One day you’ll get there, Maruo.
Fitting to its Name:
Baby Steps – befitting to its name till the very end. This second season really has flown by – it only felt like yesterday when Maruo was in Florida meeting new faces, learning how to be a better player. Of course, that’s what Baby Steps is all about: Maruo’s improvement, little by little, loss after loss, until he earns a rare victory, inspiring him to keep on getting better. Looking back at where this kid started off, it’s amazing to see how far he’s come. This is a story of a complete novice on his way to becoming a pro, but unlike nearly every other shonen sports anime, Baby Steps is never easy or forgiving when it comes to the outcome of its matches. It was obvious from early on in the first season that this was not a series where power-ups would suddenly appear and victory would come with every match. As much as I love Hajime no Ippo (for example), Ippo nearly always manages to win in the end, whereas here, Maruo nearly always faces defeat.
Realism is what Baby Steps has going for it, and there were very few times where it entered the realm of fantasy. If anything, that came outside the court – like players being caught up in a children’s surgery drama right before a match, or the occasionally silly tennis-related backstory. Whenever it came to the games, Maruo always had to try his hardest to win, and a lot of the time he simply wasn’t good enough. I have to give Baby Steps credit for never shying away from losing, but at the same time, midway through this second season there was a pivotal match where Maruo once again lost, which I felt was a severe let down.
After victory being taken from him time and time and time again, I thought he would finally get what he deserved and be rewarded for his progression. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. It was a bold move, but one that I wasn’t happy with. He still could have won that match and the rest that followed wouldn’t be that different. To me, it felt like Maruo was being kicked while he was down, and we were made to watch as he stumbled yet again, unable to fight back.
Funnily enough, when it came to Maruo’s biggest match to date in these last few episodes, I knew there was no way he would win. Not because I was disappointed and had lost all hope, but because Baby Steps had made it perfectly clear how strong his various opponent really were by comparison. When it came to him facing his toughest challenge yet, I was prepared (and even hoping) for him to lose. And that’s how it played out, because Maruo only wins when he’s good enough. It’s a constant uphill battle, and he’s still got a long way to go. But Baby Steps 2 has seen him grow into a fearsome tennis player, and it’s been an awesome journey to be a part of.
Reward in Romance:
The choreography, art, and animation may not have been the most inspiring whenever they were on the court – though there was an overall improvement from the first season – but when it came to the story outside of the matches, I felt the most vital scenes were blessed with the focus and detail they deserved. The most memorable scene of Baby Steps 2 has to be Maruo and Natsu on the beach, confessing to one another and then officially becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. It was one of the most realistic depictions of romance I’ve seen in a teen-centric anime/manga. It was so quick, yet perfectly pace. There seemed to be some obstacles along the way, but in the end both of them had feelings for one another, and that’s what shone through. No needless drama or waiting until the very end of the series.
Having Maruo and Natsu became a couple part-way through the series should make for an interesting shift in dynamics, however, from what we seen thus far, nothing was that different – other than plenty of blushes and the gradual ease into handholding. It was sweet and endearing and I loved every scene with them together… apart from the time where he bet her in their practice match. That’s possibly the one moment of Baby Steps where I simply didn’t believe what happened. Natsu is a superior player in every sense, albeit one with a completely different approach. Seeing her lose rather easily to Maruo when he was nowhere near his strongest diminished her character, I felt.
Yet after that point she went on to dominate in her matches, getting closer to becoming a pro – as she should. If there was one time I wish Maruo did suffer defeat, I wish it was against his girlfriend. She is simply a more experienced and better player than him. If Baby Steps wasn’t so Maruo-centric, perhaps we could have seen Natsu’s matches in more detail – maybe I’m biased towards her character, but I would have loved this to be a story of two highschoolers fighting for the same dream, side by side, instead of Natsu being pushed to the sidelines and only touched upon from time to time. But I suppose no matter how unique a shonen sports series this is, it must still be too out there for the female lead to have as much focus as her male counterpart, even if they plays the same sport and she is undoubtably a better player than him.
It only makes sense that Baby Steps 2 ends in another defeat; Maruo simply has a lot still to learn if he wishes to be a top professional tennis player. And I believe he can be. However, It’s an unfortunate deal, because this is very likely (like 99.7%) the end of the Baby Steps anime. It’s been a wonderful ride, but it can’t compete with the other sports powerhouses that dominate the charts and heart of teenage girls. This adaptation may end here, but this is only the beginning of Maruo’s journey to become the best he can be. It’s likely to be a slow but rewarding experience – one that I have every intention of being a part of, this time by following the manga. But as for right now, Maruo’s words in the closing moments of the finale were especially poignant and almost brought a tear to my eye, and made for a perfect farewell.
Among all these incredible people, I wonder how far I can go. I’ll take one step at a time. I’ll go even further, by believing in myself.