Diligent and methodical honor student Eiichirou Maruo decides to exercise more during the little free time he has available because he is worried about his health. For this reason, after seeing a flyer, he joins the Southern Tennis Club at the beginning of his freshman year.
During his free trial at the club, he meets Natsu Takasaki, another first year student, who is determined on becoming a professional tennis player due to her love for the sport. In contrast, Eiichirou's study-oriented life exists because he believes that it is what he has to do, not because he enjoys it. However, his monotonous days come to an end as the more he plays tennis, the more he becomes fascinated by it.
Baby Steps is the story of a boy who makes the most of his hard-working and perfectionist nature to develop his own unique playing style. Little by little, Eiichirou's skills begin to improve, and he hopes to stand on equal footing with tennis' best players.
To be completely honest, I can’t begin to comprehend the lack of popularity surrounding Baby Steps. The title Baby Steps may often make people prolong watching this sensational series or even drop it completely. Baby Steps art style can push people away from watching it, but once you get past the art style you will be be engaged in this show.
I will not go into full detail of the story, and will try to make this review nice and short.
This series is typically about an honour student Maruo Eiichirou, (also called Ei-chan for his exceedingly high grades) and he is living an unhappy life.
A life of studying, to make his parents happy. But what this really making him happy? He decides to take up tennis, with having no prior experience in sport whatsoever. This is when his love for tennis, started to begin. It is also really provoking to see how, Maruo takes notes in his practices and how he involves his studying and note-taking into his matches. This is such a different character, to what we are used to seeing and Maruo’s potential as he trains and takes notes is infinite.
Baby Steps does not follow the routine of every other cliché sports anime. It is such a rarity that you come across an anime with such an engaging story and cliffhangers that make you rushing to finish the next episode. As Maruo starts to play tennis, he finds that his lack of fitness is making it hard for him to improve and get better. He trains indefinitely to improve just hitting the tennis ball at first and then he gradually gets better as his fitness level rises. Baby Steps does a really good job engaging its audience, by taking a realistic approach on a sports anime. Maruo does not have super-human powers and gets professional instantly. You watch him grow on his journey from becoming a straight A student, to a person who finds passion in his life, that he never knew he has before.
Has anyone ever told you to not judge a book by its cover? The same thing can be said for Baby Steps. The art style for it can often be misunderstood and make people score this series a lot lower score than it deserves. Once you get used to the different approach on the art, then you will sure be in for a surprise!
Baby Steps does a magnificent job portraying all of the different characters, especially the relationships between Maruo, and his classmates and family. As this is a slow pacing anime, do not get turned off if it takes a while until you feel engaged. After every episode there are only more positive things to come and as you are watching Maruo grow as a tennis player he also grows fundamentally as a person in all aspects. The relationship between Maruo and his mother also grow throughout the series, as she sees how much Maruo is enjoying his studies and has finally found a hobby that peaks his interest.
The soundtrack in Baby Steps is not “ sensational “, but the sound does a great job in adding different atmospheres in certain situations. The opening song “ Believe in Yourself “ by Mao Abe fits the series just perfectly. It reinforces the idea that even though Maruo had never held a tennis racket before in his life, the amount of dedication and love that he had found for this sport would astonish, not only those around him, but himself as well. The soundtrack fulfils its job well as setting the mood and tone in various settings. It can make a regular tennis match turn, intense and thought provoking in a matter of seconds.
I highly recommend this Anime to not only people who enjoy watching sports anime, but to everyone as well. Baby Steps takes a very different approach on a sports anime, and it deserves more recognition for how well the series went.
Watching Baby Steps is like trying to learn how to ride a bike, an activity that may seem hard at first but will find its way eventually if you put your efforts through. But a bike isn’t without rules and similarly, Baby Steps has its own guidelines when it comes to tennis. For Maruo Eiichirou, a straight A-student, almost everything he has done in his life came with effort in order to become successful. And that’s no understatement when he has earned nicknames such as “All-A”. However, one thing he lack is a dream, a real goal in his life. After a faithful encounter one
day with popular student Takasaki Natsu, he may have just realized what it means to follow a dream.
