|Likable MC, fun female lead, great introduction to tennis for anyone, good matches||Not the strongest visuals in season 1, average supporting cast|
Will state here that this review will now cover the two seasons of Baby Steps jointly. In a sense this is a Baby Steps Franchise Review. There are no real spoilers for either season outside of basic information so anyone considering watching this series can feel free to read through it safely.
Expectations can be a funny thing. There were so many reasons that I was worried about how Baby Steps was going to transition into an anime. Factors seemed to be in play that would lead you to assume it would be a disaster. They mentioned early that it was going to have anime original content and generally that means beware and I wasn’t a huge fan of Natsu’s VA from the first time I heard it. That combined with the episode count going into the 20s had me thinking this would be a rushed adaptation or just a big anime original ending. In the end Baby Steps amazed me in just about every respect. I will never say this show will go down as an incredibly well animated series, but it did just about everything else better than I could have hoped.
The show did well enough to deserve a second season and I’d say the second season was just as enjoyable to me as the first. This show could go down as one of the more enjoyable and loyal adaptations of a manga out there. The show very well understood the differences of the media. Anime and manga are different and additions/subtractions are sometimes needed, but any time that happened in this series it made sense. The second season just worked really well to me, taking a step up in terms of overall quality and not losing what made the first season great.
I feel the story for Baby Steps is one that people can get behind. It’s not that unusual in the sense of someone finding a sport that they quickly get invested in and pursuing it. But the interesting nature of the story is how things progress for the MC. The show takes a much more down to earth approach to showing the game of tennis and how the main character improves in it. This isn’t one of those sports series where the characters unleash special super moves and the sport aspect isn’t actually that important. What we get in this show is tennis, it just works to try and keep that interesting and informative.
I learned more about tennis from this series and the manga than I knew beforehand. It takes consideration that people may be new to this and tries to slowly bring them in. The benefit of having a MC who is a new player is that they are dealing with the unfamiliar as much as you are. It is a very straight forward kind of story where the MC just finds this sport, gets interested in it and things build from there. The title is very accurate, a lot of baby steps are required for the MC to grow, but he certainly does that.
So many adaptations just don’t manage to use the material right or don’t take the chance to improve where needed. Baby Steps got the best of both worlds here. It was extremely loyal to most of the material which as a fan of the manga was great. But, it also took the time to add scenes that fleshed out the cast and story better. There are just things in hindsight that are more obvious. They did a good thing here making those additions to the story.
The story continued nicely in the second season. They picked up right where the first season left off and adapted the material nicely right until the second season itself concluded. It was a very smoothly paced second season that just logically continued the story. Maruo having become very engrossed in tennis continued his growth as a player and someone who is chasing his goals. The story shows how things change over time and we get to see Maruo himself and his world changing step by step. He doesn’t remain static and neither does his connections and relationships to others around him. They change and grow in a natural way while adding new side characters for him to interact with.
Maruo (Ei-chan) is a pretty good main character all things considered. While he starts off with the impression of being just some smart guy, it really isn’t like that. Maruo is just someone who is really good at repetition and doing what is necessary to master something. Studying like music or sports is something where if you put the time into it, you can get rewards coming out. Intelligence is a factor for why he was such a great student, but if he couldn’t be bothered to copy his notes so much and put in the time, he never would have gotten where he was.
Maruo just applies that to his tennis and the result is entertaining to watch. You have a guy that really didn’t have motivation to do anything in particular so he just studied a lot. But once he found something he could get passionate about, he had the kind of personality that would allow him to throw himself fully into it. He’s a logical kind of person, but unlike some MC he’s not completely blind to the world around him either. He appreciates his friends and most certainly recognizes his feelings towards the lead female of the series. A true strength for this show is its ability to come back to the romantic angle of the series more often than you would expect. Maruo is more than just a guy who is playing tennis.
In the second season Maruo remains very much who he is. He doesn’t develop in a strange or unnatural manner. But his life does change along the way and you can definitely appreciate how far he has come by the end of the second season as a tennis player and as a person. His relationships change over the course of the second season and he does grow closer to Natsu and his friends. Some of my favorite parts is just seeing Maruo react to new situations. In the first season he is very much a work in progress as a tennis player, but the second season has him really find his own style and become more distinct.
Another key strength for the show in my opinion is Natsu herself. This girl isn’t just some love interest who only exists for that purpose. I appreciate the show making clear that she is living her own life and pursuing her own dreams. She is invested in Maruo’s path into the world of tennis, but she’s not basing her entire character around him. She’ll go and cheer him on when she has the time, but will also go and play her own matches.
Of course even with all that Natsu is a cute character and it’s easy to see why she is such a popular figure in her school and in the tennis world. She has a lot of talent and a fun personality. A much more instinct driven individual who is a good contrast for a lead character in Maruo who sometimes can get caught up in thinking too hard about things. I just appreciate a character who can encourage the MC, be encouraged in turn, and is just chasing her own dreams the whole while. Despite the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of her voice in the opening episodes I got used to it and feel she is one strong female lead.
Natsu has some very good moments in season 2 in my mind. Of course she isn’t the main focus so it isn’t like we get to see her matches. But we do get to see her play a bit more than we did in season 1 and her relationship with Maruo gets all the more interesting in that season. Natsu is a good reflection that people around Ei-chan aren’t remaining static. Natsu has her own rivals and does grow as a person in this season. It’s made clearer what she’s up against and her growth leads to some of my favorite moments in the second season. Simply put, Natsu doesn’t just sit back and be this idol to be a romantic interest. She pursues her goals and makes things happen.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid. Kageyama fills the role of the best friend pretty well. He has his own interests, but still takes the time to go to Maruo’s matches and track his progress as best he can. He’s a good source for a lot of personal progress in Maruo’s life outside of tennis. Has no problem giving his friend the pushes he needs.
