This is incredibly difficult to choose. I’m sitting here looking at seven anime that may have not been revolutionary, but were either so well executed or broke the flow enough that I was blown away by the end. Here are my three runner ups before I make my decision.
3. Medaka Box – I think it would be hard for anyone to not be deceived after watching both seasons of this show. Encompassing SoL to fantastical action-adventure, this show kept me guessing until the end. That being said, the story was incredibly ordinary and the characters I found to just be ok.
2. Scum’s Wish – Scheming wench! The execution of this show and the dark romance completely caught me off guard. I don’t recall ever seeing realistic depictions of love in high-school scenarios before from anime. I also immensely enjoyed the use of real drama compared to the trope of miscommunication to create conflict. Hanabi said everything she needed to, it just didn’t fucking matter to anyone.
1. Oreshura – In a sea of harems and despair, I came across this lifeboat. Being one of only maybe two harems I’ve ever seen end with a resolution (Shuffle! being the other), plus a plethora of JoJo references, it was hard not to be pleasantly caught off guard by this show.
Now, for the winner. Drum roll please…
Ping Pong the Animation.
Why you ask?
With animation like that, it’s hard not to be surprised when the show is that well done.
Before I started watching seasonally, I was making my rounds on what looked interesting, and boy did this show fit the bill. Hyper-realistic quality mixed with a sport that wouldn’t be my first choice (or second or third) if I was tasked with creating a sports anime. Of course, with Ballroom e Youkoso currently airing, I’m starting to see that anything can be amazing to watch.
I’ll start with characters. The show follows two players. Going by their nicknames, we have Smile and Peco who have been training in table tennis together for years. Smile is quiet and reserved, rarely do we actually see him smile. He also is fairly average at the sport despite years of hard work. Peco, on the other hand, is a prodigy. Capable of picking up advanced techniques quickly, rapidly changing his style of play, and always bursting with energy, he is cocky and likes to talk a lot. He often skips practice because he knows how good he really is.
Wenge is a Chinese student sent over to Japan because he was essentially a failure. Starting as a cocky prick, his mission is to improve and learn some humility. Evidently, he’s the one that points out that Smile is actually incredible at ping pong and has been faking ineptitude so as to not overshadow Peco. Ryuuichi, the bald one, is the reigning champ in Japan. Confident, and strong beyond all belief, he’s the one to beat.
A 180 in plot three quarts of the way through was just one of the many things that took me by surprise. First, the realization that Smile was blessed with extraordinary skills and just doesn’t have the motivation to use them. Plus, he doesn’t want to be in the spotlight.
Adding to that, Peco undergoes a transition from nearly a delinquent to the shining hero that Smile had been waiting for. Going as far as taking on the champion to live up to Smile’s expectations despite having an injured knee that could end his career. This was after 3/4’s of the season had been building up Smile as the one to be the hero.
Instead, Smile’s iconic humming of the song about wanting a hero wasn’t an expression of him becoming one, but Peco rising to the occasion.
“The hero comes. The hero comes. The hero comes. Chant these words in your mind, and I’ll surely come to you…” Those words give me chills still.
Then, there was the realization that the nickname ‘Smile’ wasn’t meant to be ironic but was bestowed upon him, by Peco, because he would always smile as a kid when they played ping pong. The normally stoic Smile was cast aside when it came to ping pong.
What I found from this show was a sense of ambition on an entirely new level. Far and away from putting me off, the animation aided in telling the story in a way that’s hard to describe. The cartoon-ish qualities but hyper-realistic tendencies mixed in a way that really lent itself to this story of growth.
To be a genius doesn’t mean everything is served to you on a silver platter. Hard work, frustration, and toiling away to achieve greatness were essential to Peco rising through the ranks.
When I went into this show, I foresaw none of this. Intense ping pong dynamics, themes of ambition and talent, a lovable cast, and a style of art that served as a foundation for all of it. Nearly every character in the show changed, sometimes drastically sometimes not, from the start to the end. Getting to see where everyone ends up at the end is a great bonus too.
If you haven’t gotten the chance to view this yet or you are put off by the strange art styles, I still strongly recommend you give it a chance.