Written by Hikaru Katsuki, the series is built on the foundation of tennis, a competitive sport of cunning nature. For Eiichriou, he quickly finds out that he isn’t really in shape when it comes to the nature of the sport. This is quickly realized during the first day when he joins a gym that Natsu is part of where he quickly succumbs to burnout. In retrospect, training for tennis is something completely new to him and requires a different perspective than studying. Luckily, he pays close attention with his precision and while lacking talent for the actual sport, Eiichriou’s observation skills earns him praise.
Praise doesn’t come easy though on the field. In the beginning, Eiichriou learns the hard way not only during training sessions but also gets annihilated in actual competition against tennis prodigy Takuma Egawa. The rivalry between them is fairly fresh and simple though: Eiichriou simply wants to return one of his serves. And while he makes little success in the beginning, he is able to use his observational skills at first hand. By doing just that, others realize that the kid has potential because in tennis, it also takes more than just muscles and speed to outwit an opponent. Nonetheless, Eiichriou’s journey as a tennis player quickly becomes a routine schedule. Unlike others born with raw talent, he works his way up. Perhaps the show itself is synonymous when it comes to “baby steps”. Essentially, Eiichriou is taking those first steps to follow a dream. It’s no difference with prodigies or professionals already though. Even they started out as newbies and worked their way to the top of the game. For Eiichriou, his steps are easily worth noting for his persistence, integrity, and value.
Throughout the show, Eiichriou has influence on other players even if he doesn’t notice it himself. This is clearly evidenced through his relationship with Takuma. While the latter essentially views him as an inferior opponent, he comes to acknowledge and even sets his mind back forth to becoming a professional tennis player. This influence is the seed to characterization and development. While some players lacks quality in this field compared to others, the main characters gets that firsthand. We witness this through strategic flashbacks and realistic revelations. And while plot twists aren’t prominent in the show, some scenarios can be surprising and strikingly influential. The show is also honest when it comes to development with a sincere plot. Eiichriou works his way up through his own ways such as taking notes on opponents and analyzing matches. His notebook contains full of diagrams and calculations with precision. In other words, he doesn’t take an easy way out and proves his worth with his unique skills. It shows that a good tennis player doesn’t always rely on their brawn but a clear mind can be just as dangerous on the field.
The journey to becoming a professional tennis player isn’t an easy road to take. Takuma and Natsu already knows this but Eiichriou quickly finds out as well. His first real match takes a lot out of him but Eiirchriou uses his skills, determination, and even a bit of luck to follow his dream. The way the show depict each of his opponent tests Eiirchriou as both a player and a person. In essence, opponents he faces makes him realize his strengths and weaknesses. And like most tennis players, each has their own different playing style. The show features this exclusively with certain characters with their unique gameplay gimmicks. Some of the more elite players in the tournament (depicted by the level of their seed) are also characterized by their reputation and even with flashbacks to show their testament. On the other hand, Natsu, the main female character suffers a bit when it comes to characterization. While her outer appearance seems to be of a cute girl, her personality fits more of a tomboy and even a clumsy side during her debut. Her interactions with Eiirchou can also seems awkward at times. This is evidenced during their first encounter when Natsu accidentally ruins Eiirchou’s notes because of her klutzy actions. Not to say she is a klutz though, because out on the field, she can really shine like a superstar. The relationship she has with Natsu is something I’d describe as innocent and charming. But at the same time, their connection isn’t entirely too focused when it comes to a personal level. It’s clearly shown (or at least implied) that Eiirchou has a crush on Natsu. On the other hand, it’s hard to say Natsu feels the same way for him. As the show focuses more on competition, the romance development between the duos is subtle and dense. There is also hints of a potential love triangle as another girl enters the picture. However, that territory is never explored. In the end, don’t expect this show to be some Romeo & Juliet love story.
Despite the story being fictional, there is surprisingly amount of realism. The series shows Eiirchou’s life in his perspective and what’s like every day for him in the beginning. Whether at home or at school, it’s easy to realize the type of person he is – responsible, determined, and also persistent when it comes to anything. But on the field, tennis is explored dynamically in two ways. In one way, Eiirchou’s novice shows the viewers firsthand on the mechanics of the game such as the basic fundamentals. Terms such as love, ace, seed, lob, spin, volley, and among others are shown and explained in concise details. Then, there’s the actual explanation by outside parties and in Eiirchou’s notes relating to various strategies that are utilized. The show spends a decent amount of time in the beginning to let audiences who are unfamiliar with the game of tennis the general aspects.
