Peco and Dragon battle it out in a fierce match, and Peco’s victory paves the way for a climactic showdown between old friends.

This was the most intense episode yet. And that’s saying a lot. The pacing was more frenetic than usual, the animation was more lively than usual. This episode set my hairs standing on end with its intensity. It’s probably my favorite episode so far. This is the sort of thing I want to see from this show. Previous episodes have been satisfying on the whole, but somehow unremarkable. I think what I was hoping to see is something that stood out somehow. I’ve never been a fan of uniform quality. I like ups and downs. This is one of the show’s big ups. It’s not surprising, as we’re close to the climax, and they’re pulling out all the stops.

We probably have Eunyoung Choi to thank for the quality of this episode. I wouldn’t have thought there could be such a difference in directing texture arising purely from a different director, since each episode is storyboarded by series director Masaaki Yuasa, but when you have someone with exceptional talent like her, there’s no suppressing her unique touch. It’s not even that she has an idiosyncratic style that’s clearly identifiable. It’s just an added oomph that makes the material really pop. She did some stunning work combining music and visuals in a recent episode of Space Dandy, and the deft combination of driving music with frenetically paced animation in this episode is riveting in the way you want an exciting climactic battle to be.

No matter how well directed, an episode won’t achieve its full potential without interesting animation to bring it alive, and that’s another reason this episode stands out from the others. The show has sadly been a little lacking on the animation front due to scheduling issues, but in this episode we finally get a little bit more good animation to make the ping pong matches more than merely colored manga with music.

Yasunori Miyazawa returns with some delightful work. But for the first time in the show, his sections aren’t the only good bits. We’ve also got work from three animators who are excellent at creating exciting physical action: Niho Tomoyuki, Shingo Yamashita and Takashi Mukoda. You can find these guys’ fantastic work in numerous shows over the last decade, most prominently Tetsuwan Birdy Decode and Naruto Shippuden. Tomoyuki and Yamashita are products of the Internet. They were part of an online community of amateur animation enthusiasts who would post their GIF animation to BBSs, and eventually they were recruited into the industry, bringing a completely different way of conceptualizing movement with them—one more instinctive in its methods and based in realistic motion. Mukoda had a more traditional start but stood out for also creating realistic action sequences. These guys help bring the second half of this episode alive. A lot of the drawings are a bit off-model, but that’s been something of their trademark: creating sections with incredibly rich and dynamic animation that doesn’t care much about model.

Peco starts off on the wrong foot, losing the first game, but eventually gets his groove back when he starts just having fun with it. Then Ryuichi starts to sweat until he himself figures out that he has to do the same thing. Kong takes off his shades for seemingly the first time witnessing the frenzy into which the two players get in the second game—the ultimate accolade. The match is interspersed with the visual metaphor of Peco as hero, which we’ve seen since early in the show, teaching Dragon how to fly. This time Peco saves Dragon from himself, and from the fate into which he was cast by family circumstance. Dragon actually cracks a smile during the match. The next victory will be for Peco to bring back Smile’s smile.

When the driving music kicks in during the second half, the timing of everything suddenly becomes super speedy in a way that feels just right for a Yuasa show. You have the same manga-inspired panel play, but sped up and actually filled with movement. This time you can’t follow the action—it’s sensory overload—but it has the visceral thrill that you can only get from Yuasa (think the escape sequence of Mind Game). Credit also goes to Kensuke Ushio’s great music for elevating the scene. He’s provided a huge variety of music for the show. The show’s talented colorist Kunio Tsujita (Tatami Galaxy, Casshern Sins, Wakfu: Noximilien the Clockmaker) also devised an interesting scheme for the scene. Saturation gradually fades from an icy blue scheme to stark manga black-and-white at the moment of Ryuichi’s combined defeat/satori. Apparently Smile was not the only one waiting for a hero. Ryuichi’s metaphorical flying bird is mirrored by Yurie’s airplane, which takes her to freedom overseas.

There were very few weak drawings this time around and lots of very good ones, because other than the guest animators you had all the main figures on hand. One trick they’ve used in this show to save labor, particularly in shots with complicated camera movements, has been some kind of morphing program that moves the characters Flash-style. You see it where Ryuichi rolls the ball around his racket and where Peco hunches over pondering and then perks up when he hears the humming. It’s obvious why it was used and it makes sense—those shots probably couldn’t have been made otherwise under this schedule. That’s not something you saw before in Yuasa’s shows, so it must be a technique Tatsunoko brought to the table to get the show done on time. Maybe these are the bits that have been done by the group credited in each episode under “Science SARU”. It’s not badly done—that ping pong ball rolling shot was pretty cool—but I wouldn’t want to see it used more than it is.

Ping Pong Episode 10: I thought you were the hero!!

Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Eunyoung Choi
Assistant Episode Director: Ryota Ito
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Nobutake Ito Naoyuki Asano
Sayaka Toda Shoko Nishigaki
Key Animation: Kanchi Suzuki Shoko Nishigaki
Yasunori Miyazawa Tetsuro Kaku
Ryota Komatsu Mayu Matsushima
Washio Tatsuro Kawano
Kanako Maru Tomoyuki Niho
Mayu Saito Shingo Yamashita
Yukie Yamamoto Takashi Mukoda
Takuya Saito Tomomi Kawazuma
Betsujin Shishido Kenji Shibata
Saori Koike Izumi Murakami

Ben Ettinger

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