Baby Steps – 16

Baby Steps - 16 -3 Baby Steps - 16 -10 Baby Steps - 16 -21

That was a real cracker of an episode.

I’m torn about the Baby Steps anime, though not about the show itself – I love it.  But I honestly don’t know whether to feel grateful that it exists at all or cheated that it’s going to be so damn short, when so many lesser manga (though not enough on the whole, to be sure) get full adaptations.  The balance tips towards gratitude because while this adaptation isn’t brilliant technically or lavishly budgeted, it’s honest and true.  It’s simply going out and faithfully adapting one of the best sports manga ever, nothing fancy at all – just communicating what’s on the page to the screen.  And with a source material like Baby Steps, that’s an extremely wise choice.

This first Araya match with Ei-chan is both one of the best and most important in the manga.  It reveals a lot about Ei-chan’s character as well as introducing the audience to one of the most distinctive of his opponents.  As anyone who’s watched enough tennis (or boxing) could tell you, players of opposing styles often make for some of the most interesting matches to watch – not just because each is showing you a completely different sort of game, but because they’re likely forcing the other to do things outside their comfort zone.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a matchup of emotion vs. intellect, but there’s a lot more to both of these young men than that.  There’s no question that Araya is a player who thrives off emotion, but as with most players of that breed it can be a double-edged sword.  And Maruo himself thrives off emotion to a degree he’s not even aware of himself (though we are, as an audience).  Superficially this is a mismatch in every way – Araya has the overwhelming advantage in speed, power and experience.  If all Ei-chan could do was write in notebooks and make guesses based on statistical observation, he’d have no chance to overcome that.

It says a lot about Ei-chan’s long-term prospects in the game that when he’s in trouble, he takes risks – even though attacking is not stylistically natural for his tennis.  Most players, including many pros, tend to play it safe when they get tight (even the greatest ever, Roger Federer, has suffered against Rafael Nadal for years because he gets conservative on big points while Rafa gets more aggressive).  I find this incredibly admirable about Ei-chan and it’s one of the reasons I love the character as much as I do – he’s basically fearless.  He knows his weaknesses but doesn’t obsess over them – he looks for answers wherever he can find them, and is even willing to try completely new strategies in critical situations.  It takes a remarkable player to even be able to come up with new strategies at times like those, but only the rarest of those have the nerves of steel to try and implement them.

This being Baby Steps, Maruo’s progress is always measured in baby steps.  A point taken on Araya’s serve, a scrabbling hold of his owns serve.  He’s already down a set and a break but using his observational powers to predict Araya’s attacks and various methods both during and between (the old shoelace trick) points to slow Araya down, he gets a foothold in the match.  He starts to hold his own serve a little more easily, manages to scrape a few points off Araya’s and even gets a break point he can’t convert.  Araya’s legendary impatience begins to flare up, especially after he realizes that Takuma has already closed out his match.  But Araya literally punches himself in the face to settle himself down (a little extreme, but not unrealistic in concept) and manages to keep his nose in front.

The great thing about a match like this is that playing Ei-chan is actually forcing Araya to mature himself.  Despite looking 30 he’s 16 too, and still early on in his own tennis journey.  He correctly understands the fundamental nature of the dynamic – he’s stronger, faster and has more weapons.  It’s Ei-chan who must do the exceptional to beat him, not the other way around.  Unlike Araya Ei-chan has no overpowering weapon he can rely on at crucial moments – all he can do is be relentless and keep forcing his opponent to make shots.  Opponents like Ei-chan can be incredibly frustrating for players like Araya, but ultimately it’s even more frustrating to be in a situation where there simply aren’t enough bullets in the chamber – and anyone who’s watched David Ferrer much in grand slams could attest to that.  Ei-chan understands this deficiency is something he needs to address in the long-term, but that isn’t going to help him here.

In the end, when his back is to the wall with Araya serving at 5-4, Ei-chan does what he always does – decides it’s better to take a risk than to go down playing it safe.  As his coach says, the serve is a weapon to keep you from losing but the return is a shot for winning, and it’s risking everything on the return that’s Ei-chan’s only chance (he did this on a crucial point against Miyagawa, too).  That means using everything he has – his statistics and his eyes – to predict where Araya is going to serve and attack with the return.  That isn’t always going to work (indeed it doesn’t) but just the act of successfully doing it will severely get into an opponent’s head, which is a huge part of the battle.  It’s the sort of thing you have to do when you don’t have the arsenal the other guy does, but if there’s one thing that should be clear about Ei-chan by now it’s that he’s going to exhaust every possible opportunity to try and survive.  It’s one of the things that makes him one of the most likeable and interesting protagonists in sports anime.

