whilst their team is falling apart, the two go to visit a rival team…and come across a new player from China named Kong Wenge – his story is also very interesting as he was kicked off the national team and is initially annoyed he has to go to Japan and train with what is considered a weaker nation in terms of table tennis compared to the Chinese. He demonstrates this when he challenges Peco to a game, and utterly destroys him despite Peco is much better when he wants to be. Kong, however, notices Smile seemingly has potential during his confidence – which hides his own feelings of shame that we get to see throughout the series as a surprisingly deep character…

Among these kids, however, is a veteran coach who sees the potential as well. The two main protagonists go on different routes – Peco seems to go downhill and quit the team initially after his losses, whilst Smile becomes Coach Koizumi (or Butterfly Joe’s) golden ticket. He pretty much tries to bring out his potential with hard work and bets, whilst Smile initially couldn’t care less. Throughout the series there are flashbacks to Smile and Peco’s childhood, indicating under that robotic exterior (he is likened to a robot throughout the series) there is more emotion to Smile in terms of his friendship with Peco – and this builds up when the two go different paths – with Smile, for example, having to face up against Wong in a tournament, and Peco losing to someone surprising…

This brings in the other rival team in question – the legendary Kaio school, which includes the best player in Japan, the Dragon, Kazuma – he is trained to a stupid degree, earning sponsorships, being the pride of the school, and yet also has things he worries about – he seems to not get along with his teammates because of his skill, when in actuality he is more worried than he appears, whilst his teammate Sakuma is the reverse, someone who rode on the coattails of people like Kazuma, beating Peco for example surprisingly, yet things take a change for him when he tries to take Kazuma’s girlfriend and meets up against Smile as he shows he does put the effort in, but natural talent vs. effort comes into play…

The main subject matter (table tennis) is there, but it is not the focus. It is just a means to an end – the anime takes time to explore the psyche and establish the 5 characters in question – this comes quickly into play when Smile goes up against Wong as his analysis play causes Wong to get into shock and become more humble with his teammates, as well as one to one conversations with a fellow Chinese player with him, gives him much surprisingly development in his scenes. (There is a fun moment during the Xmas episode where he cuts loose in a karaoke session) Dragon slowly recognises the talent Smile has and tries to recruit him to the team, seemingly isolating his fellow members which he never intended to, which causes Sakuma to do something rash which he would regret, and Peco getting a wake-up call to return to the team as his style of play is considered very different with Smile’s, yet just as skilled. The flashbacks keep saying that a ‘hero’ will appear and it isn’t until the end of the series that the hero becomes clear…

I was very impressed with how such a short series does well in bringing all the characters involved. Koizumi, for example, has moments throughout where he see his history with the sport, with the dorm of the table tennis dojo, and by the end of the series, something that echoes what he had to deal with in the past brings things all together – whilst all 4 of the prodigy children go through their matches and deal with their own issues – each is touched quite well and leads to the final match when Peco, despite with an injury, faces off against Smile who by now has broken out of his robotic phase and seems to be enjoying himself. The shows epilogue does a where are they now sequence that all the characters get their moment in the sun, but in different ways…

It feels like this a short review but for 11 episodes I am amazed how much they got in. It is such a deep character driven series considering the plot is very minor (kids play table tennis, tournaments occurs) – each of the main children has something they need to focus on. Smile in breaking out of his robotic nature, Peco taking things more seriously and being the best he can, Dragon is already the best and wants to see people who can match him, Wenge wants to regain his honour in unfamiliar territory but realises it may not be as easy as he expects, and Sakuma wishes to be recognised in a world full of natural geniuses. All of them have their moments, both fun and deep, and transits really well as a character-driven story with table-tennis just the catalyst to cause that.

The art style may make this series overlooked and I really hope that isn’t the case because it is one of the better and more unique ones out there. It was given a lot of love and considering how old the original manga series is, it is one of those that can apply to a new generation of fans. The characters have their own personalities, they develop through the cause of time, the backstory is brought in and it concludes perfectly. An underrated show and one I hope is picked up not as a risky choice, but as a good choice with people.

In Summary:
Ping-Pong The Animation comes out of left field and strikes upon you the ping pong balls of justice. It is not the most exciting series and being just 11 episodes, it is amazing how they smartly just focus on the characters and their personalities, goals, and distinctions. Each of the characters are memorable for different reasons, the sport isn’t the main focus (flashbacks of Princess Nine, my favorite sports series of all time come to mind due to the well-written characters), it is the people, and how they grow up to an extent. Don’t let the unusual art style fool you (embrace it), the show is a great little show with intelligent writing, characters and concludes superbly. Give it a chance, you might be surprised.

Features:
Episode 1 and 11 dub commentaries, Japanese Box Set Commercials, TV Spots, Original Trailer, Next Episode Previews , Promo video, Textless Opening and Closing, US Trailer, Trailers for Funimation

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: July 11th, 2016
MSRP: £34.99
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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