Sports anime has really come a long way since, you know, the beginning when we first had Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa. But it has also deviate a long way from its origins. Take for example, Free!, an anime about guys who love to swim and do so in various sexy ways. By doing so, they have swam, dance and stripped their way into thousands of fangirls’ wet dreams.
We also had Kuroko no Basuke which is originally NOT about lanky guys involved in ga–, I mean, happy stuff, but about basketball. Somehow, the multitudes of fangirls take it upon themselves to wet themselves silly and create yaoi (Read “BL”) fanfics about this anime. Terrifying.
But once in a while, we have genuine, down-to-earth sports anime that focuses more than just the…um…man-service and the fan fics involving various lanky guys doing really gay (I mean, happy, haha) stuff together.But first, we’ll need to prevent it from turning into Free! V 2.0 so we must first have…
…a goodness-ugly main character.
Welcome to Baby Steps,
Enter Maruo Eiichiro, your typical straight-A student who is a nerd (almost) and a perfectionist in everything he does. Affectionately known to all as Ei-chan (synonymous with A-chan), he is a kind-hearted person that tries to be nice to everyone. One particular trait of his is that he writes notes. A lot. He writes notes for every subject he studies and for almost everything he does. He even made multiple copies of the same notes so that he can revise and memorise stuff better. These extra notes are lent to students and friends from the same grade.
One day, when he was minding his business, the school’s cutest girl, Natsu Takasaki, came running into his class. Through a stroke of fate (and luck?), he was introduced to her. Loud, obnoxious and happy-go-lucky, Natsu aka Nat-chan called him weird in his face, messed up his notes that she borrowed from him and laughed it all off.
On a side note, he decided to pick up a sport as a spare time activity to get fit and decided to go check out a tennis club known as STC for a free trial. He then saw Natsu. He then packed his bags and ran the other direction.
Of course not, there wouldn’t be a show otherwise. Ei-chan is of course, smittened by Nat-chan after seeing her in action and proceeds to try out for the tennis trials. After fainting during warm-up, he then decided that he is extremely out of shape and decides to join the club.
The plot, from here onwards is really simple. Ei-chan attempts to succeed in tennis and practices hard. Eventually, his perseverance pays off and he becomes a good player.
One notable thing about this anime is that, unlike some sports anime out there, there is almost no such thing as pure talent personified. No fanciful maneuvers here. No “SUPER-SAIYAN MODE!!” anywhere in sight and definitely no superpowers involved here. Just a normal game of tennis.
And practice. Lots of it.
Unlike many other sports anime, this anime highlights the hardships a guy must undergo and pinpoints the truth that even geniuses need to work hard for what they get. For example, Eiichiro is the kind of person you’d never thought that he’d play any form of sport but thanks to his diligence and good eyesight, he is recognized as a diamond in the rough by his coach. But that alone doesn’t make him unbeatable as he was defeated time and again by his more experienced and skilled rivals, by a great margin too.
To top it all off, Eiichiro has to learn tennis from scratch and work against time to be good enough to be a professional. Unlike other anime, the gravity of reality weighs quite heavily in this anime as Eiichiro’s future lay in the balance. Dreams and reality are very conflicting after all, which seems not to be the case in other sports anime as characters can be total delinquents yet play sports without a care in the world.
The plot was awesome, with many adversaries Eiichiro facing being able to prove their mettle while not looking like total losers. Each of them lived up to their name and Eiichiro manages to win by scraping past them, only to lose somewhere down the line.
True to its name, Baby Steps takes one small step at a time and is not afraid to lose viewers by using a slow pace. However, this anime excels at using this pacing to tell the story and most of the time is used to explain the fundamentals of tennis and how our main character can overcome his shortcomings.
There’s also the humour and the chibi-artstyle every once in a way to loosen up things which was very welcome after a few episodes of tension and rooster-heads.
Changing gears is one thing the plot excels at, the transition is so smooth that you could barely feel the sports anime transform from underdog story to love story. It’s totally worth watching even if you totally do not enjoy the sports section of the anime.Worth waiting too even if it’s just for a few minutes of sweetness that cause diabetes and high blood pressure. This love story reminds me of innocence shared by a couple before the Internet and Snapchat. (Sexting, anyone?) Though I can only complain that the love portion is too little but that’s alright.
And there’s the artstyle. If there’s one thing Baby Steps doesn’t excel in, it’s the artstyle. Understandably though. The source material, the manga has been going on for like 8 years, so the artstyle 8 years ago is a huge difference from what we have these past few years. If this anime was released back then, honestly, there wouldn’t be any problem with the artstyle. In fact, it could very well be more popular than…Prince of Tennis?
Wishful thinking, sorry. You have my apologies, fangirls.
There’s also the little problem with the by-standers during a tennis game. Is it me or does the by-standers look like mannequins brought off the local boutique to just stand there. Thank goodness the tennis matches weren’t animated by CGI.
Anyway, this anime is a pretty good attempt at sports anime and definitely deserves your attention, regardless whether or not you played tennis before. I sure as hell didn’t and this anime taught me a lot about it. The characters were likable, the plot is relatable and enjoyable and that love story between Natsu and Eiichiro is worth watching even the rest of the anime is just crap. And guess what? It’s not crap.
I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get better. I mean, after watching the second season’s OP, I have a lot to look forward to, especially better looking mannequins (hehe) and better animation and camera play during matches. This is really underrated, mainly it’s a sports anime ABOUT sports and because of its bland outlook, but trust me, this is really good for a SPORTS anime.
Well, there you have it. I hope you will give this anime a shot cause this is really, really good stuff that doesn’t feature Super Saiyans and BL. Cause as Baby Steps taught me, sports anime is about SPORTS. Not Shounen-Ai.
Seriously, put that somewhere else.
Well, till the next review, s-wet dreams.