Baby Steps - 16 -9 Baby Steps - 16 -11 Baby Steps - 16 -12
Baby Steps - 16 -13 Baby Steps - 16 -14 Baby Steps - 16 -15
Baby Steps - 16 -16 Baby Steps - 16 -17 Baby Steps - 16 -18
Baby Steps - 16 -19 Baby Steps - 16 -20 Baby Steps - 16 -22
Baby Steps - 16 -23 Baby Steps - 16 -24 Baby Steps - 16 -25
Baby Steps - 16 -26 Baby Steps - 16 -27 Baby Steps - 16 -28
Baby Steps - 16 -29 Baby Steps - 16 -30 Baby Steps - 16 -31


  1. m

    I agree with you that the way Ei-chan adapts his game and becomes aggressive when he gets cornered by a better player is one of his most endearing traits, and arguably the most important trait to have for an athlete. (Throughout the WC I kept saying that the teams who were winning their games the easiest were the ones who didn't switch to defense mode after taking the lead. I think I heard an analyst say there were more teams drawing even, more lead changes, and more come from behind wins than in previous WCs) In sports the players/teams that are intelligently aggressive are usually the winners. Brett Favre made a HoF career out of being aggressive as has the Belichick/Brady combo.The key for Ei-chan is that his aggressiveness is risky, but not erratic, desperate, or emotional. It's more of a conscious choice to start selecting the riskiest logical move. He doesn't just run around doing anything and everything, he continues to calmly analyze himself and his opponent but chooses to take shots that are risky, but worth the payoff. There's been numerous times, in the manga, where he has thought out 3+ options for a return and laid out the success rate of both making the shot and it being returned to him and he doesn't change that style of analytical tennis, but just factors in that the easier to make shots are now almost 100% likely to be returned to him. His logical and analytical approach to tennis has always been my favorite type of athlete, and the fact that he instinctively knows what to do to combat stronger opponents (even if he doesn't always have the physicals skills to pull it off) makes his matches so much fun to watch on screen.

    Even without big budget quality, the matches are always much more interesting when you watch them in motion as opposed to on paper. For the anime to be this good with such a small budget and such an unacceptably small episode count is further proof that Baby Steps is the greatest pure sports manga of all time (and to the degree that I doubt anything will ever equal it) and one of the best manga of all time in any genre. For shows like KuroBas and PoT to get 3+ seasons and a respectable budget while Baby Steps gets screwed is such a disgrace to the industry and to any Mangaka who respect the sports part of sports manga. I know the money those shows has made earns them their new seasons, but it seems like they started off with a better chance due to budget. If Baby Steps had better animation quality I think it would be significantly more popular. That's the one complaint I've noticed the most from non manga readers. Though I would've thought that there were enough hardcore fans of the manga who would buy BDs of the anime to get it at least another season. You don't get 270+ manga chapters without enough popularity, and it's the type of manga that the people who do enjoy it REALLY love it. Unfortunately it lacks the crossover appeal that many other sports manga have, which is a shame bc you can't do sports manga better than this.

    Baby Steps always shows a perfect understanding of what a true rival is in sports. Not that cheesy way too friendly type, and not that angry and mean for the sake of tension type. You bring a great point about how it really isn't just Ei-chan learning from others, he had an equally large impact on every opponent he plays as well. You get this realistic way of showing how two players/teams rise to the occasion and elevate their game when they play each other. And also a realistic portrayal of the mutual respect they have for each other as a result of their matches.

  2. Which industry is it s disgrace to – anime or manga?

    The thing is, money talks. PoT and KnB are huge-selling manga, with a built-in female fanbase. Even Diamond sells 3-4X what Baby Steps does as a manga, and has a modest female following. For all the reasons you say you love Baby Steps – and why I do too – it's simply not a mass-market product. It's won the biggest awards in the industry, and it sells respectably well (it generally ranks for two weeks, pre-anime openings about 35K, post about 60K). It is what it is – maybe I'm just so beaten down by the financial realities of anime that I'm more sanguine than I should be.

  3. m

    Well I guess both industries really. Just that continuing perpetuating of the negative stereotypes that anime/manga are these fetishized stories, and that nothing of true substance is worth rewarding by risking a loss from a strong starting budget if it doesn't pander to fans of other genres. As if it couldn't be a success if you don't throw in stuff to attract doujinshi (is that the correct word?) fans. It's almost this self fulfilling prophesy of "it won't be a success so don't put too much money into it" which causes it to lose a decent number of potential viewers. Also the self fulfilling prophesy/perpetuated stereotype that anime/manga fans only like things that can be fetishized: waifus/imoutos/BL/you know the rest of the list as well as everyone else. You think only that will sell so you keep making mostly that type of anime. Then the % of anime fans that only like that type (or at least prefer) of show grows. So it's harder to make money without pandering to them, and that just builds on itself until we reach the point where we are now. I forget what post it was, maybe Barakamon 01, but you said something about appreciating shows like (insert whatever show the post was about) are given how increasingly rare they have become. I agree completely, and I think it fits with Baby Steps too. It's not only more profitable to pander to those crowds, but also much easier than making something that doesn't defy physics, that requires extensive knowledge of the sport, and that has realistic and well developed characters.

