After having decided to play tennis at the professional level, Eiichirou Maruo now needs to convince his parents to support his decision. To do so, he makes a wager: if he cannot win the All-Japan Junior Tennis Tournament, he will give up on his dream. However, he will need to improve his skills quickly if he wants to qualify for the tournament and have any chance of defeating the best players in the country. For this reason, his new coach Ryuuhei Aoi suggests that Eiichirou travel abroad to train at the Florida Tennis Academy.
Baby Steps 2nd Season takes the action to America as Eiichirou begins his two-week training program, getting a taste of what tennis is like outside of Japan. With this exciting experience awaiting him, Eiichirou hopes that his training will get him closer to his goal of becoming a professional player.
"I used to think Maruo was the insecure type who isn't capable of having big dreams. But that's not right. He's the type to have countless smaller dreams that he can achieve perfectly, one by one. They may be small individually, but as they keep coming true, they quickly become one huge dream."
- Episode 4.
Baby Steps is a realistic, mentally engaging sports anime. It's well paced and subtle in its delivery of drama and romance, preferring to put the main focus on the actual game of tennis. This is essentially what makes this show so good, because tennis itself is a very interesting sport. There
are so many different playing styles, strategies and shots that can be played. The show takes full advantage of this fact with good use of inner-monologues to display realistic and intriguing thought processes of each character throughout the matches.
This second season of Baby Steps introduces slightly older and more mature characters. They start to think about their futures more seriously, whether that be going to University or pursuing tennis as a career. Consequently, the outcomes of the matches carry a greater sense of risk which makes them even more exciting to watch. Baby Steps is very good at making us empathise with Maruo's feelings of anxiety in those matches when his future depends on whether he wins or loses. The fact that we know what the outcome of those matches should be for the story to continue, doesn't really lessen the tension.
The pacing is a bit slow, but I feel this reflects Maruo's playing style; taking his time to think through his strategy and not rushing blindly, trying to hit winners on every shot. Of course, his skills improve quite a bit from last season and he's getting one step closer to playing at a professional standard. One might think his progression is too fast to be realistic, but when you take into consideration all the work he puts in, it's certainly plausible. A sports anime needs the right balance of realism, and fiction for the sake of entertainment. Baby Steps gets this balance almost perfectly.
My favourite thing about this show, which I feel is unique compared to other sports anime I've seen, is the way the psychological aspects of the sport are explored in a surprising amount of depth. Anyone who's played tennis competitively or recreationally will recognise how your mental state plays a big part in how well you perform. With the margin for error so small in tennis, a slight shift in your mindset even on a subconscious level can make the difference between your shots going in or out.
This season also explores a concept called "the zone". I believe the author of the manga has thoroughly researched tennis psychology to describe this as accurately as possible, because it matches surprisingly well with my own experiences as a racket sports player. The zone is an ultimate state of mind where one is so focused that they are completely unaware of anything else. They are focused only on the present moment without worrying about what will happen, or has happened in the past. The result being, the player's best physical and mental performance is achieved. However, it is almost impossible to enter this state consciously as it happens in the sub-consciousness.
Of course the show also deals with the physical and technical ability of our main character, which improves even more from the first season. One of the only things I was disappointed with in the first season was a lack of focus on the serve, which for many is the hardest yet most important shot in the game. Luckily this season does address it, as Maruo tries to strengthen his body and improve the efficiency of his movement to improve his serve drastically. Though I would have liked to see a few more scenes with
his training, not just for the serve but in general.
The art and animation is improved from the first season, and although it could still be a lot better, it does the job. It's nothing to write home about, but it's not bad enough to detract from the story.
Another thing which is improved is the sound. Some new OSTs provide even more excitement to the matches. The opening song stays the same from S1 but with new visuals which seems to match the song even better. As for the new ED, I enjoyed the visuals more than the actual song.
Finally, the romance that was hinted at towards the end of the first season has more development in this season. It's still not enough to distract from the focus on tennis but it's a lot more satisfying than even a lot of romance-specific anime. There is some drama but it remains very subtly portrayed and not forced. You can feel the emotions of the characters when they win or lose without having to cringe through over exaggerated reactions such as you might find in other sports animes.
In conclusion, I fully recommend Baby Steps to anyone, even if you're not a fan of sports anime in general. It has intelligent strategies, realistic development, likeable characters and even a touch of romance so there's something for everyone to enjoy.
Side note: If you're hesitating to watch because you know nothing about Tennis, they explain the basics in the 1st season so anyone can understand.
Baby Steps oftentimes gets praised for being one of the most realistic sport anime out there. This point stems from the fact that all the moves MC pulls out are thought out and explained in a rather elaborate manner, and we see everyone, not just main character, struggle to get better match after match. Yet, everyone seems to forget that Eichiro - as talented and as gifted as he may be - has only been playing tennis for so long. If you wish to thread the line of realism, it's impossible for him to beat people who have been playing tennis their whole lives.
the flip side, Baby Steps definitely is amusing. To be honest, it's really kind of like a shounen battle manga translated into sports, with a dash of well-done romance (if you'd believe it, I consider it to be the most realistic aspect of this manga). Rivals come and go, stronger ones appear, random new-moves MC thinks up on a spot work, and he often wins battles that seem far out of his reach. It's not a bad anime, just calling it realistic is quite a stretch.
