There is likely to be a lot of Masaaki Yuasa’s work in decade top tens, especially if they include films (which mine does not). Beginning with The Tatami Galaxy in 2010, Yuasa had a remarkable decade that included Kick Heart (2013), The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017), and Devilman Crybaby (2019) along with other successful projects and animation guest spots in Space Dandy and Adventure Time.
Ping Pong the Animation surpasses any other Yuasa work for me personally.
“Maybe there’s no job I’m the only man for, but am I going to fade away without doing anything? Like hell, I’m going to fade away without doing anything!”
-“Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, Ping Pong The Animation opening song
What is “good enough?”
Ping Pong: The Animation tells us that the sport of ping-pong, like any passion, is conducive to an emotional state that vacillates wildly between monstrous amounts of narcissism and crippling depression. At any moment in time one can feel that they’re on top of the world, or the worst in their chosen interest. This is only compounded when one sets the goal of being “the best.”
When I reached my senior year of high school on our track team, the three previous years of hard work, sweat, and vomit finally gelled into something that resembled a slightly above-average distance runner. Throughout these years, there was a runner from a rival school whose name was murmured amongst my teammates like a benediction or curse, depending on what they wished to express. Rumors had her training with U.S.A. Track and Field, and as our seniors prepared to pass the torch, they warned of her prowess and skill. This led to her constant presence in our minds, where the few souls talented enough to make it onto the varsity team – placing them next to her on the starting line – were immediately grilled following their races. I knew the exact meet, Reading versus Lexington, when we too would share a start time.
Often neglected when speaking of an animated sports series – or anime in general, for that matter – is the use of sound. Not the soundtrack itself, or the actual sound effects, but the use of them within the specific narrative of a series, in tandem with the visuals.
In episode three of Ping Pong: The Animation, Eriko Kimura turns in one of the more impressive pieces of sound direction that both supports and amplifies Masaaki Yuasa’s visuals and Taiyo Matsumoto’s story. The moment is Smile’s coming-out party.