    I knew Baby Steps wouldn't be popular in total viewership numbers, but I thought the fan base of the manga were mostly people who love it, and just a small % of people who are casual followers of it. That in turn leading to good BD sales bc a higher % of people who watch the show would buy the BD. Say you need 10,000 sold to get a second season (I don't know the real number) then if 1/6 manga readers like the anime enough to buy it they would hit that mark, and I thought there'd be enough people who love Baby Steps as much as you and I do to hit that mark so they could force a season 2. But that's just me being naïve about it again. It feels like anime has dug this hole for itself, and it makes it hard to see the way out of it. You definitely should cater to your fan's desires, and I don't even want to say there's anything wrong with liking the BL, imouto, and the rest. It's definitely not for me, but I certainly don't care what someone else likes and wouldn't be so stupid as to think I can tell people what is and is not acceptable to enjoy. But if you want your industry to be respected and thought of as on par as any other medium in terms of quality of the storytelling, character development, and any other technical merit then you have to put the money into the sources that have those qualities. That will bring in the fans that would spend money on that type of show. That's more of what I meant by a disgrace to the industry. It's akin to an admission that, for the most part, fans and creators of manga/anime don't care about top notch writing and storytelling.

  4. c

    I think a lot of people who buy discs, buy them not so much for fetishization but for their usefulness in building fanculture. As awesome as Baby Steps is, I find it really hard to think of ways to build upon the narrative. There really are few holes. Few questions. And the main romance itself is handled wonderfully.

    DVD's and BD's are useful to a fan involved in that world because of doujinshi, fanbooks, etc. They can watch and analyze scenes over and over and order to build understanding and inspiration to contribute to their particular fandom. It's not just fetishization (to my knowledge) but a social experience. I'm thinking about the English-speaking fandoms too — take Harry Potter for example. Yeah, there was a hell of a lot of shipping (as per usual) , but there was also a lot of incredibly creative stuff going on. I think that had a lot to do with the world-building and numerous holes in the narrative. And that persistent interest in the fandom keeps Harry Potter alive and profitable even now.

    Baby Steps is just… Perfect as is. I love it to bunch too, but it's doing a lot of the heavy-lifting alone, and with an intense focus. It's sad that's a negative when it comes to sales, but that's the world we live in. :L

  5. Couldn't have said it any better myself.

  6. m


    That's a really interesting point. I never realized people get that stuff for help in the creation of fan work. I thought it was just the people who make doujin of the shows they like are just into that typical harem, fanservice, and the other popular but not well written trends we're seeing a lot of. I don't mean that they only like whatever specific fetish (I should have found a better word to describe it but fetish was the closest I could think of) and won't like other things. But now that you've said that I can see how having holes in the story leads to more fanfic and if that's why they buy BDs and the like it makes a ton more sense. Haha I just always assumed people bought shit they would watch again, but then again my knowledge of the intricacies of the anime world are rather nonexistent. Haha I've watched about 5 months worth of anime according to anime-planet, but I've never paid any attention to the details of the industry or the fan culture side of things. My knowledge is limited to only the shows, studios, directors, and writers I've enjoyed. And outside of the first one the other three are limited to those I thought were so good I had to look up who made it.

  7. m

    I think you mentioned YowaPed has some of the same fan base as KuroBas, and it's good to have crossover appeal,and even better when a well written sports manga can gain popularity. Though I wish when faced with the decision between creating something of substance that might not do well or something that only has appeal to the doujinshi fans they would chose the former. Or at least write those type of series well so that it also has a respectable story.

  8. I think it's very possible to write a sports manga that appeals to shippers as well as being a good sports manga – Yowapeda and to a lesser (IMO) extent Haikyuu are good examples. But I don't think it's possible to write one as patient, religiously accurate and encyclopedic as Baby Steps and do that.

    It's also a given that the only sports anime (specifically sports anime) that sell discs are ones that appeal to shippers. Other sports anime can help sell manga, but if they don't have a Comiket presence they're not going to sell discs in big numbers.

  9. f

    i have never watched a tennis match ever, i only know the rules because i played some tennis videogames.
    but this anime now really makes me wanted to watch a tennis match, that episode was a really intense fight. i know that this anime is doing a very good job because it can draw someone uninterested in tennis like me to start watching tennis

Leave a Comment