Story is slow paced. And I mean slow paced. It may not seem so at the beginning, but the longer you keep watching it, the more you realize that not many things are happening. Sure, it's not the slowest paced sports anime out there, but it's not the fastest either. This takes a huge, huge spike if you get into manga where 1 match can drag on for 20+ chapters which mostly consist of monologue - and the same case is with the anime itself.
During matches, audience is being fed exposition like no tomorrow. Main character literally explains everything that's going on as if everyone in the audience is a machine incapable of grasping a simple concept of "oh, he's trained for his whole life that's why he's better". Anime tries to shrug it off on his personality, as Eichiro is a rather anal person, but it's a large stretch and I often found myself skipping scenes as they literally recap what happened 2 minutes ago. This alone stagnates the story in a large way, and slows it down too much. Some people call it realism, but, what it actually is, is just dragging the shit out. Another weird part is that anime will sometimes have huge time skips (for three months as an example) so it makes me wonder why not just balance the pace. Such large contrasts in storytelling only serve to bring the overall quality down, and were the first signs, at least to me, that this won't be as fun of a ride as I had hoped.
Another point that I need to drill on is monologue: it's insane. If you think that Your Lie In April has a lot of monologues, you haven't seen a damn thing. Monologues usually go this way:
1. Ei-chan is in trouble and/or is being completely ran over by his opponent
2. He initiates a severe dose of monologue waging his options and the success rate of each
3. His chosen option flat out works or he says something along the lines of "well, I didn't score the point but that move shook my opponent so it was worth it".
It. Never. Changes. Absolutely never. Yes, problems and options may differ, and sometimes the outcome itself is unexpected, but that doesn't change the fact that the pattern is noticeable the moment you start thinking about it. It's not rare for writers to fall into a trap of explaining things in the same manner, but this is just literally acing it home.
Within the story you'll find your standard sports drama; unfortunately, this is not a good thing. Why? Because it's the same shit you've seen everywhere. Zero-to-hero stories can be done well, but if you follow every aspect of it, you simply make it predictable. I never had any trouble figuring out whether Ei-chan will win or not. As the matter of fact, I predicted every single match in 2nd season with 100% accuracy, something that hasn't happened even in Diamond no Ace, the epitome of cliche sports anime. This trend continued on in the manga, basically nullifying a large portion of what makes sports drama exciting: being unable to predict the outcome.
Story is by far the weakest aspect of this anime (and manga as well) and drags it down by quite a large margin, just making you think "what could have been".
On the flip note, production values are higher. Art itself is colorful and crisp and, while it isn't really spectacular by any means, it's more than enough to hold the show itself on a higher note. Animation can be hit and miss; oftentimes, you'll simply see stills of shots rather than the animation itself, but it has some decent moments. Don't expect nothing on the level of KnB or DnA because, remember, this sport story is realistic.
Music itself is passable. Opening song is catch and good though, simply showcasing just how bland the soundtrack is. Voice acting is fairly decent and there's a huge cast so you'll probably find a performance or two you'll like more than others. Overall, nothing spectacular, but definitely on-par with today's standards.
Now we come to the characters, the thing that makes this anime realistic supposedly. Nope. Again, I'll repeat myself: no matter how talented he is, he should NOT be able to compete on national level after mere 2 years of training. Not only is the tennis one of the hardest sports to pick up as you get older, but he actually doesn't even have innate talent from it. They shrug it off on "working his body beyond its capacity", but if that's all it took in real life, everyone could be a great athlete. Don't get me wrong though: Ei-chan is a good character outside of tennis, but I have a feeling this manga would have been far better if it focused on a sport that's solely about thinking, as this would be far more realistic.
With side characters ... as expected of sport stories, there's a bucket load of them. From the ones that get forgotten to the ones that stay all the way through. You have Nat-chan, probably one of the best female leads I've seen in a while. There's nothing exceptional about her character, but it was executed so well that you can't help but somehow feel entranced by her. She's "go with the flow" type of a person and, even though I usually have a hard time connecting to people like that, I found myself drawn to her far more than any other character in the entire series. The romance between the two MC's is definitely slow (as in, real slow) but as it's just a side thing, it was actually a breath of refreshing air whenever it came up, and it didn't drag on for as long as I thought it would. Props for that.
I won't discuss any others because then it would take me 10 pages to cover them all. Just know that there's a huge cast of diverse characters and even though sometimes you'll be thinking "ugh, freaking backstory; I don't care, just go back to the fucking match already, Jesus", I found myself liking more characters than I disliked, so that's a good thing.
Overall, if you're into sports anime, you will enjoy Baby Steps. It's a relatively easy going watch but, again, if you're expecting true realism, you won't find it here. You'll realize this rather quickly, but it shouldn't really deter your enjoyment of the series too much.
