Nine-Square and Reality
One Year and Twenty Notebooks
Baby Steps is one of those series which have a very clear, yet not necessarily overt appeal to them. It hits the fundamentals, it straps down to it’s core aspects and slowly works on them. This is the sort of approach which suits the series swimmingly, and if that appeal isn’t at least somewhat evident to viewers by now, then we’re likely dealing with a series which isn’t for you. Baby Steps is going to continue down this path, the one which is most fitting for Ei-chan and his sensibilities, and it’s wonderful to see those sensibilities be brought to animated reality for those who seriously dig the style at work here.
The reality of animation existing in the show being somewhat subjective at times.
Actual fact of the matter though, these two episode here show the two ways in which the results of baby steps very much present themselves. Starting from the episode 7, that being Nine-Square and Reality, we actually have two fairly distinct halves at work. The first of which covers said Nine-Square, which genuinely tells of the ability of Coach Miura in his, well, coaching duties. As Ei-chan arrives for the unusually early practice suggested by Miura, he’s set with an unfamiliar site on the court, a grid divided into nine equal square portions. The name of the game is as simple as Miura says, to hit the ball to the number called. It’s a method of bettering the basic stroke that Ei-chan has spent repeating for the past months, and does a wonderful job of both capitalizing on his general strengths as well as inspiring to better his tennis. Coach Miura has set himself to Ei-chan’s pace (as much as he can in face of 100-squares), and is doing a great job of recognizing what kind of diamond in the rough he’s dealing with. Practice which deals in Ei-chan figuring out the basics thus giving him a wide variety of options, appealing to his meticulous nature as well as keen sense with control oriented training, and finally he very much inspires the boy with the quote at the start of this blog post. It’s giving Ei-chan the weapon he needs to win, in a fashion which makes sense to him. It’s lovely to delve into this sort of practice, not being particularly flashy but absolutely appropriate for both player and cause. One step is taken with giving theory and tools for an eager student, motivating their growth.
The other half of the episode brings about an intentional encounter with Takuma, thanks to Coach Miura. Reporting in for his victory at Kanagawa, the good ol’ coach requests for him to stay behind to play a practice match with Ei-chan. His intentions aren’t necessarily mentioned, but they’re not too hard to root out. As a coach for the both of these students, this match would be a valuable training session for the newbie with an experienced player which set in the reality of what he needs to do, while on the other hand the experienced player needs to get out of his slump in order to set himself back on the path he’s strayed from. The method the latter would come true would be by seeing the efforts of the younger player, but things aren’t necessarily that simply despite the solid sounding plan.
As it is, reality is a strong force. The levels of the two players are too far apart, and Takuma wins 6-0, without any particular surprises. It would appear Miura’s attempt to teach both of the boys at the same time might’ve backfired due to enacting it too soon, but thankfully Ei-chan is so easy to bow down to reality. Rather, he accepts it, learns from it, and sets out a plan to see if he can set his own reality. As it was said before, every ball Ei-chan hits is one which he gains something useful from, and this practice match is no exception. While Takuma has been living in the shadow of his own reality of being utterly dominated by Ike Souji (an important name within the series), an immensely talented player, he claims that it doesn’t matter if Ei-chan attempts to do anything about it, be it by writing notes or creating harsher schedules for himself. Reality is reality. What I intensely like is what comes after, Ei-chan effectively declaring that he’ll see whether that’s the case for himself. His attitude is very accepting of the reality presented by Takuma, in both words and play, but he won’t be satisfied until he’s actually confirmed such things for himself. It comes out to be a very direct message to Takuma of having run away from reality, while Ei-chan accepts it and works with it. It has a sweet nuance to it that really shines through, and it’s this encounter which really carries the weight of both players taking another step forward.
And with taking steps forward, we’re met with small improvements as well as the flow of time. Since bam, all of a sudden, over the course of episode 8, we find ourselves having gone through an entire year. It’s a solid representation of another aspect of the title. If Episode 7 proves the great steps one can take with realizations and new tools, Episode 8 demonstrates how consistently applying oneself towards a goal can show improvements in many ways. It even starts from a simple change in general attitude; whereas Ei-chan used to act simply out of necessity, he’s now gained the steadfast disposition one might find through some serious ambition. These sort of things aren’t magical life changing modifiers on ones personality, but it’s notable in moments such as his interactions with his mother. This is an Ei-chan with some more confidence behind him.
It’s confidence well placed too. This guy is moving ahead in all aspects of life at varying speeds, really making himself more balanced in the process. With personal relations, he might not be totally on top of his feelings toward Nat-chan, but considering he’s moved to that name from Takasaki-san (pretty adorably so), he’s definitely not the same guy from the start of the show. And when it comes to tennis, this guy has made improvements which are way impressive, making himself to even round 3 in some small tournaments. Like, no lies there, that’s very impressive for his time with tennis, and to even be gaining a reputation that’s so very flattering, Ei-chan is really showing the potential he’s brimming with. It’s not necessarily all too apparent to him, one with no real frame of reference as to how fast progress in tennis regularly is (although he clearly knows that he’s very much a latecomer), his frustration with only making it to the third round is reasonable for someone who obviously wants to succeed. And that’s where the year comes full circle, us finding ourselves at the onset of the Kanagawa Junior Circuit one more. Now with an Ei-chan who has 1 year and 4 months under his belt, an Ei-chan who’s filled up 20 whole notebooks, it’s time to see him put Coach Miura’s theory into practice. Within a year, can he show all those at Kanagawa that he’s on their level? That’s all on him from this point onward.