Animation is one way of telling stories artistically. These stories, in one way or another, are grounded in reality. Glimpses of reality could be seen through the simple animation of the characters, the challenges the characters encounter, or the emotions, the being of the characters themselves. Of course, because it’s animation, it still has its purpose to entertain. That’s why to some degree, there are exaggerations in the story.
There are a lot of these exaggerations especially in most sports anime out there. After all, they help build the tension. Thus, the existence of the Generation of Miracles’ and Kagami Taiga’s abilities, the different signature moves that Echizen Ryoma and the others have, Kobayakawa Sena’s super speed and agility, and the likes. These makes some of the characters overpowered which can be good or bad.
There are also sports anime that try to stick closer to reality, though, like Slam Dunk, Chihayafuru, and this one anime I watched some days ago — Baby Steps.
Written and illustrated by Katsuki Hikaru, Baby Steps is published in Kodansha’s Weekly Shounen Magazine. It is first adapted into anime in Spring 2014 and has a second season that aired the next Spring 2015.
It is a story about Maruo Eiichiro, an honor student. Meticulous and organized, he has his life planned in detail. He decides he has to exercise, so he decided to check out tennis, though he had no prior experience. The series is about him slowly being sucked into tennis world. Because he is not our tennis prince who is a prodigy, Maruo has to use his wits to effectively play in the matches. Data tennis like Sadaharu Inui’s.
The title Baby Steps is exactly the definition of Maruo’s growth as a tennis player. I think it is also one of the beauty of this series. You get to see his small improvements which make you proud of him. It seems that this is also one of the things which some people dislike, though. Maruo is not overpowered, so there are failures. If one watches an anime, you want the main character to win and to achieve his dream because these wins and successes could make us feel better. There are so much failures and struggles in life to overcome that many, of course, does not want to see in a show they watched for entertainment.
Not that Maruo always fails or loses. It just shows how much he needs to work as he still have a lot improve, especially if his opponents have been playing ever since they were young. This, somehow, does not appeal to many, so the fandom is sadly small as compared to other sports anime out there.
In any case, I love the story for what it is. I am actually reading the manga (or at least the summaries available for the chapters that aren’t scanlated yet) and I’m enjoying the happenings after the second season. It amazes me how it sticks so much to reality. If there’s one ridiculous thing here, it’s the speed of Maruo’s thinking as well as writing ability. During matches, Maruo thinks a lot though, of course, that happens for a few seconds only. And he is able to write a lot and neatly even if there’s only a few minutes to spare. Aside from those, the flow of the games are usually believable.
Because this is not about team play, there are less characters. We focus on the single players who are strong. Where Maruo attends to play tennis, Southern Tennis Club, there are Takasaki Natsu, Egawa Takuma, and Fukazawa Yukichi who are the most notable, especially Takuma and Natsu. Of course there are familiar faces as well as their coaches, but they are rarely exposed. I like Coach Aoi, though, because his character balances that of Eiichiro’s.
The rival characters are also likeable because they all show friendly rivalries. Out of them all, my favorite ones are Souji Ike (he’s such an adorable, passionate guy plus his seiyuu is Yoshimasa Hosoya!), Iwasa Hiromi (I like how he’s cool and a lover of art), and Alex O’Brian (I love how cute he is with his sis-con and his seiyuu is Kamiya Hiroshi!). There’s also Yoshiaki Ide (Sakurai Takahiro!) who is nice and a joy to watch.
Though the story mostly focuses on Eiichiro’s tennis performance, there are times, especially during breaks, when it shows his relationship with Natsu, the main female protagonist. These two are adorable and have one of the healthiest relationships out there. Their scenes does not pop out all of a sudden and their interactions feel natural, as well.
If only Studio Pierrot gave more effort to animate this, I think it will have better feedback. The most that I enjoyed here are these scenes above from the OP sequence. Other than those, the matches are not really well-animated. There are a lot of still shots of the trainings and of practice and real matches that it frustrates me I guess I should be grateful that at least there are some details for their rackets and shoes. Anyhow, the art is fairly simple. I would have liked it if it was more detailed, though. Oh, and I was so irritated by Maruo’s rooster hairstyle that I wanted to pull it off. Good thing that when I saw it in the manga, it’s not as disturbing. It’s not really pretty to look at, however.
Overall, I enjoyed watching its two seasons, but I craved for more after the second. I don’t know if there will be another season (there’s enough material), but I will watch it if ever. Now, I’m going to catch up to the latest chapter of the manga with my very limited knowledge of the Japanese language and with the aid of the summaries available online.
I’m excited to see when his baby steps will turn to giant strides and to see where these strides will take him.