This week’s match is definitely one off the standout matches in Baby Steps, and one of the most excruciating. I’m seriously beginning to wonder if the anime is going to end with just this match, which is a damn shame considering how fantastic the upcoming material is going to be.
Anyhow, this week we see a fast-forwarded month of Ei-chan’s body transformation hell, right up to his first match in the Kanto Qualifier, where he unluckily gets matched up against Nabae Yu, the first seed and basically the best under 18 tennis player in Japan. The interesting thing about this matchup (which was already foreshadowed in an earlier episode during the two’s meeting) is how similar both Ei-chan and Nabae are. Considering the styles they play by, Ei-chan may have the upper hand against Nabae, whose play style is defined by his opponent’s weakness – and Ei-chan, with essentially no weakness (that can be noticed by Nabae, anyway) can keep trying to surprise Nabae and grab as many points as possible.
Thing is, there’s only so much Ei-chan can do to surprise Nabae, and Ei-chan’s style on its own is also a double-edged sword, the more he shows Nabae what he can do, the more data Nabae will eventually have to beat Ei-chan at his own game. Ei-chan has to keep coming up with new ideas to keep Nabae on his feet, while also be extremely careful to not reveal any weaknesses, scratch that, personal biases towards certain movements – it’s basically going to be hell all over for Ei-chan again.
As much as the 2 are similar in terms of play style, the increasingly painful reality for Ei-chan as he tries to enter the world of professional tennis is that others have had so much more time honing their skills and getting experience than Ei-chan’s ever going to have, and in a sport where you’re all alone against your opponent with no backup of any sort makes the need for experience in being prepared for any situation key… Ei-chan doesn’t play dirty, and he probably won’t, but what he needs to do here is nearing on impossible, defeat someone who is basically you if you had an extra couple of years to hone your craft. He needs to best himself, and then some.
Truth be told, it’s almost painful to see Ei-chan go through so much in just his first round, but I’m pretty sure it’s this exquisite pain that keeps me coming back for more Baby Steps – for both the anime and the manga. Nothing quite hurts like going slow and steady (maybe not so steady after all).