(Apologies for the double-posting as of late. I was busy with personal affairs up till last week, but ended up having problems putting posts up for a bit. Many thanks to Vantage for helping me out!)
Boy if those weren’t some of the best sports anime we’ve seen these 2 weeks – this Ide and Ei-chan matchup is so, so good. The first half of the match, namely episode 17 is pretty much warm-up before Baby Steps starts pulling out the big guns. It’s natural of course – given how this matchup is. Ide and Ei-chan are evenly matched in skill, but Ide has the instinctual advantage of playing well in close matches under extreme amounts of pressure for him to do well. He’s charismatic, he’s naturally aggressive in his style of play, people love watching him. It’s really bad for Ei-chan as it is as he already has so much to deal with even without Ide – he constantly reminds himself how he literally has to give up the sport should he not win this match.
Even so, episode 17 was almost painful to watch – a good sign of how invested I am in Baby Steps’ narrative though! It was labelled as a close match, but there was just so much going against Ei-chan, who, this time, literally did nothing wrong. In fact, by his…benevolence, Ide’s late arrival didn’t earn him an immediate disqualification. Yet everyone comes to cheer for Ide, and midway through the match the kid even returns to add fuel to the fire. This is so true to life it almost hurts, sports is never always fair (if at all).
The truly brilliant parts of this match came in episode 18 though, where the massive amounts of pressure really begin to buckle down on Ei-chan. This match’s importance to Ei-chan (and, to athletes who’ve ever been through similar circumstances) is the need to deal with that pressure. Through sheer willpower and experimentation (which is frankly a lot harder to do than going by instincts, looking at you Ide!) Ei-chan learns to deal with the intricate balance between stress and motivation. You can’t completely remove all forms of pressure, but you can’t stay so affected by it such that it limits your ability.
And so, the moments leading up to match point, and during match point itself were incredible to watch. Even the animation stepped up a whole lot, with plenty of swift but short cuts interspersed across to further excite things! Ide serves up to drop shots to Ei-chan, the first of which Ei-chan actually manages to return by hitting it between his legs! It’s incredible what pressure (the right amount, of course!) can help one achieve. The final volley between the two though, was what really sealed the deal for me. An incredibly high lob that Ei-chan manages to return, but causing him to literally have to jump and stretch out to reach the return. And he finally succeeds. The point our protagonist deserves!
The end of the match sees Ide being a wonderful chap still, wholeheartedly thanking Ei-chan for the incredible match they had…what lies ahead?