Baby Steps – 03

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Sometimes, trying not to get your hopes up too much is the hardest thing of all.

I’m not going to say that I wish Pierrot (Sundays are a very good day for them this season) and Murata-sensei’s Baby Steps wasn’t any good, or that it was already selling out the integrity of the manga.  That wouldn’t be true for starters, for obvious reasons – I love this series and want it to be great, and I’m going to enjoy every moment that the anime is recognizably the Baby Steps I hold in such high esteem.

The thing is, though, that the longer the anime stays religiously true to the manga, the more agonizing it’s going to be when those two roads finally diverge (in a yellow wood?).  And we’re steering a true course three three episodes, with only about five chapters adapted and nothing of real consequence changed.  The animation and art is nothing special (though the tennis itself is nicely depicted) – this is certainly not Haikyuu in that respect- but apart from that it’s the real deal.

If only we could look forward to it staying that way.  Not to be a broken record but this episode – to its credit – further illustrates just why it’s so critical to the effectiveness of Baby Steps that it not hurry things along.  For starters is the fact that learning a sport doesn’t work that way – it’s slow, laborious effort that yields improvement by the millimeter, not the foot, where a high-schooler getting skunked by a grade schooler after a month of practice can still be wowing the coaches with his progress.  For a series that wasn’t aiming for realism losing that authenticity wouldn’t be such a big deal.  But a big part of what makes Baby Steps the best manga ever at the “sports” half of the “sports manga” label is that it depicts the journey so authentically.  Hell, it’s just truth in advertising – Katsuki-sensei didn’t call this series “Baby Steps” for nothing.

That ties directly into the second reason why the slow and steady approach is so crucial here, Ei-chan himself.  Think for a moment, those of you that are fans of the genre – how many sports series start with a main character who’s never even picked up the equipment of the sport in question?  Doesn’t even know the rules?  The usual is to join them at the beginning of the main journey (like Haikyuu or Diamond no Ace) or as a small child with a gift and/or special love for the sport (like Major).  Even in Yowamushi Pedal, which starts with a main character who’s a complete novice to competitive cycling, that MC is already well-versed on the basics of riding a bike, and precociously good at it.  Indeed, about the only one I can think of that almost (not quite) fits the bill is Capeta – and that’s about the only one I can think of that comes close to Baby Steps‘ patient and encyclopedic approach.

It’s more even that that, though, because it’s not just anyone taking those baby steps but Ei-chan himself.  He sums himself up very well this week in defending his approach from Kojirou’s ribbing – “I need to understand this.”  That’s just the way he’s wired – his way of mastering something is to understand it at the atomic level, tennis included (even the puzzling scoring system is an obsession and an irritant), and once he gets invested in something he’s not satisfied to be mediocre at it.  His reaction to seeing what he thinks is Takuma and Nat-chan kissing (false alarm) is also classic Ei-chan.  He’s not faking the puzzlement he shows at his flushed and dismayed reaction – he genuinely doesn’t understand that he’s reacting that way because he likes Nat-chan because he has no experience on that subject.  It’s not in the notes.

Of course, as we’re seeing, it’s not just Nat-chan that’s the important part of that equation but Takuma as well.  This is another facet of Ei-chan’s nature – he soaks up knowledge from everyone around him, and doesn’t prejudge or discriminate.  Takuma reveals himself to be a troubling subject – he’s hot-tempered and arrogant, and has earned the delinquent label at school.  At STC the head coach, Miura (Kusunoki Taiten, who, ironically, portrayed a player in Prince of Tennis – surely, all these two shows will have in common apart from gut and balls) knows Takuma has pro-level ability but bemoans his lack of effort.  And Takuma is especially hostile towards Ei-chan, it seems – and certainly no less so than when Nat-chan (“Aren’t you paying too much attention to him?”) looks at the still-raw newbie and declares that he’s going to be great at tennis someday.  Remember Miura-kantoku too, as he’s a major player in events to come.

