Baby Steps 05 – Well I guess this is a Sports Anime

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. This is a sports anime after all. Maybe I was just getting my hopes up too much that Ei-chan would be completely average and this would be a story of him using hard work and practice to improve at tennis. Unfortunately, like most main characters in this genre, he too has a superior ability that seems really close to impossible.

This fact alone firmly puts this show back into generic sports anime, not that there is anything wrong with that. I do enjoy the genre, so this isn’t some sort of deal breaker for me. My point here is that it’s not really doing anything different, and that was the impression I got from all the anecdotal praise for the manga. Perhaps it just means it’s better than a lot of the other sports manga, but to be frank, I don’t think that’s too hard to do – simply remove the shounen bullshit and main character “anti-loss” protection and most sports manga would make for a better story. Though I’m guessing they wouldn’t sell as well, which is why this doesn’t normally happen.

So, I’m changing my expectations for this show a bit, and will review it purely from a sports anime standpoint, thus giving it a free pass for some exaggerated abilities. As long as it never crosses the line to become basically magical, I’m not going to count this sort of stuff against the show. This does, however, mean that I can no longer consider this to be an anime I could recommend to people who have exactly that complaint about sports anime in general – that it’s not realistic enough for the sport. Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, but this episode seemed to stretch the boundaries of believability.

You must be wondering what the heck I”m complaining about, I’ve just been ranting on without actually saying what happened in this episode. Basically it is revealed that Ei-chan has the ability to not only read the trajectory of a ball after it has been hit (this is fine), but also read the split-second motion of the racket of the opposing player before he hits the ball and hence predict the return (this is not so fine). It is one thing to predict a return based off a player’s playing style – he normally returns cross court when the ball drops close to the net, or something of that sort – but almost crazy to tell me that Ei-chan can focus on the movement of the player’s racket to the degree that he can calculate based off impact where the ball will go.

I’d even believe it if they explained it as Ei-chan read his opponents body positioning to predict the next shot – there’s at least a believable amount of time for that to be possible and for Ei-chan to get into position. But come on, being able to read impact off the racket? And after that still having time to change position? The fact that bothers me the most is that Ei-chan is capable of reacting before the completion of the actual shot. And this being an opponent he’s never played before, so I can’t even give him the benefit of saying he’s probably studied his style for hours on end to be able to read him like that. Maybe Federer can read Nadal like that and vice versa, but even that I’m sure is prediction based of play patterns rather than movement off the racket.

One might ask if I also had a problem with how the first game of the match went – where Ei-chan broke the fifth seed’s service game – but in retrospect that one doesn’t seem so bad. It is established that Ei-chan has worked really hard on his return of fast serves after the showdown with Takuma, so I can believe his body being conditioned to now react to such serves and return them well. In fact, the way the rest of the match was being played out kept me pretty happy. I liked the fact that his opponent read his weakness extremely quickly and exploited it (though it was blatantly obvious as soon as he served). Until the last game of course. My misgivings started just about when Ei-chan said the cliche’d line about wishing he could play on for longer.

The rest of the cast all seem fine. I was correct about the STC being one of the best tennis clubs in the area, which was the reason given for the amount of attention received when all of them arrived. Natsu is as energetic as ever, and took the opportunity to explain the scoring system to Kageyama. It was nice of him to come for Ei-chan’s first match. I maintain that the character relationships are really solid. Well, ok sure, Natsu really is a bit too air-headed at times. And Takuma is the delinquent tsundere senpai I expected him to be.

I can’t deny I might be being a bit too harsh here, after all this is the first real match we’ve seen in this show. However, I feel my points are justified at the moment. Perhaps now that I’ve got this rant out of the way, I’ll appreciate the show more for what it is, rather than what I expected or wanted it to be. The match isn’t even over yet. I will clarify once again, I am not saying that what is happening is BAD, it’s just unexpected in a way that it’s not standing out to me as being “the sports anime with a difference”. High hopes dashed? Well I wouldn’t go that far yet, I’ve possibly just being viewing this incorrectly. I’d expect next week’s episode to help me decide the mindset with which I should watch this show.

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