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Manga: Baby Steps

Maruo Eiichirou is a model high school student. Known by his classmates as “All-A” or “Ei-chan”, Eiichirou has a reputation for being studious and a perfectionist. Pretty much dedicating his entire life to studying, cram school, and school committee meetings, everything he does is to further his goal of becoming a successful, responsible adult. He’s even recently decided to start exercising… to make getting around easier when he goes to university, of course.

One day while checking out a local tennis center, Eiichirou runs into Takasaki Natsu, a popular girl from another class who is widely considered to be the school's idol. Having only met Natsu once before and gotten the impression that she was a bit irresponsible, Eiichirou is surprised to see her playing tennis with determination and skill. She convinces him to try playing a few rounds with her club, but E—chan quickly learns that even their warm-up routine is too grueling for him to compete with.

While talking with Natsu afterward, Eiichirou finds out that tennis is not just her hobby… she plays with such passion because it is her dream to one day become a professional player. When she compares her dedication to the sport to his studying, Eiichirou realizes that the two are entirely different. He’s not really sure why he is so hard-working and diligent. In fact, he’s not even sure if he has any dreams for his future.

At that moment, Eiichirou decides that he will give tennis a try as well, both in order to understand what drives Natsu to play the way that she does and, hopefully, to see if he can find a passion of his own.

Baby Steps is a sports manga written and illustrated by Kachiki Hikaru. Debuting in October of 2007, this series runs in Weekly Shonen Magazine and is published by Kodansha.


Tropes used in Baby Steps:

