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 structure is one that’s certainly familiar to sports anime fans and while it can be frustrating on some level it’s also kind of reassuring. Especially for this show where the focus is on realistic play of the sport and not about team dynamics, jealousies or relationships. I really do like what we get with Natsu and Eiichiro but with it being sprinkled among these episodes that takes place over the course of at least a year so far it has a good slow burn to it that also comes across as more real and honest, even if we’re not getting all of their interactions. With both tracks what we end up getting is quite the engaging show that you really end up rooting for the characters and their journeys.
With Eiichiro now going up against Sakuya, it’s already providing to be an interesting match as there’s a sense coming from Sakuya that he’s going to bend things in every way possible to win – right from choosing who gets to start serving. This all gets reinforced with the flashback sequence we get for Sakuya as well where we see the kind of intense player that he is. It’s reminiscent of a few others Eiichiro has faced but distinct enough that he’s his own character. Sakuya isn’t violent per se, but there’s a presence of that within the way he plays as it’s aggressive in style in addition to the way Sakuya just glares at Eiichiro. And as it goes on we see more of the ways that Sakuya plays that falls under what Yukichi tells him is pretty damn nasty. It’s certainly unsportsmanlike to be sure, which is why Sakuya is a very different opponent for Eiichiro as his past ones haven’t fallen to this level.
The second half of this episode focuses more on the match itself than some of the commentary and flashback aspects and it really pushes the two of them in some good ways as the match goes on. It’s not a match where we’re getting something like what we saw with Ide or some of the others but it’s another series of games where Eiichiro is having to learn to adjust and push back more. When your opponent is a bit less than honorable in play, you have to really be at the top of your game but also very aware of all the tricks that can be used and develop ways to counter them. Eiichiro does that and uses his own abilities to push back in a strong way, showing the mental game that’s being played and his refusal to fall to the tricks that Sakuya is using against him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get tripped up along the way and makes mistakes, but it’s really engaging to watch the way that Eiichiro has to handle things here and how he’s losing some of his signature composure.
When it comes to the opponents that Eiichiro has been facing it’s been easy for the most part to understand them and like them even if they’re really giving our lead character a run for it. They’ve all got their motivations and Sakuya does as well, which are lightly touched upon here. But he’s also a different opponent because of the way he comes across where there’s an aggressive side to him and the tricks and quirks he uses to win that pushes him into the unsportsmanlike category. That’s something that feels a bit new to what Eiichiro has faced, though you know there will always be these types of players out there. Where this works is in that it’s really engaging to watch Eiichiro struggle with it while trying to maintain himself but also figuring out how to push back without sinking to the same level. Good stuff, though it really doesn’t make me like Sakuya in the slightest.
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.