As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hey everyone! This is Mokugyo, the manga-and-anime-loving writer on MANGA.TOKYO.
At the 2017 World Table Tennis Championship held in June, 13-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto won against Jun Mizutani, the bronze medal winner in the Rio Olympics, and went on to the quarterfinals. This became a big news topic in Japan because not only was Harimoto the youngest player to be chosen in the Japanese National Team, but he even had beaten an Olympic medalist. When I was 13 years old, I was just an ordinary manga fan, so I was very amazed at Harimoto’s achievements. Let’s all hope that Harimoto will become a strong player who will lead the future of Japanese table tennis!
Today, I would like to introduce to you the manga Ping Pong. It is very rare for a manga or anime to feature table tennis, and this is one reason why Ping Pong is so unique. Moreover, Ping Pong is a very energetic and entertaining story. I recommend to read this manga, especially those who are not a big fan of table tennis or sports. I personally was not so interested in table tennis at first, but when I read this manga, I was so amazed!
Ping Pong is a manga which was originally serialized in Weekly Big Comic Spirits from 1996 to 1997. The author is Taiyou Matsumoto, who is known as a genius manga artist among otaku. Ping Pong is a manga about high school boys putting all their passion into playing table tennis. It is highly rated and is one of Matsumoto’s major works that made him famous.
Ping Pong was adapted into a live-action film in 2002. Over a decade later, it got an anime adaptation in 2014. Quite some time had passed from the manga’s first release to when it was adapted into anime.
In Japan, ping pong is called takkyu. Taku means table and kyu means ball. The sport originated in the UK. It is said that, on a rainy day, tennis players went indoors and started playing tennis on a table. This was the beginning of table tennis.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Japan was known as a table tennis powerhouse. However, the country gradually became weaker, and for these past twenty years or so, China has been the most powerful country when it comes to table tennis.
In Japan, table tennis is considered to be a sport that does not stand out as much as baseball or soccer. There were even times when table tennis had a negative image, and people believed that only quiet and unsocial people play it.
Also, in Japan, table tennis has a strong connection with hot spring hotels. In many of these hotels, there is a room with table-tennis tables, and people can enjoy playing it with friends and family. For many people, table tennis is one of the first things that comes up in mind when they hear the word ‘hot spring’.
From the 2000s, there have been many table tennis players in Japan who can win in world tournaments, and some have even won medals in the Olympic games. Therefore, the Japanese people now have more opportunities to watch table tennis games on TV, and their image of table tennis has begun to change. People now think of it as an aggressive sport in which the players hit the balls at high speed.
Ping Pong is a manga which illustrates these aggressive, speedy, and cool aspects of table tennis. Compared to baseball and soccer, there are only a few manga which feature table tennis as its main theme. That is why Ping Pong is a very rare manga. We can say that this manga helped table tennis become famous in Japan.
The live action movie adaptation of Ping Pong was released in 2002. We can’t forget about this movie adaptation when speaking about Ping Pong, as many Japanese people first learned about the manga via this movie. It made more than 14 billion yen at the box office. This number may not sound like a big hit. However, we have to take into consideration that the movie was originally shown in only a few theaters. Because it gained popularity via word of mouth, the number of theaters in which the movie was shown gradually increased. Moreover, in those days, there were hardly any live-action film adaptations of manga which had succeeded. Nevertheless, Ping Pong was a movie that was highly rated among the viewers, and it is said to be a successful example of a live-action film.
Yosuke Kubozuka, who played the protagonist Peco, was one of the most popular young actors at the time. Peco is a very skilled and talented table tennis player. Because Kubozuka himself is a highly unique and talented actor, Peco’s character perfectly matched him. There is a scene in the movie in which Kubozuka jumps into the river from a bridge, and this scene was used in the movie’s TV trailer. Before the movie’s release, there was an incident in which Kubozuka jumped off from the ninth floor of an apartment, and miraculously, he survived. On many TV news programs, the scene in which Kubozuka jumps off the bridge in Ping Pong was shown to make a connection with his accident.
Dragon was played by Shido Nakamura, the famous kabuki actor. Nakamura rapidly gained public fame in Japan by playing this role. He is a kabuki actor who loves to challenge new things, and recently he gained a lot of attention from otaku for collaborating with Hatsune Miku in the Cho Kabuki performance.
Thanks to the huge success of Ping Pong’s film adaptation, many Japanese manga and anime began to get adapted into live-action films. Up to that time, even the Japanese people felt that Japanese movies were plain and boring. Therefore, we can even say that Ping Pong’s movie changed the people’s attitude toward Japanese movies, as it was filled with an entertaining and speedy atmosphere.
Ping Pong’s manga is originally written by Taiyou Matsumoto. He is well known for his unique drawings. The characters he draws look quite different from those with big shiny eyes in many recent manga. They also do not look like characters from old manga, with their dramatic facial expressions. They do not look realistic either. Although some people may not like his drawings, I’m sure no one would forget what they look like once they take a look. The scenes and the composition of Matsumoto’s manga are very unique too. Matsumoto has many fans living overseas. In fact, Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White, the movie adaptation of the manga written by Matsumoto, was directed by Michael Arias, an American film director.
Ping Pong’s anime adaptation, which was released in 2014, was directed by Masaaki Yuasa. He is a director who is highly skilled at creating anime which has a lot of movements, and he is well-known for directing The Tatami Galaxy (Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei) and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome). In 2017, his original movie Lu Over the Wall (Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta) was released in Japanese cinemas.
When directing Ping Pong, director Yuasa’s ultimate goal was to reproduce the scenes from the original manga without making any changes. Therefore, Yuasa first drew the storyboard himself, and then decided on the characters’ lines. I strongly recommend you to watch the anime scenes in which the characters are playing table tennis. Each character shows dynamic moves. On top of this, it’s very interesting that many scenes which look exactly like the panels of the original manga. I’m sure it took a lot of time and effort to animate the fast movements of the characters playing table tennis. It is such an amazing anime. You can tell how dynamic and energetic the anime is just by watching the official digest video posted below.
Another fascinating factor of Ping Pong is its characters. Peco, the protagonist, is very talented and energetic, but sometimes moody. Smile is a robotic boy who never smiles. Dragon is a skillful player who is always ranked the highest. Akuma is very cool, even when he loses. China is a boy who literally came from China, the table tennis powerhouse. Because he only speaks Chinese in the anime, Japanese subtitles appear on the screen for his lines. This is something very rare to occur in a Japanese anime. It makes China’s character seem real. Each character has their own unique style of playing table tennis, and the anime features each of their deep stories. I recommend you to watch the anime and check out the cool, poetic, and passionate stories of each character.
If you have never read or seen Ping Pong before, I recommend you to first watch its anime. The movie version, which is considered to be the pioneer of Japanese live-action film adaptations, is also very entertaining. And of course, the original manga is amazing as well. I hope more people get to know about the charms of table tennis and Taiyou Matsumoto’s manga.