Baby Steps 13, 14 – Artsy Tennis

The more I watch of this show, the more I wish I had decided to just marathon it when it was over. For one thing, it’s very hard to blog such a show on an episodic basis. Perhaps if I had read the manga and had comparisons to make it would have felt like I had something worthwhile to say every week, but as it stands, when episodes are dedicated entirely to a single match, there isn’t much to analyze. I start to feel like I’m writing up a sports report rather than providing insight for the show. Most of it is pretty straightforward.

I guess that’s what happens when you decide to blog a genre that is enjoyable enough to watch, but is kind of pointless to dig deep into every single episode. A sports anime isn’t very plot heavy each episode in general. It’s charm lies in building up emotions over time so that the viewer gets involved enough to care about the results obtained by the characters. Some do it well, others don’t. For me personally, there is also a very fine balance between a believable victory over tough opposition, and victory through plot convenience. The latter plays a large part in reducing my enjoyment of the show. Thankfully, up till now, Baby Steps has avoided disillusioning me in that particular way.

All the same, I didn’t particularly enjoy Iwasa as a character. I understand this is only the junior tennis tournament, so being a top seed doesn’t necessarily need to translate to a competitive player, but I found his attitude to the game in episode 13 really grating my nerves. Combining tennis and painting? Drawing “lines” on the court with the ball. In a competitive match? And you are somehow the third seed? I get that his talent lies in exceptional ball control. I don’t even mind the explanation behind how he trained himself – where he tried to visualize the trajectory of the ball on the court as a piece of art. But that’s where it should have stopped. Do your art during training which explains your incredible racket and ball control. But don’t try and convince me that this is how a top seed can play a match in a tournament and do well.

Episode 14 started off much better. For one thing, Iwasa was no longer playing like an idiot. I would have much rather have had the entire match been like this. I don’t think Ei-chan gained anything in particular while playing the long drawn out first half of this match. So he has good stamina now and can keep the ball in, but we already knew that. It’s not something new, and it’s not something Ei-chan had to learn. Normally this show doesn’t waste time on unnecessary parts of matches, or even entire matches, but episode 13 felt rather flat. I can’t really see any reason for episode 13 to be required for episode 14 to play out. As mentioned before, Iwasa’s control could have been explained through his artistic “training system”, and wouldn’t really have taken more than say five minutes. After that jumping straight into this “control versus control” battle would have been better in my book rather than all those “drawing on the court” shenanigans.

Agreed the explanation for Ei-chan’s victory was that Iwasa’s leg cramped up because of how long the match had been going on. But that just makes it even more inexplicable that a top player would not have considered that happening. Plus we later find out that onward from the semi finals, the matches comprise 3 sets. Since Iwasa generally makes it to the best four, he should already have experience playing for long periods of time. I find it hard to believe that Ei-chan would be the first player to outplay him in this fashion. The show is trying to sell me an explanation that Ei-chan’s play level was so perfectly matched to Iwasa’s that only he could have achieved this result. Takuma and the second seed Araya would have steamrolled him quickly. And lower level players would have given up early? It’s a really hard sell for me. This does allow the match to appear as something both players learn from, but it’s coming off less naturally that Ei-chan’s match with Miyagawa. I mean, seriously, Iwasa’s “lesson” was rather stupid.

The rest of episode 14 was just setting up Ei-chan’s next match with Araya. As a player who wants to go pro, Ei-chan thinks that he’s probably at a completely different level from a player like him who just wants to have fun. But here he’s obviously underestimating himself. Yet, I don’t really see a way for Ei-chan to get through a player like Araya. If this show will stick to it’s formula of not having “plot convenient” wins, then I’m expecting the next match to be Ei-chan’s last for this year at the tournament. The reason being, if Ei-chan is good enough to topple Araya already, his previous struggles with Miyagawa and Iwasa seem nonsensical. He can’t improve that much in the two days he has. I will, however, be willing to accept a close match with Araya digging deep and pulling through at the end. Anything short of an injury to Araya as a cause of defeat would need some major explanations.

In terms of characters, we get to see Sasaki quite a bit more now that Kageyama brought her to Ei-chan’s match. I’d expect her to come to all of them from now on. Of course there are feelings involved. I highly doubt this show is going to dwell on that aspect any time soon though. And if anything, I’m pretty sure it’d have to be Ei-chan and Nat-chan who will get together, if at all. I suppose I’d feel a bit bad for Sasaki, but maybe she’ll appreciate Kageyama eventually. He’s a nice guy too. This sort of stuff has much more potential to be analyzed, but then it wouldn’t be a sports anime anymore. The less complicated this aspect stays, the better.

Next week might just be a critical point for this show. How will Ei-chan’s match against Araya play out? Will it feel exciting yet realistic? I’m slightly apprehensive that Ei-chan might get the victory, especially with the side build up of Nat-chan telling him that she’d only reveal why she wants to go pro if he wins. Don’t mess this up please.

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