  • Accidental Athlete: Eiichiro. He very suddenly and unintendedly finds himself practicing tennis driven by a pushy mother, his own obsessive nature, and a crush on Natsu. Unique example in that he didn't have any apparent talents that made him fit for the sport, his own unique talents (his capacity for observation and his visual reaction speed) are discovered later on.
  • Accidental Pervert: When a flustered Eiichirou was caught hiding behind a bleacher while watching Natsu play tennis for the first time, a young member of the tennis club accused him of being an “degenerate old stalker” despite Eiichirou’s fervent protestations of innocence.
  • The Ace: Ike Souji, considered the best player in all of Japan and respected as the best player in one of the most prestigious Tennis schools in Florida.
  • Adorkable: Eiichirou.
  • Advice Backfire: Araya gives Kouji Nishimura advice on playing Eiichiro, which mostly consists of "he's a weak, defensive player." The analysis stems from Araya's game against Eiichiro from the prior year, and he has become a completely different player during that time.
  • Almighty Janitor: While Eiichirou becomes skilled enough to compete with some of the strongest characters fairly quickly, he still remains unseeded due to being new at the sport. He grows out of it soon enough.
  • Always Someone Better:
    • Nabae Yuu to Eiichiro.
    • Takuma to Araya.
    • Aki Shimizu to Natsu.
    • Ike Souji to everyone.
      • Except Katsumi Ogata who bested him in their younger years before an injury temporarily took him out of the game.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Back to back. Eiichiro asks Takuma if he wants to become a professional tennis player. This enrages him, at which point Eiichiro asks him why he gets so angry. Eventually, this confrontation, and witnessing Eiichiro's determination in the face of overwhelming odds, set Takuma back on the path to becoming a pro player.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Eiichirou's primary method of learning tennis is through careful analysis. When the natural talent Natsu looks at his notebook for the first time, she is amazed to see that he has taken careful notes of everything she's told him and every move he's made, complete with drawn diagrams, angles, and trajectories.
    • Later on we meet Nabae Yuu, who analyzes his opponents and his own style as detailedly, if not more so, as Eiichirou himself; going as far as building an extensive database in his computer. It turns out this is a very effective method of approaching tennis, as he is the first seed of the All-Japan Junior tournament.
  • Beach Episode/Pool Episode: One of each, with plot developments both times.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Not a physically violent example but Eiichirou didn't take too kindly to Ike joking about Natsu being his fiance. It was lampshaded by another student.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Araya is one of the strongest players in the series in terms of power, and is also one of the friendliest and most talkative characters in the series.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Takuma starts out this way.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Justified. Every new character comments on Eiichiro's strange notebook habit, but his obsessive studying helps him to excel at tennis (and everything else he does).
  • Butt Monkey: Eiichirou, at first.
    • Yuichi starts out as a decently skilled player in the series(even being one of the seeded players in Kanagawa). As time goes on, he gets comically defeated by stronger opponents.
  • Can't Catch Up: Takuma to Ike Souji, which presumably is what led to him deciding to not even bother trying anymore, much to the coach's chagrin. He then starts training seriously again when Ei-chan starts showing signs of growth, determined not to let him catch up.
    • Eiichirou encounters this for a long time, especially at his training camp where he's unable to defeat any of those training to be pros.
  • Can't Spit It Out: Eiichirou towards Na-chan, as expected. Interestingly, the first real time he attempted it, he only got past the first syllable but she already know what he meant to say.
  • Character Development: Many characters; Takuma is probably the best example.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Coach Aoi teaches Eiichiro the between-the-legs shot in Chapter 71. It isn't shown or mentioned again until Chapter 153, when Eiichiro uses it to defeat Ide Yoshiaki in the final game of their match.
  • Combat Commentator: Particularly Coach Aoi, but other characters also serve this purpose. Eiichiro frequently serves as this in his head during his own matches.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Takagi Sakuya uses almost any tactics to win as long as it's within boundaries, including provoking and/or pissing off his opponents.
  • Cool Of Rule: The author goes to great lengths to ensure every aspect of the sport is portrayed realistically and within the realm of physics, and NEVER skirts around or ignores the rules of the sport for the sake of plot. Even Ei-chan's growth is within the realm of possibility in the real world.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Matches with Ike turn into this for Eiichirou - the latter is the loser, of course
    • Later Eiichiro delivers one himself during the Kanagawa Prefecture Junior Tennis Competition, to Nishimura, in spite or perhaps even BECAUSE of the fact that Nishimura himself gathered information about him from one of Eiichirou's past rivals in order to gain an edge over him.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Initially captivated by her good looks and frank demeanor, Eiichiriou’s first impression of Natsu took a downward turn when she immediately tripped and fell into another student’s lunch… getting food all over the World History notes she had just borrowed from him. Remembering her cute expression of when apologizing, however, he realized that he couldn’t hold a grudge for long.
  • Determinator: Eiichirou shows shades of this early on, as when he can't remember how he made his first "perfect shot" in tennis by accident, he practices for hours against the wall every day until he can duplicate it.
  • Education Mama: Eiichiro's mother worries that his deepening involvement in tennis will affect his (near-perfect) grades, leading to his do-or-die "one year" ultimatum.
  • Everyone Can See It: Most characters are shocked to learn that Eiichiro and Natsu aren't dating. Until Chapter 135.
  • Evil Counterpart: Not really evil per se, but Nabae Yuu serves as the analytical genius antagonist to Eiichiro.
