Baby Steps Episode 16-17: Overcoming emotions and … going pro?
OK OK, scratch what I said regarding episode 15, the series made it up with episode 17 in particular in terms of visual presentation, even if it’s just a little. Once again, splitting the post into 2 parts.
Ei-chan is great. He always seems like an unremarkable player, and that is, in some sense, true. But what he does have is the tenacity and willingness to take risks during crunch time, when people would normally obsess over playing things safe and not losing any more points. It’s another thing that makes Ei-chan a surprisingly difficult opponent to handle – he doesn’t have any exploitable weak spots (to be fair he doesn’t have strong ones either), and you can bet he will not go down without a fight. A long one, if possible. To slow down the tempo and keep the momentum in his favour.
This is clearly a mismatch on both sides of the court – Araya has a distinct advantage over Ei-chan with his speed and power, and blasts through certain points with them. However, he’s quick to get irritated and impatient, so this is where Ei-chan can take advantage of him. Ei-chan on the other hand lacks any of the real weapons Araya can wield, often relying on predicting shots and working to slow the game to his favour. Either way, it becomes a tough game for both, as there are clear holes in their strategies.
Another hallmark of Baby Steps is seen in this match again too, as Ei-chan literally takes baby steps in improving his tennis, but he does so with his opponent. Every single one of them that’ve played against Ei-chan have left the court with a brand new outlook on their game and themselves, and Ei-chan himself too constantly changes and shapes himself into a better player than he once was.
I don’t think any of us would be expecting Ei-chan to win here since it’d honestly just go against the idea of slowly moving up the ranks the series has been constantly emphasizing, and I guess I’m glad to see that they stayed true to Baby Steps (as a manga reader I’m always on the lookout for anime original material I guess).
As I mentioned, Ei-chan and his opponents always play very very important games for themselves and their tennis careers – each one of them have left the courts being distinctly different from before, and have achieved great understanding about themselves. This was no different for Ei-chan and Araya regardless of the outcome of the match (it took a lucky shot for Araya to win!), but the effects are clearly seen on Takuma as well, who has played Ei-chan on pretty much a daily basis, and begins to cast aside his pride and truly declare his dream of going pro. It gives him a different outlook on his game as well, as he finally (most likely) gets out of his slump, defeats Araya, and regains his momentum. Araya too declares that he retracts his statement about giving up on going pro, he knows he has ways to go, and it’s all because Ei-chan helped him improve (glad that he acknowledges it!).
I do really want to mention how good the animation was for the match between Araya and Takuma! I was genuinely surprised, looks like Pierrot pulled out some stops here and delivered. The movements felt especially kinetic and fast-paced, and the shaking camera was used to a pretty great effect.
We get to see a brand new character introduced after the match too, a true blue tennis player about to go pro, Ike Souji, a player who has clearly taken an interest to Ei-chan and finds him amusing at least. It’s clear his return to STC is going to fundamentally impact Ei-chan, who now considers the idea of going pro himself, even bringing the matter up to the dinner table!