Scorching Ping Pong Girls – Episode 1

It’s time to embark on a new project! Scorching Ping Pong Girls is a recent enough production that I actually watched its first episode for the preview guide way back when it aired, and while I remember finding that enjoyable enough, I didn’t end up sticking with the show. The biggest takeaway I still remember is that it had an unusually sharp sense of emotional interiority for its slice of life/comedy/sports drama space, and also I think the match scenes were handled pretty well? Anyway. It’s maintained a humble but largely positive reputation since then, and seems to still be remembered pretty fondly within my own incredibly specific subsphere of anime fandom. All the various excerpts I’ve seen seem to imply this is a charming and surprisingly robust production, so I’m very on board to get started. Let’s start off with the first episode of Scorching Ping Pong Girls!

Episode 1

Opening with a menacing-looking black-haired girl raising a ball to serve against an anxious-looking pink-haired girl. Simple, propulsive synth piano line in the background, lots of swooping noises and slow motion

Looks like a get-us-hyped cold open

The direction smartly ups the pace of its cuts once the ball is served, matching the rapid energy of the match

The animation isn’t that great, but the standout impact frames are strong. Clearly the emphasis here is on pose-to-pose animation, not smooth movement, which works well for a sport like ping pong, where so much of the energy of the match is contained in the moments where each competitor strikes the ball

I also like the variable line density used for the ball itself. It gives the ball a sort of comic book-style sense of impact, and makes it easier for the eye to follow the action

They’re making a big show of not showing the challenger’s eyes, contrasting that against the despairing eyes of her opponent

Oh wow, she was skunked

“Oudou Academy.. lost?” Guess they’re a big deal

“They’re a powerhouse who’ve been national champions nine years running…” Ouch, ouch, ouch. This is “as we both know” exposition placed in a moment of total emotional shock, where someone would never ever speak this way, and it doesn’t even really tell us anything the previous line didn’t already imply

“There’s no way we’d lose to an unknown team like you!” The show’s really investing in this cold open’s drama

Alright, the classic intro of future antagonists, and then cut to OP. An unusually protracted cold opening for a show like this, but it definitely did its work setting the stage for a tournament-focused later act

The OP makes this show’s protagonist’s dog-ear hair motif pretty darn clear. It’s a cute look

Pretty generic OP on the whole, though the last cut of the team bouncing one ball back and forth is very nice

This show’s background art is pretty terrible – flat CG shapes with few details and flavorless color fills. Pleasant enough music, though

Agari Kamiya is the upvote-themed girls with pigtails

Tenka Hanabi is the blonde girl whose pigtails exploded

Itsumo Hokuto is the blue-haired carrot-themed girl. I like her permanently zipped jacket

Ugh. Munemune, a third year, is introduced with her boobs before we pan up to her face. Pretty sure “munemune” just means boobs, too. Well, no one sold this show on its unimpeachable class

Seriously though, it’s very possible to portray characters as sexy without undercutting their agency like that. Not hard at all!

Agari is the best on the team, and has a school reporter commenting on her. More graceless “as we both know” exposition

And now they make jokes about her boobs too, awesome

The team rankings are a solid way to create an immediate sense of conflict between these characters, and give their losses/victories some actual dramatic meaning

So Agari reaaally likes being the team ace. A whole goofy fantasy for her imagining her cheering fans

“I’ll never hand this spot over to anyone!” (cue It’s Always Sunny title music)

Now we’re lapping back around to that cold open, with the reveal that Hayabusa was the team that knocked out Oudou Academy and went on to win

Their school is Kiruka, apparently

This show really likes using the absence of eyes on character models for dramatic effect. The Hayabusa challenger had no eyes to underline her menacing presence, whereas Agari’s admirers don’t have eyes to avoid humanizing them as characters beyond “the source of Agari’s absurd ego”

“I got up here, but I can’t get back down.” Our first intro to the dog-ear girl very explicitly frames her as a kind of helpless pet

She’s Koyori Tsumujikaze

She even has a little dog mascot what the heck

It seems like she’s naturally very shy, but was forced by this situation to call out to Agari. I suppose that’s a natural way to create a bond between them while maintaining some distance between Koyori and the other team members

The two have a pretty classic immediate rapport – Agari’s the straight-laced one with a dark hidden side, Koyori is as upbeat and energetic as she is earnest. Kind of like a cat and a dog, actually

I just noticed her dog bone hair ornament goddamnit

They’re pretty gracefully seeding Koyori’s serious ability through this conversation

The variable line weight returns for these intense exchanges, once again adding a sense of impact to the movements

“I picked her up at the front gate.” “You make it sound like she’s a puppy.” Man, this show keeps setting up fine moments and then undercutting them with one line of explanation too many. I wish it had just that bit more confidence in its audience to pick up what it’s putting down

I just realized Hokuto, the girl with the carrot ornaments, actually has her hair tied up to simulate two tiny rabbit ears. Adorable

More boob jokes

“Munemune, pack up your rack!” Alright, I guess I’ll forgive this show for managing to include the only version of “calm your tits” I’ve seen in anime

“Sorry they’re so rowdy.” I know she’s referring to the club as a whole, but I like to imagine this is still an absurd breast joke

Agari talks about how their team is weak “when you look at the level of competition on a national scale.” She’s being set up for a nice fall here; Agari herself revels in being a big fish in a tiny pond, but Koyori’s about to destroy that revery

“We lack an X factor” transposed against Koyori. Not subtle, but perfectly effective

And now Agari’s interview is interrupted by cheers for Koyori. Again, not the most subtle strick, but I’ll certainly take it over the exposition issue

Koyori just mercilessly aces her opponent with a smile on her face

Agari’s motivation to play is straight-up to be praised for it. Guess she’ll need to find a genuine love of the game – and the show’s already seeded her route towards that, with her little heart throb when she was playing against Koyori. Character development route, established!

Agari discovers the fickleness of fame as the first-years rush to Koyori

“Ubiquitous pigtails!” I agree, Hana

Yeah, Koyori seems to be the opposite of Agari – she has fun playing no matter what, because the playing itself is what’s fun

This show’s lack of animation can get kinda distracting at times. The frequency of zooms on flat character art becomes a problem; it feels more like scanning over comic panels than watching animation

Munemune challenges Koyori. That team ranking chart is already paying dividends, instilling this match with “Koyori could jump from tenth place all the way to fourth!” stakes

Agari discussing Munemune’s strengths as a player give me hope that this actually will be satisfying as a sports drama

Alright, this play-by-play is excellent. They actually build up Munemune’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that makes immediate sense – her size helps her on offense, but means she can get trapped just responding on defense

Koyori takes the win

Looks like she actually did even better than Agari back at her old school

And Done

Well, that was… a pretty okay premiere, all told? It wasn’t super remarkable in any way, from its middling visual execution to its also kinda par sports storytelling, but it was competent enough, and I liked its various character motifs. The show finds a reasonable balance between ho-hum slice of life and significantly more compelling sports drama, and I get the feeling things will continuously improve as the show ramps up into a more propulsive narrative. It’s basically all potential right now, so I guess we’ll have to see where things go!

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One thought on “Scorching Ping Pong Girls – Episode 1

  1. I’m glad more people take notice of this little show. It’s the kind of show I hate to pick on and love praising – a show which I snuggled into my heart, a puppy I could not abandon. It isn’t exactly deep, but it’s been a joy for me to watch it from start to end. I hope it will be for you too.

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