A First Match Full of Surprises
Always weird to go from Haikyuu to Baby Steps, but it’s less the total change in style that bothers me than it is the wish that Baby Steps could look as nice as Haikyuu does (or sound for that matter, since the sound direction in this isn’t necessarily… the best either). The production values simply aren’t very high, and it’s just a shame when that’s the case for a comic this good. It’s not even that Pierrot doesn’t get the general style of Baby Steps, since most things considered, this show does look like Baby Steps. What we have just doesn’t look like a well made Baby Steps, even if it’s not awful either. Decent for what it is, is what it is. Though without any real moments where it screws up, it’s hard to be TOO too disappointed. The content shines through as it should, and the visuals aren’t even actively detrimental as they could well be (read: what is up with Fuun Ishin Dai Shogun). So yeah. It does come with some sense of wanting better, but also an acceptance that what we have isn’t gonna ruin the show.
But ignoring the spectators who look oddly familiar for some reason, we start off this episode in a very Ei-chan seeming way. Waking early, checking his notes like he’s preparing for an exam, it’s finally the day of his first actual tennis match. This is evidently a week of first game jitters, moving from Haikyuu’s Hinata, although where Hinata has his teammates to handle the proceedings, Ei-chan is going into this essentially alone. Not to mention this is his very first time playing somebody not from STC, only 4 months after the start of his career. Which is not a lot of time. At all. Winning even the first match would be lucky, and winning it against the 5th seed would be way beyond that. He’s a total newbie in all respects, though it’s totally pleasant to see that in his demeanor and actions. Not just him being a ball of nerves, but having him awkwardly stand not knowing what exactly to do, going through the process for the first time. But also him being a ball of nerves with his match being moved ahead of time due to potential weather issues. It’s tough luck for the guy, but these sort of things happen. Further yet we get a look at our 5th seed player and opponent, Oobayashi Ryo, who looks as capable as his reputation.
Thankfully, reputation is a two way street, since despite Ei-chan’s obvious worries, Ryo gets a look at the crowd Ei-chan hangs around with in STC. We’ve heard the word on them before, but it shows when people outside of STC comment on their high level. Like, we’ve got Takuma, who despite his slump is all kinds of formidable, and Natsu, who’s another 1st seed. But even beyond that, we’ve got people who are regulars in higher grade tournaments (Kanagawa being a prefectural tournament of the 4th tier, the regulars having participated in Kanto, a 2nd tier tournament). If that weren’t enough, Ei-chan even gets some luck in embellishing his status, thanks to the apparent 6th seed Yukichi and the “aniki” nickname. When you’ve got a crowd like that around your unknown opponent, Ryo has all the reason to be off his game when the match actually starts. On the flipside, Ei-chan doesn’t even have a game to be off of in the first place, nor an “on mode”. Thankfully in addition to this being a week of nervous firsts, it’s also a week of reliable senpai, since it’s Takuma who sets Ei-chan on the right track. A good ol beating and the words “Why are you worrying about what to do, when there’s nothing you can really do?” Really, it’s about that simple. As a newbie, Ei-chan really only has one or two things he can do, so his best bet is to focus on those and see where playing gets him. What a nice guy, that Takuma is.
That said, time for that first match full of surprises!
Like the big surprise that Oobayashi Ryo is a player with a focus on Serve and Volley, a style which is a dying breed in tennis. It’s a genuine tactic to use, but with tennis being a sport where the general strength and level of speed has risen significantly since its inception, it’s not a primary tactic with much use. But when it comes to low level competitions where the level of the players is understandable lower, it likely still has its place, as do players like Ei-chan who only know their basic stroke. Probably has his place here too, the lil guy. To start things off, as Ei-chan marvels at how different it feels to be stepping on a court to play an actual match, we get the tennis version of a coin flip, spinning the tennis racket and seeing if the label on the bottom of the grip is right way up or not. It’s a handy alternative, and I’m glad to see little details ingrained to the sport present. With how the scene works, it’s evident enough what’s going on, while giving that the right type flavor the show needs, being very much into tennis as a sport. That said, the flip goes in Ryo’s favor, and he’s first off to serve. It all comes rushing back to Ei-chan, what to do, which of his few skills to use, but the moment he hears the sound of the racket meeting the ball, his body moves into action, and he scores a return ace, winning a point by returning the serve, right off the bat. Surprise 1, check.
Naturally, we get the reason on why Ei-chan is able to return the shot and win himself the first game. Firstly, his experience with Takuma drove him to practice her return like no other, and that intense repetition is paying off for him now. Secondly, and a very important factor here, is that Ei-chan has excellent vision. Coach Miura expands that out of the many types of vision, most of which Ei-chan is proving to possess in spades, his dynamic vision, the ability to track moving objects, is particularly great. Since the first serve he came up against was Takuma’s monster serve, his standard for serves was higher than what his opponent could ever give him. This is a mixture of Ei-chan’s good qualities right here shining through, and no doubt Ryo’s lack of understanding of his opponent is helping as well.
Of course, winning an entire set of six games is a whole different matter. With the end of a game, the serve changes to Ei-chan, and we get to see the full destructive power of his baby serve. Sadly being able to see a powerful serve has nothing to do with ones capability of pulling such a serve off. And that’s all it really takes for Ryo to discern what kind of opponent he’s up against here. Somebody with a total lack of experience, and is surviving off the strength of the opponents shots. So he pulls a move totally befitting of his 5th seed status, and reduces the straightforward strengths of his shots. When it comes to newbie players, they return fast shots with fast shots, and weak shots with weak shots. They lack the ability to properly convey power into their shots, and it’s a fully clever move to deal with opponent like that. That, combined with somebody who’s playing to win, is really enough to deal with the four month newbie. And with Ei-chan out of weapons to use from his miniscule arsenal, the match finds itself in 5-1 situation, Ryo one game from victory.
It’s when he’s down this close to losing when Ei-chan really doesn’t want the match to end, and pulls from every pool he can in order to stay on the court. Taking what base skills he has, aiming for the middle to return any shot he can, and observing his opponent in order to get to the ball in time to prepare his stroke. It’s in this last point where Ei-chan demonstrates a skill needed to even survive in the professional world, the ability to move for the ball early. Managing to predict, through observation, that Ryo would hit the ball cross-court, Ei-chan manages to get his first point since the first game, shocking both his opponent and coach Miura. Which is absolutely a good thing, since it’s not hard to imagine that Miura wanted Ei-chan in the tournament to gauge what potential this kid held within. Up until now things were well within his expectations, judging from his reactions to the match, but it’s in this point where Ei-chan shows his true worth. A totally realistic worth which builds upon what Ei-chan is naturally good at and what he’s learned of tennis thus far. That’s the good stuff right there.