I've only done review for poor shows so now here's a good one. After the experiencing the incredibly strange and very disappointing Prince of Tennis, I was hesitant to pick up another tennis series. But after marathoning a slightly slow but promising first season, I continue into the even better second season of Baby Steps
Story and Characters:
Maruo Eiichiro continues on his path to professional tennis, having only just started playing 2 years previously. Maruo goes to THE LAND OF THE FREE, to do some training and improve. The show keeps things interesting and continues to show how he grows and improves at the sport. In
this aspect it may be the best sports anime. It details Maruo's training regimen and the numerous hours he spends while being believable. Along with that it shows different strategies and techniques needed to win matches, making viewers interested in the show and the sport itself.
This importantly comes together so that at no point does Maruo have a strange or illogical jump in skill and neither does it make his opponents look weak. You continue to see just how difficult MC's training is and how hard he works with weight training, jogging, drills, and all the other crap no one wants to do. The show doesn't preaching about working hard though. Maruo works in the most effective way possible. MC then goes onward to reach the All Japan Junior tournament, competing to be the best young player in Japan and eventually go pro
All the players represent different playing styles and personalities that are interesting and believable. In sports and shonen anime at times characters can be ridiculous exaggerations of certain personalities and archetypes found in real life but that isn't the case here.
A few things I did like was after MC played someone who used various "dirty" tricks, the lesson at the end wasn't that you can't use tricks to win, you have to use them in the right way. In the end the player need to use the tricks to back his tennis, rather than making them the center of the play.
The animation does it's job. Though there are sports anime with better animation at certain moments, Baby Steps never has issues with poor animation or episodes where time and money is clearly being saved for later. That being said this is a case of you'll find the best of the animation in the OP.
Everything makes it truly interesting to see how far the MC can go. Though matches don't create the same excitement and some other sports anime, they're still interesting and moments in between are never dull
Season 2 steps up from last season and I eagerly await a third. Baby Steps is one of the best sports anime out and it's well worth watching
An Almost Too Deep Vision of Tennis Hinders Character Development.
Story - 8
Story and characters go hand in hand. What helps or hurts one can also help or hurt the other. This story follows a "I must get better to win" concept that is at the competitive heart of most sports anime.
What it tries to do, it does well, but it doesn't try to do enough. The knowledge of tennis I gained from watching is really incredible. I went from knowing almost nothing to really understanding on a deep level what actual pros might think about during a match.
There are enough surprises and changes of pace
to keep you guessing, but during matches it can get very repetitive. I understand the need to build tension, but watching every single point of a set does get old when you aren't actually there.
The story does go a lot further than the first season, but it spends a bit too long to make each point. If it went a little quicker at some points, there would have been more room for other stories which could have developed the characters.
Character - 8
The enormous cast is really incredibly talented and well-designed. Like the story, the characters are all realistic, and almost every one provides good insights to tennis and life.
Unfortunately, many of the characters change very little. Ei-chan does change quite a bit, but many of the main supporting characters continue to fill the same old roles.
Although not necessarily a bad thing, the fact that the characters are so limited in what they do makes them close to one-dimensional. When a character is allowed to tell a different part of their own story, it is brief. Ei-chan takes too much screen time when others could have taken the spotlight for a while. Some characters are introduced and then completely forgotten, not only by the writers, but even by the characters themselves. The series could continue and make up these problems, but as of this season, it still falls short.
Art - 5
The design of the characters and settings is average. Maruo's notebooks can be quite detailed at times, but that is where most of the detail stops.
Most of the show happens on a tennis court. The players do change shirts between matches, but lots of the other shots are replayed. This is to be expected in a sports anime, but it is still repetitive. Sometimes the ball bounces somewhere it shouldn't - if it needs to be inside a box on a serve, it isn't always there, and some rallies have shots where the ball lands in the doubles boundary. It might be a clever way of inserting different court backgrounds to change the camera angle just enough so that some replayed cuts aren't as noticeable.
There are times where the art really shines, and actually tries to rise to great levels, but these are few and rushed, and lead back into more replayed cuts. One example is when a player is bouncing the ball before a serve, and the ball carries some of the court's dust up with it.
Sound - 7
Voice acting is top-notch. Game and environment sound is very good. There is enough variety in sound that I never thought I heard the same ball bounce twice in the entire show. But the soundtrack is lacking. This season's OP is the same as the first season. More songs could have been written instead of just re-using the same few over and over, but I suppose the budget was tight.
Enjoyment - 8
Overall - 7
As far as sports anime go, this one goes for it all and then some. The story and characters are a solid 8 or 9, doing a fine job to make the time enjoyable, but not quite complete. There aren't many times I actually laughed at a joke, but the character humor, while sparse, does get the job done. There aren't a lot of times that this show pulls your emotions in, but the depth of tennis makes up for it, especially for a sports anime. I hope that this show can get better by adding another season, because this season definitely improved on the first.
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