Story = B
Video = B
Audio = C+
Best friends Peco and Smile have been playing ping pong since they were little kids. While the unique and brazen Peco plays to win and loves the sport, the quiet and introverted Smile thinks of it as just a way to kill time with friends, and plays only because he looks up to Peco as his hero. Though Smile is the more talented player, he frequently and intentionally loses to Peco out of a misguided sense of friendship. However, after Peco is badly beaten by his old pal Demon in an important inter-high school tournament and quits the game, Smile becomes the newest celebrity of ping pong. Smile begins training for the next championship, waiting for the return of his hero, whom he is destined to meet in one last match. (Source: ANN)
This is just a strait-up feel-good movie. There's no deep meaning, or intense duels to the death. It's just a story about kids learning life lessons through the sport of table tennis.
I think what mainly makes it a feel-good movie, other than the usual character-must-overcome-personal-obstacles-in-order-to-achieve-greatness, is that there are no real "bad guys". Smile faces challengers, of course, but there really isn't anyone for the audience to hate in this movie. The obstacle that Smile has to overcome is an internal one, and most all the characters in the movie -- even his challengers -- encourage him and give him support. It's the fact that Smile himself is not allowing them to support him that gives the show its dramatic conflict.
Of course you also have the actual Ping Pong matches themselves. With few exceptions, there's really no special cinematography or goofy special effects (like say, in Shaolin Soccer). Instead the matches get their intensity from the characters' motivations to win (or lack there of), and their techniques.
Actually, if there is one criticism I have of this movie it's that it didn't detail Ping Pong techniques much at all. I like it when a sports-related Japanese movie or anime will show the characters analyzing each others' techniques and try to find ways around them. But here, other than the characters showing off a few nifty special movies, there isn't much of any analysis. On the plus side though, I suppose that allows the audience to focus on the dramatic side of the match instead of the technical side.
I'm sure others will also criticize this movie for it's unoriginal plot line. I mean, how many times have we seen stories where the main character has little interest in an activity in which he has great proficiency (at least one). But unoriginal or not, the plot line works well to make it an effective and enjoyable drama.
So in the end, I'd recommend this movie to anyone who is in the mood for a simple and enjoyable story that has a lot of heart.