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Review: Yasaka Mark V, Mark V HPS, and HPS Soft

31 July 2019  | Posted in: Table Tennis Reviews

      Yasaka Mark V. A simple name, but a name spoken in table tennis clubs and halls for half a century. Prior to Mark V, Yasaka Original was released in 1953, which could be considered a beta version to what would eventually become Mark V. Though Original is an important rubber, in its own right, for helping to usher in the modern game and domination of sponged inverted rubbers, that whole story is best saved for a different time. The Yasaka Mark V was released in 1969, making this year of 2019 its 50th anniversary. It is a truly special rubber that has survived the decades and has had multiple versions, such as HPS and HPS Soft, released throughout the years, and for good reason.



     I've decided that, since Mark V is so well known and its playing characteristics so well explored, my review wouldn't follow my standard formula. I want to be able to examine it in a more humanistic way. The Mark V is a rubber that can be used for a plethora of purposes and playing styles. During the era of speed glue, it was used by the world's best. A speed-glued sheet of Mark V was, at the time, a weapon of nearly unmatched proportions that still maintained remarkable control. It is available in multiple thicknesses, from a max sponge all the way down to a surprisingly thin, for inverted, 1mm sponge. This made it a fine choice for a chopper's forehand in 1.0 to 1.5mm and for all-round players in 1.5 to 2.0mm. In the more modern era, it can be boosted to give it extra oomph and better feeling. But ultimately, no matter what era, no matter what decade, the Mark V has been used for its versatility and control. This makes it, for many, the first choice for a developing player.

     Prior to this review, I had never actually owned a sheet of Mark V. Sure, I've picked up other rackets that had it on there but never have I used it on my own familiar blade, which is currently Tibhar Force Pro Special Edition. It's quite obviously a classic rubber. I used no booster or anything of the sort, so it had a much more muted feel to it than the mega boosted speed glue effect rubbers that I'm used to using. It's not fast by any means but it didn't feel like a dampened defensive rubber either. This makes it very linear up to a certain point but it felt like I was able to reach a ceiling of speed quicker than an experienced player would prefer. Indeed, this rubber has its jack-of-all-trades versatility. Its medium-low throw angle allows control on drives and flatter shots, but not short pip low, allowing for loops to clear the net. Blocks are dependent on how you choose to guide them. Serves and pushes were easy to keep short but produced nothing spectacular spin-wise. Chops can be done comfortably and placed anywhere on the table.

     Though, I feel that much of these characteristics are already known, which is why I summarized it as such. What you need to know is that, right out of the package, Mark V is a rubber that makes the ball more controllable, improving your odds for a successful return. Today, there is a flood of rubbers that are faster and spinnier than the Mark V. There are rubbers that are slower and chop better than Mark V. Though, for players that are maybe in their first few years of play, I can't suggest a better Euro-Jap rubber than Mark V. It is a rubber that is responsive to how you play and what you tell it to do and that's what matters and that's why we celebrate its 50th birthday.

     As stated earlier, Mark V HPS and HPS Soft are more modern iterations of Mark V that have been released this century. They combine the classic Mark V topsheet with a similar sponge but a sponge that has a little more speed than the original. While HPS Soft is softer than HPS, as its name implies, I could barely tell the difference during actual gameplay. It might even be because I was looking for a difference and that if I tested them blindly I wouldn't notice it at all while I'm at the table. As a result, the following comments apply equally to both rubbers. 

     Relative to the original Mark V, the speed difference is noticeable. With that in mind, it's a far cry from any speed glue effect rubber in feel. For speed, it is significantly less than a speed glue effect rubber of a comparable hardness and often less. Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying. Yes, the difference with Mark V is noticeable, but there is almost as much room for HPS to be boosted or speed glued as there is for the original.

     While its versatility nearly equals that of the original, HPS is only available in 2.0mm and max, understandable, as it's a bit more geared for offense than the original. Attacks and blocks are a bit tighter without much loss in control. I suppose that the HPS isn't going to be any better at the short game and serving than the original but the minimal increase in speed on offensive strokes doesn't seem to apply to short game strokes and is pretty much the same as the original. I suppose that since chops penetrate the sponge more, those are a bit more difficult, but only by a small margin and are significantly easier than any speed glue effect rubber.

     With such a minimal increase in speed, is there even a purpose for HPS at all? To that, I say that, yes, there definitely is. First of all, for anyone using Mark V and loves its characteristics but wants just a touch of extra venom in their shots, HPS is a great choice. It does an excellent job of retaining the feel and playing attributes while combining it with a small but noticeable bump in speed.

     A great option is for players using Mark V or other classic rubbers, and are trying to transition into using speed glue effect rubbers to switch to the HPS as an intermediary for 6-12 months of practice prior to using a faster speed glue effect rubber. It allows you to maintain your stroke used with your previous classic rubber/Mark V while getting you used to the idea of using a faster rubber. 

     After all is said and done, Mark V is probably the most legendary table tennis rubber to have ever been introduced to the sport. Reviews and comments on this rubber exist since it was first released and throughout the years. Even a quick review can be found by Australian hero, William Henzell, an archived relic on youtube from more than a decade prior to this writing. I'm honored to include my review alongside the words of so many players that were and are greater than I will ever be. 

     Its uses are varied due to its incomparable versatility and control. Others have tried to copy Mark V. Some have succeeded but most have fallen short. It really says something that a rubber that is now 50 years old is still so well regarded. Most non-Chinese (and even many who are Chinese) have used Mark V at some point in their playing careers. I am now proud to say that I am among them. In a sport where people of all levels think speed is the name of the game, Mark V helps you with the most important skill in table tennis, making the ball land on the table.