  • Fission Mailed: Coach Aoi doesn't believe Eiichiro is ready to beat the top national players, and states he must win the Kanagawa Junior Tennis Circuitnote  in order to reach the top 16 in Kanto and qualify for the All-Japan Junior tournament. Eiichiro loses to Araya in the Kanagawa finals, fails to become seeded, and is matched up against high-ranked Ide Yoshiaki in the All-Japan Junior qualifying match. He wins anyway.
  • Gonk: Yukichi Fukazawa starts off as a normal-looking boy, but his face quickly shifts into an absurdly comic style compared to the rest of the cast.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Subverted with Eiichiro, but realistically played straight with the introduction of Coach Aoi, whose first lesson to Eiichiro is on the perils of working too hard.
  • Hero of Another Story: Ide Yoshiaki's back story is completely littered with sports movie clichés. He's given an entire cast of supporting characters, a compulsion to risk forfeiting his qualifying match to help a child in a car accident (and subsequently, a promise to the wheelchair-bound child), an ability to draw strength from his spontaneously huge fan base, and a tendency to always come from behind in all of his games. It's no surprise that his match with Eiichiro spans sixteen chapters and ends in ridiculously dramatic fashion.
    Random spectator: Wow, it feels like I'm really watching a movie!!
  • Heroic BSOD: The series begins with Takuma in the midst of one. Eiichiro starts to drift into one during the Florida arc - his peers note that he starts off in unusually high spirits for someone who loses so much, but it fades as he keeps losing - but being The Determinator, he powers through it.
  • Heroic RROD: Coach Aoi's tennis career ended when injuries left him unable to play at the professional level. He chooses to specialize in physical conditioning to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
  • Heroic Second Wind: In the beginning of the story, Eiichiro takes on Takuma in a challenge to return just one of 50 serves. He starts to feel all hope is lost when Natsu appears and shouts out a piece of advice to him. This gives him the strength he needs to continue on. Although the trope is subverted because Eiichiro never manages to return a serve, he does noticeably better late in the challenge, forcing Takuma to hit a slice serve for his last shot.
  • Hoist by Her Own Petard: Eiichiro's mother was the one who pushed him into going to the Southern Tennis Club, and start practicing tennis, and not very kindly. A move she probably came to regret months later, when Eiichiro informed her that he wanted to try becoming a professional tennis player, a decision that she very strongly disapproved of.
  • Honor Before Reason: Eiichiro risks his chances at making it to the All-Japan Junior tournament, and thus his entire future plans to pursue professional tennis, when he declines a chance to force Ide Yoshiaki to forfeit their match for being late.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Natsu's rival, Aki Shimizu, develops a crush on Eiichiro. Then she finds out he's Natsu's boyfriend.
  • Hot-Blooded: Araya.
  • I Can Still Fight: Eiichiro takes one of Takuma's powerful serves to the face, but stands up and resumes playing.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: Hiromi Iwasa is quite good at tennis, for someone who uses his skills to "draw pictures" with the ball during a match.
  • Informed Flaw: Eiichiro's higher-level control techniques (1/81, 1/100) are supposed to be more risky and inaccurate, but later in the series, they never seem to miss when used.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Eiichiro has constantly improved throughout the course of the series, so he has likely improved enough for those techniques to no longer have those drawbacks.
  • Jack of All Stats: Eiichirou himself. He becomes good at all the major shots(lob, serve), court-covering, ball control, etc. However, he lacks any particular finishing shot like other players, which is why it's stated to be his weakness.
    • Not anymore, he now has an above average serve that he got from mimicking Takuma, and his focus is very much in ball control.
    • He gets another upgrade after incorporating a variant of Okada's Bazooka, a super-fast jump-shot with slight top spin for better control, in his match against Ogata.
  • Jerkass: Takuma can often be overly aggressive towards the protagonist, and has a tendency to look down on many characters. He is later eclipsed by Takagi Sakuya, who has no respect for anyone and will use any tactic he can to get into his opponents' heads and beat them.
  • Keet: Ide Yoshiaki.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Araya's strengths are his power and speed on the court.
  • Lovable Nerd: Eiichirou, even in universe. Despite the fact that he's pretty nerdy and always at the top of his class, he seems to win the respect and admiration from the majority of his classmates.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Kageyama likes Sasaki who likes Eiichiro, who in turn likes Natsu, who is also liked by Takuma.
    • If 'slightly interested' counts, Ide Yoshiaki's group has one between the two girls, one of the boys and Ide himself. The two girls like Ide, although one wants to give her friend the best chance with him, the other boy is 'slightly interested' in the one who doesn't count as the above and Ide is blissfully oblivious to everything except tennis.
  • Meaningful Name: Eiichirou's nickname of "All-A" not only refers to the Japanese pronunciation of the first letter of his name, but also to his impeccable grades in every school subject.
  • Mega Manning: Eiichirou adopts a variant of the Okada bazooka on the spot against Ogata, as his biggest weakness until now is his lack of power, most glaring against someone with a higher technical degree as Ogata is.
  • Men Are Tough / Women Are Delicate: Not addressed for most of the series. Natsu is one of the top female players, and Eiichiro works his way into the upper ranks of the male players, but boys and girls generally do not play each other. When the two finally face off against each other in Chapters 112-113, Coach Aoi teases Eiichiro that he shouldn't lose to a girl, and ultimately, the tropes are played straight; he crushes her 6-1.
  • Mouthy Kid: Yuuki, the youngest member of Natsu's tennis club who originally thought Eiichirou was either a spy for another club or a "degenerate old stalker". Since then, he never misses an opportunity to give Ei-chan a hard time.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Eiichiro develops his tennis style based on control in order to combat the power and speed development of other players. In many of his matches, bystanders note that he isn't particularly stronger physically, but his control allows him to dominate the match. Sometimes subverted, particularly with Araya.
