Baby Steps 04 – Use the Racket

Well I wasn’t completely wrong in my prediction last week. Ei-chan did better than I expected him to do, but he wasn’t able to properly return a serve from Takuma, and he did get hit in the face.

The pacing of this episode was rather deceptive. More than half the episode was dedicated to the showdown between Ei-chan and Takuma, and how Ei-chan was gradually able to read Takuma’s serves (only read, not return) thanks to his excellent ball-tracking skills. The ability to focus on fast moving objects is supposedly another inborn talent for Ei-chan, in addition to his never-ending patience for repetitive practice and note-taking. Of course, none of these talents on their own are going to help Ei-chan return one of Takuma’s serves, but they are noticed as his potential by Coach Miura of court A.

I suppose being able to decrypt Natsu’s advice on how to return a fast serve is also a skill. I never really expected him to be able to succeed, and I was slightly put off when it started to look like he might. This was his first time facing a top class player’s serve, just getting his racket to it was impressive enough in my book. The show didn’t disappoint me, for which I am grateful, with Takuma finally acknowledging that his straight serve pattern was being slowly read by Ei-chan. To put Ei-chan back into his place, he ended the contest with a slice serve, nonverbally sending a message to Ei-chan that there is much more to this.

Takuma’s annoyance peaked when Natsu yelled out advice to Ei-chan, sigh, Natsu is really clueless as ever. I’ll deal with it, but I wish that wasn’t the case. Anyway, surprisingly Ei-chan’s determination seemed to penetrate into his thick skull, and cool his head down, so that in the end, he didn’t actually go and punch Ei-chan after winning.

At around this point in the episode I started getting a bit confused about the timeline. Right after the service showdown, Ei-chan is offered a chance at taking part in an upcoming junior tennis tournament (in a month?). I personally think this was way too early, no matter how impressively Ei-chan performed. He only knows how to use a forehand stroke, has never practised serving as far as I can tell, and just learnt what needs to be done when returning a serve. I know he’s played against the elementary school kids, but come on, even that’s just been one match. It’s just been one month since he picked up a racket, so this would mean he’s taking part in a tournament in just two months?

Turns out that tournament was a bit further away than I thought, about four months have passed. I’m not sure if this means parts of the manga have been skipped over so that the anime can move at a faster pace. Readers of the manga swear by the slow pacing and gradual improvement of Ei-chan as being one of the best parts of this series, which also helps forge a deeper connection with all the characters (as more time is spent) before we seems them in contests. I have my fingers crossed to hope that the anime can live up to expectations. I really do want to enjoy this. So far, I do not have any problems. With the original creator involved in the writing for the anime, I’m inclined to be more optimistic.

Also, thinking it over, now that I know the tournament was further away than I thought at first, I suppose the reason the coach wants Ei-chan to participate is so that he can get a first hand feel of what competitive tennis is like. Not because he expects Ei-chan to perform miracles and win anything. In fact, he’s going to be facing the fifth seed – if he doesn’t lose that match, my faith in the realism of the characters in this anime will be damaged beyond repair. For one thing, he still has a major stamina issue, even when compared to the grade schoolers.

Takuma and Natsu, on the other hand, are top seeds in their brackets. I would expect, after Ei-chan’s defeat in his match, we should get to see these two play. If I had to hazard a guess, we’ll see Takuma lazily go through the motions, and maybe throw a match at some point just through lack of effort and/or motivation and it’ll be contrasted with how Natsu puts her heart into playing. Seeing some other top junior level players will be interesting as well, to see where the STC stands as an academy. Though I think it is one of the better ones, if not the best, in that locality.

Tennis practice has affected Ei-chan’s school work a bit, though he still manages a top four score on the tests, which is commendable. News about his joining the STC and participating in the upcoming tournament is slowly spreading thanks to Kageyama for the most part. I got the impression that Kageyama did this while Ei-chan was looking at his test scores surrounded by other students because others were shocked Ei-chan wasn’t right at the top. Nothing of the sort is implied or said, but for some reason I just got this vibe. Also more people are shown to be taking notice of Ei-chan in school. The words chosen by Kageyama: “You still did better than me even after focussing on tennis practice so much”, and said loudly and publicly just made me feel like he was making sure that Ei-chan’s reputation wouldn’t come under question. I might have read too much here, but I felt that Ei-chan has a very good best friend.

With no concern voiced by his parents over him not being at the top of the class (he did perfectly well enough), I was happy that this series doesn’t have “those” type of parents for the main character (the one’s that the character doesn’t get along with and is always seen to be arguing with). He’s doing well enough in school, and his parents support his new interest in tennis. That’s good. Next week I’m guessing we’ll see what happens in the tournament. It might just be a critical juncture for me depending on how it plays out. I look forward to it.

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