Baby Steps 2 Episode 14: Before the match
Oh darn, I don’t know what to say. As a manga reader I’ve been (im)patiently waiting for this scene since I first laid eyes on the new opening sequence, but I ended up squealing and watching this episode 3 times before I got down to writing this. I’m so, so grateful for an anime adaptation of THE BEACH SCENE because it encapsulates a lot of what I love about the series.
Before that though, let’s talk a bit about what happened before that. The first half of the episode focuses on Ei-chan and his continued match with Takuma. It’s clear they’ve both improved a lot, and they clearly acknowledge each other’s strengths despite the actual gap in their skills. It’s also clear how effective this joint training has been for Ei-chan, who has learnt to be a much more varied player with better change of pace options, and has even been acknowledged by the media! It really has been a long time coming for Ei-chan, especially with what follows afterward…
The STC team drives out from Kanagawa to Chiba for an overnight stay at an inn before the big Kanto Junior match. Things get comfortable and Natsu invites Ei-chan for what is basically a nice stroll on the beach at night. The mood is great, Ei-chan wants to confess and gets the jitters, but manages to convey his heartfelt gratitude to Natsu for all her support throughout the 2 years they’ve known each other, how much it means for him that she is able to be there to watch him try and fulfill his dreams, for introducing him to tennis. Ei-chan offers to do anything he can to help Natsu out as well, as thanks. In typical Natsu behavior she asks him to go out with her. Without hesitation. Ei-chan’s flustered, until he realizes she beat him to the punch.
There was so much sincerity to their conversation, it was just wonderful to witness. It’s hard to find conversations in anime that just work so well because of the excellent characterization, but this is one of them. It’s all so adorable my heart was about to explode. For me, it really felt like the culmination of their romantic relationship was probably the most prominent marker of Ei-chan’s growth as a person throughout his 2 years – he’s understood himself and what he wants, and is now able to express himself. He’s found people that love and support him on his journey, and even someone willing to join him on his uphill journey to professional sports. I’ve said this a million times by now, but Natsu is so different from Ei-chan – she’s straightforward (almost impulsive), ridiculously cheerful and always full of energy. Ei-chan’s no downer, but he tends to think things through, sometimes a little too much, but both he and Natsu and just so driven, so filled with ambition that eventually their paths cross and they find out how much of a fit they are for each other.
Next week, a literal game-changer (if you’ve seen the episode preview you already know what to expect) and a look at one of Ei-chan’s toughest opponents to date.