Baby Steps 2
Maruo Eiichiro, our young emoticon-faced hero, continues his quest to move into the pro tennis world, but is beginning to discover the limitations of his analytical approach to the game.
I made a promise in my review of Season One of the show, and I will keep it. Details below.
Season Two starts where Season One ended, with Maruo off to tennis camp in Florida. While I knew the Japanese sometimes consider Americans heavy-handed, I didn't know that we played [i]tennis[/i] that way too, so Maruo has to develop his muscles to keep up. (By the way, the TITLE of the series comes from something that occurs in this arc.)
Following about four episodes of Florida, Maruo is back in Japan, working his way through qualifying tournaments. The first, the Kanagawa Prefectural Tennis Championship, runs Eps. 7 to 13. It reminds us that Maruo is NOT invincible, but sometimes winning the RIGHT contests is good enough. I'm still not certain how one becomes "seeded" (ranked) in tennis, as Maruo seems to remain unseeded even when he defeats players who ARE seeds.
The Florida and Kanagawa episodes are so-so, but things get MUCH more interesting when Maruo moves on to the next stage, the Kanto Junior Tornament (Eps. 14-25). First of all, the wish I expressed in my review of Season One is finally fulfilled- Maruo's relationship with fellow club member Natsu Takasaki finally starts moving. Since they belong to the same club and go to the same tournaments, we understand that the romance will only advance in the interludes before and after the contests on the courts, but still, Maruo and Natsu finally take "giant strides" toward becoming a couple. And, fulfilling ANOTHER wish I had in my review of Season One, we DO get to see Natsu play- in fact, we see her get to play against Maru. (Natsu's actually a pretty fierce competitor.)
And that little game between Natsu and Maruo introduces a theme that we'll see repeated quite a bit this season; for Maruo's tactic of analyzing his opponents' strategies really only works well against players who only have one, or a limited number, of strategies of play, and who use them in a rational and predictable manner. "Intuitive" players like Natsu present a challenge to Maruo's habit of (literally) over-thinking his own strategy.
Two of Maruo's opponents present particular challenges for this and other reasons. The first is Yoshiaki Ide. Ide is an unpredictable "intuitive" player, but in addition, shortly before his match with Maruo, Ide helps get an injured boy medical assistance, so the stands soon fill with supporters of the "hero" Ide, who far outnumber (and thus intimidate) Maruo's little cheering section. The young boy himself soon joins the cheering for Ide- it was a little unlikely that they'd let that kid out of the hospital that soon, but hey, the script is dumping as many psychological burdens on Maruo as possible, so Maruo will have to try to win despite being publicly cast as the bad guy. Adding to Maruo's troubles is that the more enthusiastic Ide's audience gets, the stronger (and more unpredictably) he plays, which made the game as played out honestly thrilling, even for ME, and I'm not really a tennis fan. (Yes, I've reviewed two seasons of a show obsessed with tennis play and strategies. No, I can't account for the fact that I did so.) I had thought that Natsu would show up during the game and her faith in Maruo would inspire him to victory, and she DOES show up, but Maruo has his own, sometimes rather peculiar, way of working through his personal issues, which at least spared us a cliché here. (By the way, this season Maruo sort of discovers and embraces superstition as well- or a "calming ritual", whichever you'd like to call it.)
The other opponent of note is Yu Nabae, who we met in First Season. Nabae analyzes his opponent's play just like Maruo does, so Nabae knows exactly what Maruo is doing, but Nabae is himself a much more experienced player, who has a much larger repertoire of moves than Maruo does- in short, Maruo has to defeat a more mature version of himself. NOT an easy task.
Season Two retains the opening song from the First Season, "Believe In Yourself." The character art hasn't changed either- the faces in this show are often drawn in a rather crude and stark manner, but it DOES make them memorable. Natsu remains her perky, charming, confident self; I also liked Maruo's seemingly laid-back, five-o'clock-shadowed coach Aoi.
Four Stars this time- the games against Ide and Nabae were great, and Maruo finally speaks his mind toward Natsu (with just a little shoving by her.) Maruo still WAY overthinks everything (literally), though I thought it was great that he finally began to appreciate the limits of logical analysis in sports, and the value of playing by ear. I love science and logic, but maybe Mr. Spock wouldn't have made such a great tennis player. If you really love tennis, feel free to add a star. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Nothing objectionable. REALLY OK for anyone, though probably better for someone who knows the game (better than I do) and can understand all Maruo's strategizing.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (25/25)
Baby Steps 2 © 2015 Hikaru Katsuki, KODANSHA/NHK,NEP
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