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)
Getting our full taste of Sakuya in the previous episode and what kind of gameplay he works with has definitely been something of an awakening for Eiichiro. He’s gotten hit hard in some creative ways by dealing with an opponent that’s overly aggressive but not in a kind of guttural or vocal way. Instead, what we get is someone who pushes hard against him and uses the rules to bend it as much as possible while coming across in an almost unsportsmanlike way. That’s not something that Eiichiro has gone up against and his reflections here at the start after a quick save has him realizing that this is a different kind of intensity and anger than what he’s dealt with previously. That forces a different kind of adjustment on Eiichiro’s part to push back.
Amusingly, Sakuya also uses the rules to his advantage to throw off Eiichiro and one of the ways he does that is to get him called out on the time it takes between serves to get back on track. Eiichiro does take awhile to provide narration and context for the viewer with his internal monologue aspects and that’s getting called out by him to the ref, which in turn agitates Eiichiro on a number of levels. It’s amusing to see him getting flustered by that and what’s going on with how Sakuya is playing the match and that’s putting a spin on how angry he’s getting but also the kind of pressure he’s feeling. With the range of opponents he’s faced so far the idea of losing to someone like him just rankles in a huge way. Eiichiro’s finding his balance in this kind of match and learning a lot even while learning the first overall set against him.
What becomes interesting is that as Eiichiro really figures out how to play against him and continues to use some really superior tactics we see how Sakuya’s getting angrier overall. It plays well from Eiichiro’s perspective as he shows some real growth but as we see it fall apart for Sakuya and you get his internal dialogue about things you see just how big of an impact this overall loss is on him. This episode gives us a lot of post-match material with Eiichiro getting advice and the like in addition to Sakuya’s realization of how long Eiichiro’s been playing. In a welcome moment though, Sakuya’s post-match meeting with Eiichiro is one that helps to potentially put him on the right path to improving. It’s simplistic to be sure but there are those times when someone outside of your sphere of friends and the like can provide a few words that can alter your course. That’s what has the potential for happening with Sakuya here, though his personality may make it incredibly hard for him.
Baby Steps sidesteps making this the last big match of the season by bringing it to a close with this installment and that’s a welcome development overall. What we get here is a pretty solid episode all around that puts Eiichiro up against a difficult opponent but one that he has to start getting used to as his skill level increases and the range of opponents from Japan and overseas will increase. It’s a solid piece that puts some new things in front of Eiichiro to cope with while also nudging Sakuya in a positive way as well while not turning him into a one dimensional villain, which he was close to becoming along the way even with the backstory they were giving him.
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.