This isn’t a bad way to wrap up the second season and likely the Baby Steps anime in general. It would have been ideal to see Maruo just take down Nabae in this last match, but sadly that’s not how it went. Can’t duck the source material even at the end. Even if it’s not quite as satisfying, ending properly is probably the best way to go. Still, it is a tough way to end the anime if there isn’t any more that will ever come. You’d love to end on a high point, but they do try to do that. Sadly unlike last season…no announcement here. So at this point we have to presume that is the end of the Baby Steps anime. Which is a shame since it is such a good material and frankly is my favorite sports anime/manga period. I approve of a show that does try hard to stay within the bounds of believably for a sports series and this did a great job. You see Maruo growing and maturing without often breaking that boundary of what you can believe.
Now without this turning into a full blown review (that will come later), let us focus on this episode. Yeah, Maruo lost. Although if you look at where he was last time and where he was this time…my god. Just an insane improvement from a guy who could barely keep a couple serves per set against Nabae last time. This time he won the first set and fought like a madman in the third. If he could have just kept some of his shots tighter it would have been completely possible to come back. It wasn’t some statistical impossibility. He was there and he was pushing Nabae. Pushing Nabae so hard that Nabae changed up his own play against Araya and lost. Seeing Maruo’s incredible growth has left a mark on Nabae himself and he knows how hard he’ll have to work in order to stay ahead of this guy. So even if Maruo lost today….he does have a chance to win next time. And next time it will be on the biggest stage for someone of his age. A stage where he absolutely has to win no matter what.
The match itself was plenty entertaining. You got to see Maruo just fight with all he had against Nabae this time around. The guy threw his strategies and efforts into this as hard as he could. It did involve him taking heavy risks, but he had to take that level of risk in order to stand a chance and he did. Those risks got him to the end of the final set in a tied state with the potential to pull ahead if he could just win a few sets in a row. It was a tough thing to ask, but he did a lot in this match. It was interesting to see Maruo pull different attacks and tactics from his former opponents and his friends. Throwing in tactics that Nabae wasn’t going to easily predict from the data. Miyagawa’s drive volley was a great little thing to make use of. Obviously it’s hard to do those things anywhere near as good as his opponent since he doesn’t have the experience with it, but he did what we could against someone who works from the data as much if not more than Maruo himself does.
Similar to the match against Araya you could just see the exhaustion and struggle that Maruo had in this match. Just seeing him pushing himself physically and mentally against an opponent that wasn’t easily dispatched. It was true that he had to be extremely risky near the end because he wasn’t going to win a stamina war. Nabae was playing to his strengths and could play conservatively to a degree while Maruo could just attack with everything he had, but get drained faster. Using his mind and body to their limits in the third set really was a painful thing, but he had little choice. Without giving everything he wasn’t going to stand a chance in this match.
While it didn’t work in the end, it was cool to see Maruo try everything possible. This was a huge chance to take a step closer to his dream. Overcoming Nabae would have been the kind of development that would rocket him forward. Sadly it didn’t work. Nabae knew that Maruo had to play hyper aggressively and could still win points by playing defensively himself. Maruo had to accept errors and misses in order to fight, but losing each individual point was pretty painful.
We did get a good understanding of how these two really differ though. Nabae adapts to his opponents as his natural style and does a great job with that. Maruo has his own style, but adapts and tries new things only when he’s cornered. He has a great mind that lets him acknowledge when he can’t win doing what he is doing and changes gears to chase an option that will allow him to even things out. I agree with Nabae that Maruo’s style could be a huge threat going forward. He wasn’t able to win with it right now though. Nabae’s style and overall skill was just too much this time. Even without sacrificing a point Nabae really pushed himself and showed his ability to hold the top of their age group right now. Not an easy guy to dethrone.