  • Naïve Newcomer: We learn the "Ins and Outs" of tennis through the eyes of novice Eiichirou
  • Neat Freak: Eiichirou values tidiness, which shows in his writing, manner of dress, and how orderly he arranges his boxed lunches. However he truly takes this Up to Eleven with his habit of taking two sets of notes during class, one for studying and lending out to his classmates so that his treasured “master copy” can remain pristine.
  • Nice Guy: Eiichirou. This is one of the reasons that Natsu trusts him with her "big secret" (of wanting to someday become a professional tennis player) on the first day they met.
    Eiichirou: "Why did you let me in on your secret?"
    Natsu: "... because it's you. I mean, I know you wouldn't tell anyone."
    Eiichirou: "But you can't be sure of that!"
    Natsu:: "I'm sure."
  • Open the Iris: This technique is used to reflect Eiichirou's shock when Kageyama suggests he knows the reason Ei-chan got into tennis.
    Kageyama: "... you like Takasaki-san, don't you!?"
    Eiichirou (his irises shrinking to tiny dots): "EEEEEEEHHHHHH!?!?!"
    Kageyama: "What's with that reaction?"
  • Plucky Girl: Eiichiro admires this trait about Natsu. The trope is subverted every time he mentions it to her, as she then immediately tells him of all her inner insecurities.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Natsu tries to fight this off the day after her victory at the Kanto tournament, so it doesn't interfere with her date with Eiichiro.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Eiichiro's rise in tennis, sudden and unlikely as it seems, is within the realm of human possibility.
  • Relationship Upgrade: As of Chapter 135 for Eiichirou and Natsu.
  • Romantic False Lead: Played with. Ike Souji tells Eiichiro he's engaged to Natsu, but quickly adds that it was just a joke after the latter becomes upset.
  • School Idol: Natsu, who Kageyama refers to as "The school's #1 cutie."
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Justified with the Kanagawa tournament; anything less than complete victory severely jeopardizes Eiichiro's chances of making it to the All-Japan Junior tournament.
  • Stock Aesop: The “Follow Your Dreams” aesop plays a very strong role in this series.
  • Shadow Archetype: Nabae Yuu has a similar analytical tennis style to Eiichiro, but has taken it to a level where he is one of the best players in Japan(even better than Takuma).
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Until she is.
  • Shipper on Deck: Kageyama ships Eiichiro and Natsu, though not without his own personal motives.
  • Shown Their Work: This manga is rare among sports manga not only in that it avoids the exaggeration of the characters' skills in superhuman and caricaturistic levels, but in that it painstakingly details EVERY aspect of the sport in a realistic fashion. From the very basic techniques and training methods of tennis, to common occurrences among those who practice it, such as injuries or slumps and their psychological impact.
  • The Stoic: Nabae Yuu. Subverted; he is shown to have a quick temper when things don't go his way, but as the #1 seed in Japan, that doesn't happen much.
  • Stone Wall: Takagi may use cheap tricks, but even Maruo admits that his stamina is quite amazing. On the flip side, he doesn't have many significant strengths.
  • Super OCD: Eiichiro.
  • Take a Third Option: In Florida, Eiichiro is given the choice to work on power or speed as his primary weapon. He chooses control instead. His instructors develop an entirely new program for this.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Eiichiro being the technician, Takuma being the performer.
  • This Cannot Be!: Kouji Nishimura, when Eiichiro's tennis game turns out to be much better than advertised.
  • Those Two Guys: Kageyama and Sasaki, although Sasaki is a girl. Once the Love Dodecahedron settles, they basically function as Eiichiro's cheering section.
  • Title Drop: When Eiichirou returned from Florida.
    "Baby steps turn into giant strides"
  • Took a Level in Badass: The point of the Florida arc.
  • Tournament Arc: It's a manga about tennis. What did you expect?
  • Training from Hell: Kanda Hisashi's training conditions horrify even Eiichiro, who doesn't know how to stop pushing himself to extremes.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Ultimately subverted in major tournaments when it comes to going all the way for Eiichirou, despite being played straight in the early stages against much higher-fancied opponents.
  • Unsound Effect: After his first grueling day of tennis training, Ei-chan's inability to stand up from his desk was denoted by "shivering" sound effects.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Coach Aoi's first instructions to Eiichiro? Take two days off and do whatever you want. The hard-working Eiichiro is not amused, until he realizes he had been working too hard, and letting his desire to improve overwhelm his enthusiasm for tennis.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Eiichirou's playing style has no real power behind it, lacking any decisive shots or powerful returns. That being said, he can mentally divide the opponent's court area up into 64 squares and accurately put the ball into any of those squares at will.
    • Not so much anymore, he outgrew this after his trip to Florida and his latest match with Takuma, Eiichiro has developed a very decisively offensive control oriented style of tennis, backed by a powerful serve and precise footwork made only possible by complete physical reconditioning to strengthen his muscles and increase his stamina, even Miyagawa who Eiichiro defeated in their last match via a mixture of luck and determination, was quick to notice how he Took a Level in Badass and that he should probably consider him a completely different player. It is of course, difficult to notice the upgrade even for the reader up to that point, since the Manga does a very good job in presenting Eiichiro's progress very gradually, and in a very detailed and borderline realistic fashion.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: Eiichiro's reaction to Natsu asking him out.
    Natsu: Then... go out with me.
    Eiichiro: Oh, if it's something like that, I'll... huh? What??
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Eiichirou's match against First seed Nabae Yuu; it seems like Eiichirou will make a comeback in his match, due to his newfound weapon of control. Nope, the referee incorrectly calls his shot out right at match point.
  • Younger than They Look: Eiichiro is shocked to find out that Marcia is only thirteen years old. He was sure they were the same age.

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alternative title(s): Beibi Suteppu; Baby Steps
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