The victory mentality is very evident in most sports anime. Whether it's Haikyū!!, The Prince of Tennis, Eyeshield 21, and even KEIJO!!!!!!!!, the importance of winning is just as strong as the importance of teamwork. While it's key to bringing forth a big story element in anime, it can make one antsy seeing the lives of these players being shattered when they leave the field/court with a loss over their heads. It leads me to ask: isn't there an anime that also extends its hand to the element of playing sports for the sake of fun?
Surprisingly, that's where this fall's Scorching Ping Pong Girls comes in, from director Yasuhiro Irie (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) and studio Kinema Citrus (Barakamon, Yuyushiki). Despite its cutesy outer appearance, this show packs in some pretty good life lessons and mantras on how one should approach any sport.
Based on the manga by Yagura Asano, Scorching Ping Pong Girls focuses on a table tennis club in Suzumegahara Municipal Junior High. Its ace Agari Kamiya (Minami Tanaka) is hoping to bring a championship to the school, as do fellow teammates Hanabi Tenka (Marika Kōno) and Hokuto Itsumo (Yūki Kuwahara). Enter Koyori Tsumujikaze (Yumiri Hanamori), a transfer student who joins the team to bring them an impressive repertoire. As they train harder, they each discover their strengths and weaknesses that'll hopefully lead them towards a championship in the not-too-distant future.
While there is the underlying theme of winning and teamwork throughout this anime, one key factor stands out that most sports series forget to implement: the fun factor. Koyori is incredibly gifted with a paddle, but she often reminds everyone that she plays ping pong because she has fun with it. Once this is revealed, characters like Agari and Mune Ōmune (Ayaka Imamura) soon have a certain weight lifted off their shoulders. Even though they're considered great players, the focus on having fun -- even during an important game -- never really crossed their minds, resulting in faults in their play styles. This then leads the team to become better around the table, during practice, in the classroom, and even socially.
It's quite hard to not like any of these characters, be it with Koyori's positive attitude, Hanabi's wild and playful instinct, Kiruka's (Hisako Tōjō) cute means of imposing penalties, and Hokuto's melancholy personality and means of guessing what colored underwear everyone wears. Even Agari, who starts off as being somewhat of Koyori's play style, soon finds a way to blossom into a better, more understandable character. A lot of this has to do with the voice actresses' portrayal of the ping pong team, but a good chunk of the characters' likability factors definitely should go to script adapter Hideyuki Kurata (The World God Only Knows, Kamichu!, the Hellsing OVA series).
When it comes time for a match to be thrown down, that's when Kinema Citrus likes to go into overdrive with its animation quality. Like what Production I.G. does with Haikyū!!'s volleyball scenes, the animators here for Scorching Ping Pong Girls like to make sure there is a big realism factor in how table tennis is played. Knees, hands, and elbows are bright red with wear from the running and hitting, and the players are drenched in sweat halfway through a game. Even the cutest of characters looks like a mess soon after their match has been settled, despite their moé-filled reactions.
Composer MONACA (IDOLM@STER, Servant × Service) does a fairly decent job with capturing the more slice-of-life aspects of Suzumegahara's table tennis club, but shines far better with the faster-paced melodies playing during an actual match. Opening theme "Shakunetsu Switch" by the series' main cast highlights the fun and concentration needed to participate in ping pong, with a much bigger emphasis on the former than the latter. Performed by Wake Up, Girls! (their first song outside of their own anime), end theme "Bokura no Frontier" is a light-hearted melody with a beautiful harmony and happy tone sung throughout.
Look, I'm not going to pretend that Scorching Ping Pong Girls is the best thing since sliced bread. However, I cannot deny the immense joy and pleasure I had with watching this series. With its cute, well-rounded characters, positive attitude, and some surprisingly cool animated matches, Kinema Citrus' latest anime is one that will no doubt put a warm smile on your face. Even if it's not focused on a sport that should be taken as seriously as soccer or baseball, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is still one fun anime to behold. Now, if they could've just gotten Christopher Walken to oversee the matches...
Final Grade (not an average):
Scorching Ping Pong Girls can be viewed on Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-9 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.