The tension between Ei-chan and Takuma comes to a head during one of Ei-chan’s lessons at the club.  He’s earned a promotion to Court D with his hard work, and in his first-ever match gets a lesson in how far he still has to go from his pint-sized tormentor.  Ei-chan’s work has been towards perfecting his form hitting against a wall, but that long, measured stroke won’t work in live-action – even against the chibi’s serves, it’s too slow.  He’s sent to observe Takuma (tall, angular and possessed of a national-quality serve) on Court A, and even gets out the stopwatch to determine how fast Takuma is serving (over 170km/h) and how much time he’d have to react (less than .5 seconds).  Takuma is mildly irritated at this intrusion on his practice (Ei-chan – as usual in his own zone when he’s focused – has no idea), but when asked if he too intends to go pro, Takuma loses it entirely and even roughs Ei-chan up a little.

I won’t go too deeply into why Takuma blew up like that – some of it can be deduced from what we’ve seen, but there are spoilers involved.  But again it’s an interesting look at Ei-chan’s consistency.  He’s startled, naturally, but more than anything he wants to know why Takuma got so pissed off.  It’s seeing something that doesn’t make sense and not understanding it that drives Ei-chan – here, to the point where he takes on the challenge of trying to return one of 50 Takuma serves with the stakes being an answer if he’s successful, but a punch if he fails.  Unless you’ve stood in and faced a professional-speed serve you can’t imagine how intimidating it is – but that’s a matter for next week, and another valuable lesson in the nature of tennis.

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25 comments

  1. m

    Isn't Hikaru Katsuki writing the anime original part? If that it the case then I won't be so worried about when that comes around. It's probably to give it more of a fair stopping point feel. But hopefully this show draws in the audience that it deserves, and gets another 2 or 4 cours so we can see the entirety of the manga (even what's not out yet) adapted into an anime.
    This is one of 2 (the other being cross game) manga/anime where if someone says they don't like it I get a bit worked up. Anything else maybe you don't like the genre, or maybe for one of a million other reasons you don't like it, but these two I refuse to accept it. There's no legitimate reason for Baby Steps not to be hugely successful to the point that to not adapt the whole manga would be a bad business decision.

  2. Except that it doesn't have the crossover appeal that shows like Haikyuu and Yowapeda have, and isn't going to sell a lot of discs to pay for its existence as an anime. Whatever it does it will do by promoting sales of the manga.

    There's that OP, which worries me a bit for obvious reasons.

  3. m

    Yeah I don't like the idea of him progressing that much further than than manga in 2 cours….I guess it's just wishful thinking or bias bc I love it so much that makes me think people who prefer other genres like KuroBas and Haikyuu reach would still like Baby Steps if they give it the chance. Key part being giving it a chance, but I don't get how you could dislike Ei-chan and his story. Let alone the slew of secondary chars that would make great MC in their own right.

  4. G

    Hmm..seeing as the budget is very modest, it doesn't need to sell on-par with a show like Haikyuu!!, which is a popular manga produced by a A-list studio, to get a second season. If it sells reasonably well and boosts the manga, then I think there is a good chance we will see another season.

  5. I'm resigned to the mangaka being brought in specifically because there will be no sequel, and they needed an original ending. Anything else will be a pleasant shock…

  6. R

    Eh, I thought this series is aired in NHK, so we might get the multiple seasons treatment like Bakuman or Phi Brain (even Log Horizon). And NHK shows doesn't rely on disc sales right?

  7. It's not impossible, of course. But NHK usually doesn't announce a show as two cours in advance if they intend to extend it.

  8. 1

    >>Think for a moment, those of you that are fans of the genre – how many sports series start with a main character who's never even picked up the equipment of the sport in question?

    Hikaru no Go.

    Anyway, why are you freaking out about a lack of material and the anime surpassing the manga? There's almost 300 chapters of manga material to go through and the manga is sure taking its time when animating this. There's more than enough for more than 4 cours.

  9. 1

    –Proto

  10. J

    Ah now I see. You were referring to the fact that it's only supposd to be 25 episodes. Well nothing I can say about that, They probably went with a test the waters approach, but dunno.

  11. m

    The worry is that there's anime original material that might not keep with the spirit of the manga. Also it's scheduled at 2 cours and likely will not get any more eps due to the lack of popularity of this genre when it doesn't have crossover appeal. So if they try to do a full conclusion…like him winning Wimbledon as a pro or some other far off point, it would lose one major aspect that makes the manga as good as it is: The "baby steps" Ei-chan takes from never holding a racket towards where he will be when the manga ends. It's that realism that makes it so realistic and really draws you in emotionally to his journey.

