Review: Ping Pong Vol 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto

cover183336-medium Ace high school table tennis players push their passion to the limit in this story of self-discovery, told by Eisner Award winner Taiyo Matsumoto.

Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto doesn’t smile even though he’s got a natural talent for playing ping pong. As one of the best players in school, all hopes are on him to win the regional high school tournament, but winning is not what Smile really wants to do. Will the fierce competition to be number one bring out his best or drive him away from the game? Ping Pong is Taiyo Matsumoto’s masterwork reflection on friendship and self-discovery, presented here in two volumes, featuring color art, the bonus story Tamura and an afterward by the original Japanese series editor.

You have Smile and then you have all the other table tennis players.

Peco is determined, wanting to be the best, but he’s not nearly as obsessed as some of the others.  Demon (Manabu) and Dragon (Ryuichi) are more focused, bordering on obsessed with being the best.  Lastly, there’s Wenge.  Disgraced, he left his home to come to Japan in an attempt to regain his glory and return to China.

That leaves us with Smile.  He’s really the best of the best although ping pong isn’t his dream, unlike all of the others.  Smile plays because he enjoys it, but the training, the practicing, all the stuff needed to be truly good, bores him.  However, his natural talent and love of the game draws him into the competition despite himself.

Each has their own reasons for playing, their own style, and motivation.  These internal desires push the players to do their best and, as it is in the way of sports, develop rivalries as well as partnerships, with the other players.

Although table tennis can be fascinating to watch – I’m far too uncoordinated to return a simple lob! – it never was something that interested me a whole lot.  However, I know that it is big in a lot of areas much like basketball or football are here in the states.  So, I thought that, even without a good knowledge of the techniques and styles, the competition would draw me into the story.  I’m glad I took a chance on this unusual manga.

I will admit that I was hesitant in regards to the art style at first.  It seems simplistic but the deeper you get into the manga, the better it suits the story.  This is shown best during the match scenes where the clean, clear lines of the art effectively presents the stress, the anticipation, and the fears of the players.  Oh, and the triumphs as well.

Ping Pong is fast-paced and full of drama and tension.  The characters are dynamic and likable, even when they’re being obnoxious jerks.  I was drawn into the struggles and achievements of each player, wanting the best for them all in the end, even if I wasn’t rooting for them at the start.  Despite being the biggest manga I’ve ever read – a little over 500 pages – I’m anxious to see how the story ends in the next volume.

4/5

*Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for a copy of this book.

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