Indeed, the show is charming with a solid cast of characters and credible comedy. It understands the premise and fundamentally delivers that in the eyes of Eiirchou. But for the character himself, his personality can be a mixed bag. While some people may like his determined personality, his persistence can get annoying. It’s also easy to label him as the ‘nice guy’ type and someone hard to get out of the friend zone. As mentioned before, the show’s romance is dense and so is Natsu when it comes to her love life. Essentially, it focuses much time on Eiirchou’s advancement as a tennis player rather than his personal life. Shortcomings can also be hammered down to the comedy itself. Sometimes it feels flat. Other times, it’s oddly balanced, seems forced, and in general lacking with odd timings. Character dialogues also feels repetitive. And speaking of that, the story itself is also dealt this way. Based on manga, the adaptation is faithful but also has anime original material that neglects some important factors. As expected of Studio Pierrot, not everyone will get what they want. Luckily, a season 2 has been confirmed so expect new rivals and a whole continent of a journey for our tennis player to explore.
Visual wise, the character designs are moderate. Nothing really stands out for the main character Eiirchou besides his haircut which almost looks like a rooster. On the other hand, Natsu is designed as a graceful girl with tomboyish characteristics. Her short hair and athleticism are clear demonstration of this. Other characters are designed with clarity. In particular though, Takuma stands out as a firm competitor and ironclad figure with his expressions. The animation for the backgrounds and interior designs of the game settings can be described as a mixed bag. Nothing stands out impressive as some game-play movements feels like washed out while other times has impressive camera angle features. The plus side is that the show doesn’t employ usage of shock footage or fan service to allure the audience. Instead, it’s simple and realistic enough to typify the show’s message.
Soundtrack can be colorful and seems so on most occasions. During many matches, the OST is consistent to match with a game’s intensity. During more climatic moments, the show proves itself to be able to handle its way to convey the delivery. Most voice mannerisms seems standard though and nothing impressive. But if there’s one person to take notice of would be Takuma for his stoic nature. The ‘bad boy’ attitude he displays is clearly shown in his egoistic and arrogant voice in the beginning. Similarly, the OP and ED song illustrates a message in believing his motives. In fact, the final few words of the OP song mentions “believe in yourself” as a moral to follow one’s dreams from baby steps.
Baby Steps is more or less underrated but can be memorable when it comes to a realistic journey. Eiirchou is a good example of that, a person with no natural skills but works hard in following his dreams through simple steps. His development as both a person and tennis player can be entrancing to watch. And as a role model, we can learn from him. On the other hand, his personal development with other characters isn’t as impressive when it comes to romance. In particular, Baby Steps spends most of its time at the tennis court with Eiirchou being the highlight. And despite not being mainstream, the series is a fine example of a tennis showcase. The first baby step begins with the swing of that racket.
I've seen several sports-themed anime, and in my opinion this one of the two or three best.
To me, one of the most attractive aspects of this story is the method by which the protagonists attain their expertise at the sport. Not a single character spends time meditating by standing under a waterfall. No one ever packs up camping gear and hikes to remote areas in distant mountains for training (defeating bears and wildcats along the way.) There is not a single "secret" or "special" move that "magically defeats one's opponent.
What stands out is the main character's ability to analyze not only his
opponent's strengths and weaknesses, but his own as well. You could call this "effective reflection", I guess. Skill is invariably gained by realistic training activity and practice.
Some facial expressions / reactions are "over the top", but do not materially detract from the story; some are funny. After all, this is a story about an accomplished nerd transforming himself into an accomplished athlete. The main protagonist's reactions/interactions with the main female protagonist are consistent with their established characters. The slowly developing romance between the two is realistic and believable. Those looking for fan service will be disappointed, as there is none.
The strength of the story carries this anime, and even if your interest in tennis is zero, that fact will not detract from your enjoyment!
Baby Steps 2 just started as part of the Spring 2015 anime line-up, and after viewing the first episode I have high hopes for the continuation of the Baby Steps story. I will probably review it separately at a later date.
The shounen sports genre is often known for focusing primarily on the 'badassery' of the protagonist. Whether it'd take borderline supernatural powers, world-class talent, or the glorification of matches complete with equally badass rivals and an audience that's shocked out of their seat every 5 seconds, the series will always pull through with demonstrating that there is something special about what's going on. Protagonists are idols, absolutely extraordinary characters whom you watch from the side lines with awe. It's about the thrill. It's about the fantasy.
