Tuesday, October 27, 2020

#IReadsYou Review: PING PONG: Volume 1


[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

MANGAKA: Taiyo Matsumoto
LETTERS: Deron Bennett
EDITOR: Mike Montessa
ISBN: 978-1-9747-1165-9; paperback (May 2020)
530pp, B&W with some color, $29.99 US, $39.99 CAN, £23.99 UK

Ping Pong is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, who is also the creator of the Tekkonkinkreet and Cats of the Louvre manga, to name a few.  Ping Pong was serialized in Japanese publisher, Shogakukan's seinen manga magazine, Big Comic Spirits, from 1996 to 1997.

Ping Pong tells the story of two boys, Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto and Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino, who have been friends since childhood despite having drastically different personalities.  They are now both talented members of the table tennis (ping pong) club of Katase High School.  The series depicts the boys' different approach to table tennis.

Shogakukan originally collected Ping Pong's 55 chapters into six tankōbon volumes (graphic novels), and in 2014, Shogakukan re-released the manga in two book volumes under the new title, Ping Pong: Full Game No.  VIZ Media is publishing an English-language edition of Ping Pong: Full Game No as a two-volume, paperback omnibus set under its “VIZ Signature” imprint.

Ping Pong, Vol. 1 (Chapters 1 to 27) introduces longtime friends, Smile and Peco, who are both on the table tennis team at Katase High School.  Peco is all-in as a player, believing that he can beat just about any other ping pong player anytime.  Smile is eccentric and rarely smiles, nor does he take the game of table tennis/ping pong that seriously.  In fact, it seems that he would rather lose than have his opponent experience the agony of losing.

Well, Katase High's Coach Jo Koizumi won't accept that.  He is determined to make Smile a great ping pong player, even if he has to use every trick in his playbook.  Meanwhile, straight out of China comes Wenge Kong, a Chinese ping pong prodigy recruited by the Japanese high school, Tsujido Polytechnic, as a “ringer.”  However, Kong has his own issues and struggles.

[This volume also includes Ping Pong Episode 0: “Tamura.”]

THE LOWDOWN:  Some may know the Ping Pong manga because of the 2002 Japanese live-action film, which is how I first learned of the manga.  Over the last decade and a half, Ping Pong's creator, Taiyo Matsumoto, has become something of a graphic novel star with the English-language releases of his manga,  especially Tekkonkinkreet, Sunny, and Cats of the Louvre.

Ping Pong Graphic Novel Volume 1 provides a look at one of Matsumoto's early long form series, and it reveals that Matsumoto himself was something of a prodigy.  The first 27 chapters of Ping Pong are an impressive display of different graphical storytelling approaches in presenting the personalities, character, and motivations of the story's main players.

In fact, the characters' personalities drive this story.  For instance, Peco's cocky and carefree nature acts as a counter to Smile's stubborn attitude and taciturn nature.  As I read this story, I could almost feel the characters falling on either side of the Peco/Smile divide, and, for me, this gives a spice to the ping pong matches.  Speaking of those, Matsumoto turns the ping pong matches into duels of furious speed and slashing moves in which the players and rackets move as fast as the ping pong balls.

With his translation, Michael Arias' does what he did for Cats of the Louvre – give the readers an engaging tale full of diverse personalities.  Deron Bennett's lettering changes as Matsumoto's illustrations shift in tone and style, both creatives giving this tale depth and richness.  With a title like Ping Pong, one might not think that this story could be as wonderful as it is, and it is indeed wonderful.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of Taiyo Matsumoto will want the VIZ Signature edition of Ping Pong.

9 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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