cover image Ping Pong

Ping Pong

Taiyō Matsumoto, trans. from the Japanese by Michael Arias. Viz, $29.99 (520p) ISBN 978-1-974711-65-9

First serialized in Japan in the mid-1990s, this unlikely love song to ping-pong by Matsumoto (Cats of the Louvre) dashes together a cockeyed mix of athletic action, indie drama, and visual spectacle. At a small high school, two former friends dream of table tennis greatness: Peco, a cocky natural talent, and Smile, a stone-faced brooder. They’re forced to up their game when a rival school acquires Wenge Kong, a ringer from China. On one level it plays as conventional sports manga packed with dynamically drawn action, outlandishly overpowered competitors, and characters saying such things as “better not to have been born than to be up against losers like these” through gritted teeth. On another, it’s a delicately observed human drama about the boys, their teammates and rivals, and the adults jockeying to guide them. Matsumoto’s characters describe ping-pong as “solitude and doubt, anguish and despair, nihilism and depravity” and make the reader believe it. The angular figures lunge from the page at extreme, distorted perspectives, plunging through weedy back alleys, cluttered apartments, and cavernous gymnasiums. This crowd-pleasing manga is poised to score points with readers across the board. (May)