Shikhar Shivraj’s review published on Letterboxd:
"My blood tastes like iron"
We might as well declare Yuasa as the greatest anime director to have ever done it because, really, after watching this show I don't think even Miyazaki or Kon beats him.
This show really isn't about Ping Pong (although yeah, Ping Pong, being a one-on-one game like chess etc. has a lot of personal stake in it, and that absolutely plays a part). It's about how each of these characters finds their "hero" (which is a straight-up allegory for your passion) -
1. Peco: a young prodigy with immense love for the sport who's wasting away his talent
2. Smile: Peco's best friend who's another prodigy but lacks fire and is content to be in the former's shadow.
3. Kong: A cocky national hero who has fallen from grace.
4. Dragon: A ferocious machine of a champion who cares about nobody and no one except winning, and subject to intense mental abuse, ends up having a really harsh and toxic view of the entire sport.
5. Sakuma: A player who got to where he is through sheer hard work.
Boasting of some of the most stunning character writing there is, this anime uses Ping pong as a vehicle that provides each of these characters with the opportunity to be shaped by their opponents - to know their limits, their place in the world, their greatest obstacles and provides them opportunities to reflect on questions which are simple on the outset but just have no definite answer. It's an anime which uses the toxic nature of competition (which, I am sure, everyone who has given JEE or any competitive exam can relate to) to tell a beautiful and poignant coming of age story about friendships, rivalries, acceptance, passion, heroes.
As for the visuals, Yuasa is truly a fucking king, the motifs, the imagery, the art style (which will take some getting used to), the framing (almost like a comic) are idiosyncratic af and yet perfectly suited for the story which the show is trying to tell. Yuasa's visuals are just very very intuitive and are not going to make sense to the logicians out there - for the rest of us though, there is comfort in his eccentricity.