Sasaki is certainly a more standard kind of class president character who also is interested enough in Maruo to go to his games and learn the sport along the way. A nice girl, but one where you can certainly see where her character arc is likely to go.
The characters connected more closely to the game of tennis really do get more focus. You just get to see characters like Takuma way more because they are going to these tournaments just like Maruo is.
That’s especially true for the major opponents that Maruo plays against in the show. It makes use of flashbacks and Maruo doing research on his opponents to help give them some depth and make the struggles against them more interesting. Since Maruo is pretty new to the sport there is a lot more potential for him to lose games so it’s not the kind of situation where he can’t afford to lose and thus he won’t. The show has the standard kinds of coaches and rivals that you are bound to get in a sports series and they are all pretty solid characters. The main focus is on Maruo and the rest of the cast just make sure to be fairly interesting guys to turn to when needed.
Season 2 of course adds more rivals and opponents for Maruo to tackle along the way. While there are few major additions to his inner circle, there are a lot of people who leave a mark on him as a person. He meets some foreign players who help expand his understanding of how there are different styles of tennis and how much an international community he is entering here. Japan certainly isn’t the center of the tennis world and the further he goes the more he’ll interact with new people.
Maruo’s biggest rival Nabae gets more focus in season 2 though not too much. You get to see more of his past and understand what kind of guy Maruo is trying to overcome here. Similar to the first season Maruo has a lot of key matches against elite players and during those matches we get some flashbacks or monologues that help us understand what those players are thinking and what kind of people they are. It does make the matches really interesting because you get this more personal understanding of these players and can really feel conflicted. Hard to dislike some of Maruo’s opponents and so when they win or lose the results are always a bit conflicting. On top of the opponents he does play, there is hints at various characters that he’ll have to overcome in the future and you get snap shots of what kind of guys they are as well. It’s a pretty large cast of side characters since Maruo is very much the central focus of the show.
No one is going to call this show a visual masterpiece that’s for sure. They do manage to make the tennis look ok when they aren’t cutting away to focus just on the players after they’ve hit a shot. But the show can definitely have moments when you kind of wince if you’ve stopped the episode at the wrong time. If there is anything I wish this show had it was more visual budget, but in the end at least they got everything else right.
However, season 2 did up the visual game a little bit. I still won’t call this a very amazing show visually, but they did a better job overall. Certain scenes you could tell they were really going all out to make the characters look better and I approve of those situations. Also the tennis matches themselves were as a whole better animated in the second season. Later matches in the show were all the more engaging because they were really doing a nice job of showing the movement of the players and the ball. Now it still had some lazy moments, but you can definitely tell the difference between season 1 and season 2.
The music was a pretty solid strength for the show I think. It had a really enjoyable combination of OP and ED that made watching every episode enjoyable from start to finish. The voice acting as a whole was well done. Natsu was a voice that surprised me, but by the end I was fine with it. The tracks used during the tennis matches fit the mood and I never thought they used a really odd choice of music in the show. I think characters like Kageyama and the coach were home runs because they just fit perfectly.
They did make use of the same opening song in the second season, though the visuals were different. I think that was a good plan overall. The song is a good one and it fits so well with the theme of this show. It’s all about believing in yourself and that is key for Maruo’s growth as a character.
The main cast of course had the same voices and the new characters fit fine in my book. Now there was a section where Maruo was dealing with individuals from the United States and they did kind of take the lazy route of just having everyone speak Japanese. I get that finding a lot of fluent English speakers would be tough and probably expensive so I’m not really docking the show for that decision. It just does end up looking a bit odd when Maruo is supposed to be dealing with a bit of a language divide and he’s just dealing with people who sound like they are speaking Japanese. But, that’s the differences in the media for you. Easier to just use different text to represent people speaking another language than it is to have characters speaking another language verbally.
With a second season already announced, I think Baby Steps represents that hte anime world does still get things right. This is just a really enjoyable series to watch someone find a passion and start chasing a dream. Maruo is a likable guy who has the kind of dedication that makes you able to route for him. He may have some natural abilities, but they are the type that would do him no good if he wasn’t willing to put in the amount of effort he does. He is met nicely by a fairly independent female lead in Natsu, someone who also has her own life going on and doesn’t sacrifice that. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Maruo’s growth in season two and just more of him and Natsu. A very enjoyable show and one I think people should give a chance. Even with zero knowledge of tennis this is a show you can get behind and not be overwhelmed.
The second season was definitely a success in my book. It was enjoyable and entertaining. Sadly there was no immediate announcement of a third season which has me doubting us actually getting one. But the fact that we got 50 episodes of Baby Steps is actually an amazing accomplishment. I could see this as not being a show that wow people initially since it is very down to earth and loyal to players actually playing tennis and not using super powers. Still, I would easily recommend this show to anyone just to give it a shot. I wasn’t even interested in tennis before I saw this series so that is hardly a requirement. If you want to see a show that covers a sport pretty realistically, has a very likable main character who grows physically and mentally through the series, and is a show with a good but reasonably developing romance then I say try it out. Baby Steps may not be for everyone, but it is definitely a show worth watching. I will definitely miss it, but glad I had the chance to cover it for 2 seasons.
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