Baby Steps

Title:Baby Steps
Keywords: , , , , , ,
Notables: Original Concept - Kodansha Manga Award Winner
Maruo Eiichirou is a perfectionist. Not seeming to have any particularly useful talent, the boy makes up for this by meticulously writing down everything with a neat handwriting into his trademark item, a large number of notebooks (whose content many of his classmates rely upon when cramming for their tests). Since elementary school this model student has earned "All A" scores and is called "Ei-chan" because of this.

Now that he has entered high school, the bookworm is looking for something that would give him a better physical condition for his forthcoming exams in order to get him into the best possible college - but unlike normal school clubs this workout should allow him to participate only once a week as his schedule is already filled with learning and cram school.

By chance his mother got a flyer from the famous nearby "Southern Tennis Club" offering a free trial session and tells him to give it a go. At the STC he meets Takasaki Natsu, the blonde beauty from his parallel class at school who only has passion for tennis. During their first conversation she entrusts him with her secret: She's aiming at a professional tennis career, just like a handful of other STC members. And Ei-chan soon learns that Nat-chan at this stage is the top seeded female under-18 tennis competitor of the Kanto region.

After some frustrating first experiences, Ei-chan begins to love tennis, and it turns out that he has not just one but two special talents: Unusually sharp eyesight and the perseverance to repeat boring things a million times before they work as he wants them to. And so "Notebook-kun" begins to improve his tennis play and "reshape his body" - much faster than anyone would have put past him, including a certain female classmate.

[TV series, 2014, 25 episodes, 24 min; covering the first 8 volumes of an ongoing manga series since 2007 with 30+ volumes that won the ↗Kodansha Manga Award in 2014; a sequel is scheduled for April 2015]

The main character's surname "Maruo" is written "丸尾", with "丸" ("maru") being the kanji for "perfection"; his given name "Eiichirou" is written "栄一朗" with the kanji for "honor", the number "1", and "bright".

The complete name of the underlying manga is "Baby Steps to Giant Strides", a comment made by a professional tennis player (in some manga chapter that will probably be covered early in the second season of this anime) on Ei-chan's method of adding innumerable little improvements to his game in order to make large progress in the end.
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Rent 8 7 8 7 8 9 Devil Doll [series:2903#752]
[Score: 77% = "Rent"]

After my hardships with Yowamushi Pedal, this show is kind of a second attempt to cope with this kind of "teen sports ganbatte" anime (OP song: "Believe in yourself"). And despite similar elements and similar flaws, and an open ending asking for a sequel, this show worked very well for me - well enough to bring me back to watching anime in the first place.
This combination of sports and (forthcoming) romance reminds me of Suzuka but Eiichirou is a different, more serious character who has to begin his tennis experience at square one (and at a much later age than his opponents which is compensated by Ei-chan having specific talents).
With no ecchi and little slapstick distraction, an almost-too-good female lead and a slightly quirky boy this series won me over right from the start by simply avoiding the major flaws and providing enough plausible development.

After 7 episodes, Ei-chan has performed in his first real match and learned how much is ahead of him. Natsu is still important (and she's becoming ever more similar to Nishino Tsukasa), but the most interesting supporting character is now Takuma, the number one player of the club in his serious motivation crisis, and it's fun to see how their coach attempts to have these two motivate each other and thus improve further.

There's also a slight hint in one of the early episodes that some girl from Ei-chan's class might become interested in the boy, now that he's no longer focused on getting "A" grades alone (and growing some muscles from his exercising). This element becomes more obvious during the middle section but remains subdued for a long time; the female classmate merely serves as comedy sidekick while the "real heroine" stays in the background during this stage. And as so often in romance anime it ultimately requires a catalyst showing up to make both girls ask themselves the important questions.

The middle section up to episode 17 has Ei-chan earn his first important victories and rise to the level of those he merely admired 18 months before. Most matches are one-sided at first and then suddenly turning around, and some of the opponents don't take the newcomer seriously enough, but the final game of each of these matches is exciting and the outcome is plausible enough.
At the end of this section, Ei-chan signs a deal with his parents, granting him one year of time for trying to find out how far he can get with tennis when training like a professional (with a specific plan B in case he'd fail there) while running school on minimum level (i. e. no more cram school for defending his "A" grades), so this attempt will be the core of the actual story.

And instead of rushing things, the series takes its time for this development, covers another important match for Ei-chan and ends right before a major milestone (in the middle of volume 8 of 30+ manga volumes so far), to be continued in the forthcoming sequel airing in April 2015.

Having read 18 manga volumes now, I can say that the anime is very faithful in delivering the original story and neither skips any single manga chapter not adds additional content (both the karaoke and the school festival story may appear like side story material but actually are important milestones for events to occur in the forthcoming sequel).
As the story is a logical sequence of training modifications for adding/enhancing Ei-chan's skills (physical ones as well as mental ones, both being equally important) and tournaments showing the corresponding results for these improvements (the detailed description of Ei-chan's matches is about 50% of the story) there's practically nothing that could be skipped, so for telling the story up to the development Ei-chan is targeting in the deal with his parents, the anime will require something like 50 more episodes, i. e. two sequels of the 25 episodes size that we've got already. And I'd be gladly watching these.

Last updated Wednesday, November 12 2014. Created Monday, April 28 2014.

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