This Week: Ping Pong The Animation, The World is Still Beautiful,
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, and Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara.
The nice thing about the seasonal anime change is so many of us are still in the new shiny toy phase of this operation. I like that.
I just hope the sheer wall of selections does not come to render things so we end up speaking into the ether, you know?
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode one]
As I can watch the episodes of this series on a Thursday, the Masaaki Yuasa show gets to take the place of Kill la Kill. That gives me almost a week long head start to get my thoughts together.
That is a lot of pressure for Ping Pong, I guess. I still have a word count to keep to, after all, and you have folks out there doing far longer and more dedicated writing on it much earlier in the week. Also, my entire exposure to table tennis as a sport comes from randomly catching it on television during the Olympics and maybe a few games in a university lounge.
So I read about ping pong. A lot. And probably will be quite a bit on the side to get more of a handle on things while the series continues. In the meantime though, here is the data from the freeze frame character playing style intros:
– Smile: Right shakehand grip. Pips-in rubber on both sides. Attacking chopper.
– Peco: Right penhold grip. Pips out hitter.
– Wenge Kong: Right Chinese penhold grip. Pips in rubber on both sides. Counter driver.
If we take that in for a bit, and try to tie it to the visuals to see if it links up, the following then comes into place:
Kong’s style as told to us in plain text requires a high amount of athleticism, stamina, and footwork. He will have access to a wide variety of serves and forehand techniques, and good blocking and pushing capabilities. But with that comes poor reach with his backhand by comparison. His combination of attributes is built around staying close to the table and trying to throw the opponent off balance to tear open a weakness. As few defensive players seem to have won major events with this style, and given Kong’s dismissive demeanor and shoot to kill performance in the match against Peco, I think it more than safe to say he is championing the aggressive route. I then wonder about the nature of his error that kicked him off his home team.
Peco on the other side of the net from Kong in our showcase match then becomes intriguing for the synergy between the visuals, his characterization thus far, and his internal monologue of the performance. He uses a penhold grip like Kong, but the Japanese version which has a different and more extended finger placement which allows for added forehand power. Yet, an understandable quirk with this style is it leads to harder difficulty in changing the angle of the bat on the fly. He also lacks a defined play style philosophy. In conjunction with his other listed attributes this is appropriate for someone who as an individual has been more geared to muscling through hotshot bets in the local practice dojo on raw ability but has not been seeking refinement. At least, not until being dismantled by Kong.
I use the word “dismantled” very deliberately as well, as it suggests a kind of modular components and fundamentals important for Masaaki Yuasa’s presentation here. Ping pong as a game is one of speed, flow, angular momentum, physics, and the like. Ping Pong as an animation is one of constant movement, frames with multiple smaller panels, and minimal color use that gets the message across with as quick and surgical a delivery as possible.
That its components as a television show and manga adaptation link so keenly with representing its sport and our characters is great combined arms approach. That even my early reading of how table tennis operates has reinforced this all the moreso is quite promising.
The World is Still Beautiful (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii) [Episode two]
As if there were any doubts from the previous episode (and to be honest, I had a few given some of the humor it used), this does seem to want to be a lighthearted affair between two different worldviews with occasional airs of seriousness.
Princess Nike trying to make our Sun King smile by trying to yoink his mouth upwards with her own hands in one moment, and “You own the world, but you’ve never looked at it” sentimentality in another. And somewhere in-between, the genesis of a middle ground of mutual understanding. Our King’s notion of cutting a few percentages of military budget for redirecting to flood control measures is especially interesting, as it is a behavior that can be read a few ways.
I do enjoy how Nike’s rain summoning ritual operates. That it is a unique song she needs to construct based on the area, what it contains, represents, or provides feeling for so as to drive the melody, rhythm, and lyrics.
I did not know to expect that, and it does give this more of a nice Disney vibe in the process. The song of this episode was perhaps a bit too on the pop music side of things, but if the giant robots and space aliens of Macross could get away with it that is not a death knell in and of itself. I do hope though there is showcase of song styles going forwards, as I think that can be made very compelling and further execute on Nike’s explanation. Beauty through variety, which is all the more apt for this series to wish to strive for.
Here is a bit of a pickle though: I enjoy how we did not need to wait a whole season to see a rain summoning song, brought on in earnest by the King’s quarters being set on fire. However…
If one were to have injected maybe another thirty to forty minutes of material to bulk up our first two episodes here and pace some things out a bit more, we would basically have a feature film or nice OVA on our hands.
