Face of Conviction
Another week, another fun and solid episode. This is about the mix Baby Steps really should be hitting for its current point in the story. We’re still easing our way into the way the series works, how tennis works, and particularly how Maruo works. Conveniently enough, the first and third points are very much related, as I’ve gone over before. Maruo is the type of MC who really is the spirit of the comic, as his nature is almost indistinguishable from the nature of the comic. They’re similar in all the right ways, and when you have two methodical points go after the second one of tennis, it’s a combination that really works. At least, it does here. And for me. Probably some other people too? The series really isn’t the type to generate buzz, but it’s nice seeing some people show their appreciation for the series. It’s a gentle trek for now, but pretty thoroughly enjoyable.
Besides Takuma. Since the man is not gentle, though not entirely ruthless either. The challenge set from next week gets off to an immediate start with Ei-chan dodging the balls coming his way. Which is totally natural, considering Takuma’s already impressive serve from the previous episode is only strengthened here, as he’s playing far more seriously. His serves are stated as his number one weapon, along with his physical stature which the serves take advantage of, and it shows. These are in a speed of their own, and Ei-chan tumbles around like a total amateur as they comes their way. Sigh. You’d have better luck closing your eyes, hitting those balls.Though as it turns, Ei-chan is definitely not an individual without his skills. But they’re very well built here. As we’ve seen for the past three episodes, he’s somebody who very much takes in his surroundings and absorbs all the information that he can. It might take him a little moment of considering himself to focus, but after that he’s all game. And that’s part of why Ei-chan can succeed. Firsly, he’s able to correct himself from dodging the balls to trying to chase them. But that ain’t enough here, and thankfully Nacchan arrives, and regardless of the situation, manages to give Ei-chan the advice of meeting the ball instead. Of course, Nacchan is totally a different type from Ei-chan, but he’s able to parse the sentences and make sense of it anyway. He has the skill to pick up on both small things and decipher what he sees / hears. For a sport like tennis, that can sincerely help a whole lot.
Also, just to add here. There’s probably another way Ei-chan could have gone here, another method he could have used in order to return the ball. When it comes to inexperienced players and returning proper serves, or even just generally strong strokes, you can return the ball by having a stable stance and simply putting your racket in the way of the ball. The power of their shot is enough to bring the ball back over. Speaking totally from experience here, and with Takuma’s super intense serve, this would continue to hold true. Though naturally, since Ei-chan is incredibly focused on using his one weapon, being the thing he’s practiced constantly, this sort of option wouldn’t come to mind. Plus with Nacchan giving her advice, Ei-chan got on track to meeting the ball properly with his stroke, using his entire body (not just his face) to return the ball with his weight. This would be the generally proper way to return the ball, and no doubt the option Ei-chan would prefer to go through. An option he’s clearly finding some success in.
That alone doesn’t really mean much, yet at the same time, it means so very much. He can’t return Takuma’s serve accurately at all, although he can now meet it and slowly get better at returning. The coach, Miura, is entirely right in his thought process here, noting that Ei-chan must be able to see extensively in order to improve himself this markedly. To even return a serve like that you need to be able to have proper reflexes. You simply wouldn’t have enough time to otherwise. And so, as he notes after the match, looking through the notes Ei-chan hurriedly scribbles in the 20 second allotted time between serves, that Ei-chan is able to note the trajectory of every ball that came his way. This is where his observation comes to its zone. The kid has some seriously good eyes. He can follow the ball, even at Takuma’s speed, be it with his eyes or face. And that’s a skill which can be make or break. His face.
I can’t get over them naming the episode Face of Conviction.
As far as Ei-chan’s skill-set can take him, it doesn’t matter all too much, when Takuma uses a slice serve for his final ball. Like a major jerk. For an amateur like Ei-chan, who only knows direct shots, it’s impossible to return or even meet. Of course, the very fact that Takuma decided to serve differently is a sign that he was aware of Ei-chan’s skills. He decides not to punch the little dork at all, and it’s questionable if he ever planned to. Neither side truly wins, though thanks to this display, Ei-chan doesn’t lose either. Miura has his interest piqued, and recommends Ei-chan take part in the local Kanagawa junior’s tournament. With only four months under his belt as he heads for his first tournament, this is the place for Ei-chan to truly see the wonders of tennis!
But that’s for later. Before that, lots of cute scenes and mental preparation for even going to a tournament in the first place.
We get some interesting moments in the latter half of the episode, for both within the series and thinking on the adaptation itself. Firstly we get another look at the differences between Ei-chan and Nacchan, coming from the perspectives of their English, while meeting what I can only assume to be an American at STC. It’s a cute little scene, and goes to show that knowledge alone isn’t enough when it comes to action. Continuing from that, Ei-chan is still clearly not up to the level he thinks he should be for the tournament, which is honestly fair enough if he’s still passing out during practice. It’s tough getting into a sport when you’re not a kid. Though it’s tough regardless.
That said, we also get the brackets for the tournament, and an introduction to Fukazawa Yukichi, insisting on calling Ei-chan “aniki”, clearly impressed with his “challenge” to Takuma. With his help, and enthusiastic blabbering, we get a look at the general tourney system in place: brackets, and seeds. Players with a high rank are called seeded players, and they get their own special positions on the brackets, separating themselves from each other. So Ei-chan, being the new kid on the block, ends up facing a seeded player on his very first round, seed 5 Oobayashi Ryo. How mysterious, this unknown individual. We also get a little more on Takuma, although it’s not necessarily too much more than what we knew already. Highly skilled, low motivation for some reason. But as it is, he’s seed 1 of the tournament. While Nacchan is seed 1 for the women’s side. STC is pretty quality.
The most noteworthy moment comes afterwards, with Nacchan talking to Ei-chan about the tournament and the pressure involved. This is his first tournament, and he’s not even sure he should be taking part in it. To his surprise, Nacchan totally sympathizes, clearly recognizing the anxiety he’s going through. Nacchan gets a little peeved over Ei-chan’s surprise, and explains that as first seed, she only has expectations of victory set upon her. It’s exactly for reactions like Ei-chan’s why she gets anxious, and it’s really only natural. You’re alone on tennis court, so rather than any pressure to take along with you, it’s much better to take the cheers. There’s no guarantee on any player winning, after all. It’s an endearing moment, and it feels like it hit the right notes even here in the anime.
So overall, we have an episode that’s on par with the previous ones, and that’s absolutely the track I’m happy to see the show on. Another track I’m glad to see is that there appear to be plans to continue down the manga road, for at least a while. The exam score scene is anime original, but it hints at two other characters, and while the girl is somebody we can ignore until her introduction, the guy would suggest the anime has plans to follow the manga up until a point at least. Which is absolutely nice. It’s not guaranteed, naturally, but nice.