Baby Steps is different. As indicated by the title, Maruo's tennis career is built steadily from the ground up,
and we're there to see every crucial step that's taken for him to rise from an unathletic straight-A high school student to an aspiring tennis professional. From mild interest to inspiration, from inspiration to resolve, and finally from resolve to brutal matches and even more brutal training regimens, it's both a test of body and soul, and a journey to discover who he truly wants to be. That may sound dramatic for 'just a high school sports series', but Baby Steps actually takes the effort to make the progression natural and believable. After all, Maruo will have to throw away his academic studies and the 'safe route' of college to workforce in order to take tennis seriously. He doesn't even know if he's cut out for international competition, and he actually has to convince his parents that these are sound, rational decisions on his part. Yes, in case you haven't gotten the vibe yet, this is a series about becoming a professional. It's not just about winning matches and being badass. It's about falling in love with the sport and gaining the willingness to throw away everything in a gamble for a dream.
What makes this plotline work so well is the nature of the main character. Outside of having good reaction time and excellent eyesight, he's quite an everyday guy. His fitness is pretty average. He has no killer moves. Every victory is won through precise strategy, astute observation, and consistent execution that comes from practiced repetition. While this approach may sound boring on paper, it brings about the show's primary strength: because we learn virtually every aspect of tennis from the ground up with the protagonist, and because we get to see him apply practice to matches with calculated success, every match brings to fruition the satisfaction of having achieved success through hard work. There's a real sense of growth, and when he crushes opponents whom he previously would have been crushed by, it's a well-deserved outcome. Believe it or not, earned successes feel way more satisfying than god given talent. At least I think so.
So what about the actual matches? None of them last more than two episodes, and as I indicated earlier, Baby Steps is less about showcasing the thrilling wins of a match and more about what can be learned from each experience. But don't get the wrong idea; the matches are exciting! Every moment showcased throughout the matches is accompanied with tons of thought as Maruo adapts to each situation, and Baby Steps effectively shows that tennis is a dynamic sport with tons of mind games and research involved. Maruo collects data on his opponents' tendencies throughout the match, recognizes their forms, predicts what kinds of shots they're making fractions of a second beforehand, strategizes for quick turns in momentum, makes YOLO plays at crucial moments, and abuses every single technical and mental weakness he can observe to the fullest. More often than not, he's faced with opponents who have been playing tennis since they were five, and he has to fight tooth-and-nail with every trick in the book for every single point he gets. He takes on seemingly insurmountable challenges, and he actually loses a lot; it's awe-inspiring how well Maruo can collect himself and turn what would've been a morally crushing defeat into an invaluable experience to grow as a sports player. He never gives up, he rarely chokes, and he's eager to learn. He even takes extremely detailed notes (courtesy of his academic diligence) on everything possible to reflect upon during his free time. Again, it's success through a butt ton of hard work.
Now let's take a few steps back and look at the overall picture. MyAnimeList has Baby Steps listed as a romance, but take that with a grain of salt, as the first season chooses to focus primarily on Maruo's growth as an athlete. Similarly, the character focus is on Maruo, with all the other characters playing a support role in his life story, including the female lead Natsu. They're good characters for sure, and Natsu in particular is a breath of fresh air with her charming personality and optimistic attitude, but you have to like the main character to even have a chance of liking this show. Thankfully, Maruo isn't too hard to like. He's pleasant, easily relatable, and makes a good impression despite his generic looks. Key word is relatable: this shounen protagonist isn't meant to be idolized. He's a guy that you may know in real life. Heck, he might even be just like you. Either way, it's through this sense of an everyday relatability that makes it feel like we're on this journey with him, and with every success comes an equally rewarding sense of accomplishment for both Maruo and the audience.
As usual, don't limit yourself too much in your choice of media. Not a fan of sports anime? Never watched tennis before? Me neither, and guess what, I really like this show! Don't hesitate to give Baby Steps an episode or two; it might just surprise you with its pleasant atmosphere and endearing characters. It's a good show.
Tennis has been around in anime for some time now, but the number of series dedicated to it are surprisingly low. In the following list, we'll take a look at five popular tennis anime, including not only iconic classics, but also some newbie gems!