  12. HnG isn't a bad comp, but as I recall Hikaru had already played Go with his Grandpa and even did in the first episode – though no, he definitely wasn't any good. The other major difference is the focus of the series, where HnG has the fantasy element and is more of a (great) straight-up character drama with a side of sports, but doesn't encyclopedically analyze and dissect the sport itself like BS and Capeta do.

  13. l

    Hajime no Ippo

    Makunouchi Ippo starts off with having no clue about boxing. One day, he is saved from bullies by Takamura Mamouru, a professional middleweight boxer. He was taken by Takamura to his home gym, Kamogawa Boxing Gym, to be patched up. The Hajime no Ippo manga takes one through a basic to intermediate course on boxing.

    Thr first season is 76 episodes long. Madhouse is the studio in-charge.

    All this was way before even Baby Steps was serialised as a weekly manga.

    Out of curiosity, have you read the Hajime no Ippo manga or watched the anime from the start? If you haven't, go give a try.

  14. I suppose you could throw Matsutarou in there too, on the subject of sumo.

  15. l

    *Throws another sports manga/anime into the hat*

    Slam Dunk

    Do I need to say more?

    Might as well…

    Self-declared "tensai Sakuragi Hanamichi is a thug with absolutely no clue about basketball. He takes up basketball because he has fallen head-over-heels over a schoolgirl who loves basketball and whose brother is the high school's basketball captain. The manga that made basketball popular in Japan. The mangaka's alter-ego, Dr. T, pops up occasionally to explain basketball rules and techniques.

  16. l

    One last title. Just to show that it is not as rare with regards to the question, " how many sports series start with a main character who's never even picked up the equipment of the sport in question? Doesn't even know the rules?" Just uncommon. This manga title does not have an anime adapted. It is a Mitsuru Adachi title. Really. It's…

    Katsu!

    Satoyama Katsuki who does not anything about boxing joins a boxing gym with his friend to get close to Mizutani Katsuki, the daughter of the gym owner. You won't learn anything much about boxing in this manga series. Adachi doesn't elaborate on the sports he uses as one of the vehicles to tell his stories.

  17. M

    Nice serves.

  18. c

    I'm really liking this a lot more than the other ongoing sports shows, and even more than the rest of this season's lineup. I think I'm even looking forward to this show more than Mushishi. haha

  19. R

    Depending on how broad of a definition of "sports manga" you want to use, I think that Chihayafuru might qualify for your "starting as a complete novice" criteria.

  20. It's fairly close – though two of the three MCs were already good at the game – but I very much waver as to whether I consider it a sports manga or not. Probably to about the same degree Cross Game is.

  21. Z

    I've read the manga so I know it won't happen, but I really wish Maruo sported a single backhand rather than a two-handed one.

    Also, I totally forgot how Na-chan actually predicted that Maruo would be a great player, and she was vindicated soon enough with her statement.

  22. S

    I'll be brutally honest. The art isn't "nothing special", it's god damn ugly. It doesn't even feel like it's an artistic choice, but more of a budget/talent problem. Whenever the proportions in the face change wildly as the person moves, it's going to put me off.

    I don't even think the "never encountered the sport before" angle is especially interesting or unique (many of the examples listed in the comments are very valid for all the right reasons), but at least the angle is not uninteresting…

    Lastly, the slow progression and the "don't even know what love is" thing is it's worst enemy for me (although all character interactions being as subtle as a brick to the face is a close second). And if you're saying it needs more episodes than it's going to get aired, then I don't want anything to do with it. Dropped.

  23. G

    This is data-tennis at its finest and most prominent lol….You would normally see a character like E-chan – though obviously not nearly as fleshed out and more like a formulaic stereotype – sidelined in a sports show with crossover appeal. It's almost comical the way he systematically analyzes everything in minute detail, yet it's seriously just the kind of person he is. You can actually understand tennis through him, now that's a first.

  24. M

    While watching him mathematically dissect each detail of the sport is an interesting take on the genre, at the same time it's robbing it of passion. So far at least. You can't measure passion with a protractor.

  25. Indeed Glass, that's a big part of why Ei-chan is such a unique character. But it's also why it's swimming upstream commercially. Most viewers want a classic "hot-blooded" hero. And slow development is a hard sell when people want everyone fully developed and everything explained right out of the gate.

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