Having already enjoyed a live-action theatrical adaptation over a decade ago, Taiyou Matsumoto's manga gets an animated outing this spring courtesy of the directorial hand of Masaaki Yuasa.
At the heart of the series are two seemingly talented, but very different, table tennis players - the quiet, emotionless and expressionless "Smile", otherwise known as Makoto Tsukimoto, and his long-standing friend, the outgoing and carefree "Peco", Yukata Hoshino. The only link between the two is an overwhelming love of ping pong, with the cocky Peco always willing to show off his skills even if he's rather less interested in training with the fellow members of his school club.
What really interests Peco however is news of a Chinese exchange student who will be coaching youngsters at a rival school - "China" as they know him, although his actual name is Wenge Kong. Skipping practice once again, Peco persuades Smile to join him in a bout of "spying" on this Chinese newcomer as he takes on his first session at his new assignment - an adventure that leads to Peco playing one-on-one against this highly skilled opponent and, to his shock, finding that his own abilities aren't what he believes them to be.
Its animation style may take a little getting used to, bastard child of The Tatami Galaxy and Kick-Heart that it is, but once you settle into its rhythm it's a perfect match for Ping Pong, especially once any bouts of actual table tennis begin as it offers a certain style and fluidity that suits it well. That aside, this was a decent enough first episode, introducing as it did our main three characters and setting up the ground work for what is to come. This isn't a show that's going to shout its intentions or abilities from the rooftops - it's more Smile than Peco in that sense - but there's a calm confidence to the this opener that bodes well for the series as a whole.