What They Say:
Baby Steps centers on an honor student named Eiichiro Maruo who becomes frustrated with his life and decides to join the tennis club. Despite lacking experience and physical strength, he utilizes his studious nature to develop a strategic approach to playing tennis. Taking notes of his opponents’ habits and tendencies, he is able to predict their next move before they even react. He also meets Natsu Takasaki, a beautiful girl with a passion for tennis. With her help, he aims to become a professional tennis player.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Baby Steps has had a fairly strong season overall with what it’s wanted to do as we got a number of great matches, some time in Florida at the start, and a real expansion in a sweet and honest way of the relationship between Eiichiro and Natsu. The final match of the season has given us a really strong series of games between Eiichiro and Nabae as the two go at it and it’s even come across in a way where it doesn’t feel as long as it has been simply because it’s changed things up so many times and we’re seeing just how much of a struggle Eiichiro is having with what’s going on. There’s always a struggle to be had in these extended focus matches yet this one feels different since Eiichiro had grown so much, gained a lot of confidence, and had been performing very well over the course of this tournament.
What’s also always fun is seeing the commentary and view from the opponents and sometimes the stand. Nabae’s recognizing that Eiichiro is really evolving quickly here as he copes with everything. The idea that what he does comes across as reckless makes sense, but Nabae’s observing how he’s testing out new things on the fly and evolving it in order to push back against him. It’s not something most players can do in the midst of so many matches like this, or in general, instead forged into particular patterns and styles that serve them well. The first half works through all of this well, providing more back and forth and showing Eiichiro evolving and changing his style of play in a very good way so as to keep Nabae off balance. Interestingly, Nabae sees it as a threat but also Eiichiro overextending himself and not able to maintain it, giving him the chance to take victory himself.
As the match goes on it really does get hugely intense with what it does as they play on and the way both of them struggle, sweat and exhaust themselves is fantastic to watch. But it’s also reaffirming at the end, when Eiichiro loses in such a close way after working so hard, that there’s some great material in watching how he deals with it. The connection with Nabae is strong with the respect that exists there and we also get to see Eiichiro doing his best to cope with the loss privately. But he’s the type that just sees this as a chance to get stronger and grow if he just works harder at it. Amusingly, Eiichiro ends up being scouted here by a racket maker that wants him to use one of their new ones and be a tester for them. Considering that he hasn’t been playing that long, it’s a curious choice in some ways yet with his coach doing the introduction you have to believe that it’s for the best.
Baby Steps brings us through a few post-match areas that are good to see, giving us time to see how some of the other players he faced off against did and to see Natsu continuing to progress in her goal to be a pro. It’s welcome that we do get some time with Natsu, even if a lot of it is flashback material, because the two have really grown this season. Getting the end of the tournament overall is also done well so that we know how things play out in total, especially with what it is that Eiichiro has been involved in when it comes to Araya and Nabae going at it. This has been a strong tournament arc overall and one that has grown many things for the characters. With the manga doing well in sales and a lot of material that can still be explored, I’m hopeful – and patient – in that we’ll get another season of this thoroughly engaging sports series as there’s so much more to explore.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.