Aaand we’re back to the full lengths, with a review of one of the best shows of the past few years: Ping Pong the Animation. Ping Pong is a stellar achievement in basically all categories, and will likely be one of my gateway recommendations for many years to come. I actually wrote an essay about the show back when it aired, so I got to double-dip on this one, covering themes specifically then and the whole package this time. More writing about Kong can only be a good thing.
I didn’t take notes on this one, since I’d already watched it twice before my review, but I did write episodic posts about it back when it aired, so there’s a whole bunch of Ping Pong content to go around!
I had to stretch to get a top 10 this year. I’m ready to admit that. Last year, it was easy – in fact, it was too easy, and I ended up expanding my list to twelve shows basically by necessity. But this year didn’t have quite the top shelf of 2013, and so concessions had to be made. There are certainly a couple notable absences here, with I’m guessing the biggest ones being Kill la Kill, Space Dandy, and maybe Nozaki-kun. The reason for those absences is simple – I didn’t like any of those shows very much. If you’re looking for a general “all the shows that enjoyed positive appraisal among the kinds of people who make a point of appraising shows,” I’m guessing all three of those would be included, but this is my list, and I’m gonna talk about what I wanna. (Incidentally, if you are looking for a list like that, my fellow critics at ANN all contributed their own top five lists to this recent retrospective – and that’s all shows that started in 2014, so even my list over there is pretty different). My list may be a little shorter this year, but it’s still got some real gems, and considering three of the year’s best shows aren’t included simply because they aren’t finished (Shirobako, KimiUso, and Parasyte), I’d say we made off okay. Let’s run it down!
There were a lot of lovely moments in anime this year, but my very favorite comes from my favorite new show. Ping Pong was already a tremendous show before episode five – its characters, storytelling, and aesthetics were just demolishing the competition, and Wenge himself was already its most poignant character. Cast out alone into Japan, he’d been forced to come to grips with the limits of his own talents, and his false pride could no longer make up for the fundamental loneliness of his situation. And yet Wenge rose above – instead of retreating into himself, he reached out to the teammates around him, and ended up making a new home of his exile.
ANN just posted their big top five anime of the year retrospective, which includes the results of their reader poll and lists from a bunch of their staff, including yours truly. This list was based on full-length shows that started in 2014, meaning no Hanamonogatari or Samurai Flamenco, while shows like Shirobako are eligible. Meaning the list I submitted there is actually fairly different from the top ten list I’ll be posting here in a week or so, but it still offers a fine preview of my thoughts on the year, and actually highlights how badly I think this fall season pulled everything together. This was a weak year in anime, but the silver lining is that fall’s continuing shows (Shirobako, KimiUso, Parasyte, FSN) are almost single-handedly ensuring 2015 will be better. And the other ANN writers highlight a whole bunch of other compelling stuff, so clearly animeland will survive. Here’s to 2014!
Any week that features the finale of a Yuasa show and Joseph Joestar fighting his own arm has to be a keeper, right? You can’t really go wrong with either of those things. Plus Chaika and Sidonia both pulled off top-tier episodes, so overall I’d say this week was a roaring success. Let’s run it down.
“A new age has come, but I still can’t get out of this rut
And it’s too straight and narrow, no escape routes around…” Tadahitori
“Staking your life on ping pong is revolting,” says Smile, the ostensible “protagonist” of Ping Pong. In the context of a sports show, that seems kind of like sacrilege – what can be more important than giving it your all, than pinning your hopes on the pursuit of a crazy ping pong dream? But in the context of Ping Pong, his words make sense – because Ping Pong isn’t really much of a sports show. The matches are emotive and interpretive, the “training arcs” don’t exist, and instead of characters learning new techniques, we get rambling Christmas song montages. There’s no romance in believing in victory here – in the context of Ping Pong, Smile’s belief in a hero that will save him seems to almost be some kind of ironic joke.
That was gorgeous, okay? Everyone’s arc concluded with poignancy and grace, Smile was able to regain his own love of the game (MY BLOOD TASTES LIKE IRON!), and the very necessary epilogue demonstrated what Ping Pong has always stressed – that ping pong is only the beginning, and the real world is waiting. I’ll be posting my final impressions of the show in a couple days, so I’d just like to dedicate this last post to highlighting a few of the beautiful little synergies that tied this finale together. As I’ve said time and again, great stories are like little gems where all the facets reflect each other, and this finale was shimmering with beautiful, endearing little reflections.
Not the most impressive week in anime, but Ping Pong was so damn good that it doesn’t really matter. JoJo also pulled off a stellar episode this week, and Chaika at least promised a great upcoming episode, so I can’t really complain. I guess I’m mainly just annoyed that One Week Friends has fallen apart.
Now that I’ve told you about my week in anime, I guess I should tell you about my week in anime.
Kazama has been struggling for a long, long time. Ever since the disgrace and death of his father, he’s had it drilled into him that only success matters – that only victory can bring him value or respect. He climbs a slow mountain, finding value in the pain itself. What else can he find value in? He knows victory is just a word, but it’s the only word he knows. His memories of his father are equal parts longing and fear – a desire to embrace his father’s love of life, and a fear of the waiting abyss. The death of his father has made him too afraid to fly.
I’ve fallen a week behind on my beloved Ping Pong, so I’ll try to keep this one quick!
This week, the first couple scenes of the episode described virtually everything ping pong has done for both Wenge and Kazama. We began with Wenge on the hilltop, in a scene that directly mirrored his first post-defeat chat with his coach. Same music, same framing, same plane in the distance. But of course, this time, everything has changed – Wenge’s comments are not based in fear on what will happen to him, but admiration for the opponent he inspired. In the distance, his teammates wait, awkwardly awaiting their chance to cheer him up. Wenge laughs at this, and apologizes to his coach – this time, it is he who must leave, to follow the path he has chosen for himself. For Wenge, defeat has opened his world, and this is reflected in the visual fundamentals of this scene – open sky, distant horizon, and friends awaiting his company.