The rest of the episode was basically aftermath and wrap up. Since there isn’t any sign of a third season they added a bit more to this after match and took some things out. This whole part is basically having to go under the changes section. They had to rush things so that we know how the tournament ended and showed all the various characters aiming for the future. So I would recommend anyone who wants to pick up the manga at this point pick it up at chapter 181 just so they don’t miss anything. If people don’t want to know what they missed….well might want to just skip this. In short, they basically cut out a lot of reactions with Maruo and other characters after his match and added in a scene of him staying to watch the final with Araya.
So in terms of things that we missed out on….well there’s a few. Rather than hearing that Nabae may have changed his goals for this last match based on the game with Maruo, you really hear him thinking it. That he has to focus on the future rather than the next match. Also Maruo didn’t stick around for Natsu’s match or the finals. He went straight home (since he lost) and got right back to work. He doesn’t have a moment to waste before the All Japan Junior. Data can be gathered via video. It is a shame though that we lost out on the Maruo and Natsu moments immediately after the match. Natsu was hyped after her win of course though sadly things didn’t go perfectly for Maruo as we know. But she did ask him since he’d have the free time to spend the next couple days planning their date XD.
Now going further would just be reviewing the manga so will stop there. Basically not that much happens in the manga in terms of this episode. Here we had the additions of Maruo sticking around, getting to see Natsu win the women’s championship, and basically they just cut down on his discussion with the racket maker. There was some more lines about Maruo being honest about not being able to go pro if he can’t win the All Japan Junior and thus perhaps unable to help as much with the racket if he can’t win. But in the end he still takes it and it shows that Maruo is growing as a pro hopeful. Even companies are going to take notice after he came that close to being the first seed.
So in terms of this episode I don’t have many issues. I get them wanting to change things so that it feels more like a final episode. I’d love several more Baby Steps anime, but sadly that’s how it goes. I do say that anyone who even remotely enjoyed the anime should jump right into the manga around chapter 180. The story doesn’t falter going forward and it’s worth checking out. I will say it was nice to see the various side characters again and realize that everyone is still moving forward. Maruo is the most obvious one growing, but everyone is pushing themselves and working to improve. It’s a community tied together by passionate players and a place where they are all working towards their end goals. It was a pleasure to discuss this series once again and will certainly miss it.
Getting my final thoughts about this show and season is tough. It was a good ride and this season really moved things ahead. They of course didn’t get to the All Japan Junior, but so much was accomplished here. Maruo has come a long way from the point he was in the first episode of this season and universes ahead of where he was in the first season. He’s honed his skills, found his style, played against elite players and even started a relationship with Natsu. His life has changed in a lot of ways and there is still more that we aren’t going to get to see from him. Still, I can’t fault this season since it paced itself well and covered a lot of good moments. Just a shame it isn’t even more episodes. I would have loved to see Maruo and Natsu’s date next week if they kept going that far.
There is just a lot to say about the show. In the end Maruo really is a great lead character and such a likable guy. He does have innate talents that let him get as far as he had, but no one could say he hasn’t worked insanely hard for his successes. The guy has just pushed himself to the limit and after finding he’d love to spend his life doing, he dedicated himself to making that possible. He’s just a very understandable person. Nothing came easily to him and he worked for it all. In his tennis life and in his personal life. Look at his relationship with Natsu. That was built up so slowly but very nicely. They got closer bit by bit and for a long while you could see the mutual interest that existed there. And finally this season they took that first step. But like with everything, the show recognizes that it is simply one step. His romantic life isn’t over just because he’s dating Natsu now, that’s just the starting line for the two of them.
I suppose in the end i just want to say that I had a lot of fun with this show. Of course I knew how things would unfold, but seeing it animated was something else. I think the animation quality got a nice boost this season though it never will be seen as an amazing visual spectacle. The voice acting was really well done and at this point I can definitely like the choice for Natsu and Maruo. We had a lot of memorable matches including the matches against Alex, Miyagawa, Ide, Araya, and Nabae. He just fought a ton of tough opponents. Some of his matches were better than others, but in the end I’m glad we got to see so many good ones animated. Will cross my fingers that someday the anime will come back and we can see the All Japan Junior covered in full. But for now, will have to say goodbye.
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