Think about it: Nike arrived ashore from her distant land, had some trouble finding a place for the night and got swindled of her luggage. We get some of her backstory, and we know there are disgruntled government and military officials on the Sun King’s end. We meet a nice family so things are not so bad, there’s a kidnapping mixup, and Nike managed to get her bags and the girl back. Nike arrives at the palace, has some frosty interactions with the King. She gets into prison, then breaks out of prison. Misunderstandings of beauty and luxury. They start to connect, then Nike takes an assassination arrow meant for him. Nike sent away so as to protect her. Palace burns by internal forces, so Nike heads back to put it out and help save the King.
With some scene injections for character development and heftier running time, that is a rather workable little production in its own right. Right down to the rainbow at the finish.
My biggest concern then becomes one of if as a television series it would risk sputtering out.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode two]
When even the introductory recap from last week is harping on how much the main character sucks as a human being, you know he is sort of at the end of the road before passing a complete event horizon. A trip in a squad car and the lady one likes deciding to take the onus of talking the cops down and not pressing kidnapping charges after a night of drunken debauchery tends leave some kind of impression though.
This arc, of the first episode being a wild ride, the second being the listless get back on ones feet job search, and the third I imagine going along the lines of Matsutaro finding his calling, looks to go on about as long as is necessarily to be solid while also getting us to the sumo shenanigans at a good pace. The series has a rather comfortable progression feel to me, as if I was casually reading a manga chapter on a weekend afternoon.
Scenes like our big lug of a lead hanging out with the neighborhood grandmothers and other ladies in his interview suit for a nice chat, while still working in his tendency to want to splash them with water like a jerk or fishing for compliments, do show more human qualities. However misguided he may be for now.
Likewise, his greatest downer from his wild ride last time being the revelation that Reiko has outright moved away and back to Toyko feels appropriate as well. While Matsutaro’s behavior has been declining for a number of years, and impacted many folks along the way, this is something as a fallout from his actions that affects him more personally and does not have an immediate fix or can be muscled through. She is gone, after all. And his teacher pointing out to him that he can repay his debt to her by becoming a productive member of society is a good motivational pickup, while at the same time having Matsutaro still struggle with taking the job process completely seriously is indicative of how stuck he has been in his ways. He was lost in a rampaging wildebeest sense last week, but here he is lost by way the transition into another way of life being quite a strain.
Toei is clearly stretched with how the visual hiccups this week ended up, but the older manga style can forgive a lot and I treat this more as casual reading than anything. What I’m hoping is once we get to the actual sumo fights, the budget peeks in.
Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (Gaworare) [Episode two]
I am not entirely sure what kind of intro credits sequence I expected this show to have. But I am pretty sure saxophones and chimes while singing of pratfalls and revues was not on my radar. Pleasant though, to be sure.
Likewise, the power tiers of the voice cast is still throwing me for a bit of a loop here, that they would all assemble for something that is on the surface so nonsensical and I can not imagine pays as well given the smaller size of Hoods Entertainment. Ayumu Watanabe must have a real knack for grabbing thoroughly appropriate folks for projects they otherwise may not have been a part of. Heck, one of the more universally praised aspects of Mysterious Girlfriend X was getting Ayako Yoshitani to play Mikoto Urabe and she had done zero anime voice work before nor has she been on any since, and Space Brothers is so solid on casting all around.
I think we can all agree in life that when asked “Won’t you play a game with me?” by a little kid in a black dress, and said game is a rather proprietary version of chess with dragoons and ninjas, the only winning move is not to play. But, Souta’s loss is our gain, or we do not get a series.
Like last week, this is fast and a little loose but efficient if it is anything. We meet several new characters for the budding harem one after another in short order while also turning our leading man’s dorm building upside down and into a remodeled estate fit for practically everyone to move in to. And they still find time for a bath scene and a bit more suggestion towards The Bigger Picture behind all this.
For its whirlwind pace though, I can not say I was having a bad time. It has this kind of x factor to it shenanigans that is clicking with me. I enjoyed the Character Vision gag, for instance, where folks like Kikuno and Akane see Harem Lead Souta in their own exaggerated ways we as viewers can not normally. I appreciate how the event flag concept is able to contain more granular things like Manly Action. And I think it is pretty clear at this stage we are assembling all these girls together to form a kind of tabletop game class adventuring party, so that holds my more narrative interests to see to what purpose.
The more I think about the art direction of this series, the more I think of marshmallows.
Everyone has this kind of matte finish but squishy and lumpy quality to their animation from their uniforms to their bodies and hair. Like everyone was almost literally modeled out of sugar and corn starch. I like the effect, but I can see how others would find it more arresting. It is so close to a “normal” anime harem reality aesthetic that it can be odd for it to not have that extra polish and definition behind it. But, for a series that wants to suggest there is something larger at play for how the world works and must be uncovered, maybe it is the right choice.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.