Maruo Eiichirou is your predictable, crazy smart, thirty-year planning freshman in high school. His studious nature, dogged endurance, and perfectionist tendencies in all things scholarly have gained him the nickname “All – A” or “E – Chan”. Heck, his notebooks are the stuff of legends, teaching the material better than the teachers themselves. Like most bookworms though, Eiichirou is sorely lacking in the physical department. Eiichiriou’s desire to be a well rounded university student has him hungering for some exercise to fill up the bit of free time in his schedule. A chance encounter with resident school idol Takasaki Natsu gives him the physical fix he’s been looking for –tennis! He meets Natsu and the members of the Southern Tennis Club. Seeing the sheer effort all the members put towards the sport and hearing about Natsu’s goal of becoming a professional tennis player makes Eiichirou think. What is his goal? What does he want to do? In the end, Eiichirou decides to take the plunge and continue with tennis, hoping to find the answers that he is looking for.
Making its debut in 2007, Baby Steps isn’t the Prince of Tennis knock off one would think it to be. Kachiki Hikaru gives us a story of a boy’s journey not just to the top, but to understand himself. Eiichirou is your typical bookworm who discovers that there is something more to life than keeping your nose close to the print. The more he plays, the more he grows. Not just as a player, but as a person. It’s this combination of character growth and funny personality quirks that makes Eiichirou such a likeable character. His meticulous note taking and analysis of his tennis is humorous to read. At the same time it’s through this analysis of himself and the others around him that we see Eiichirou’s growth from tennis novice to a potential pro contender. Despite this, the other characters that Eiichirou encounters within Baby Steps aren’t as memorable as Eiichirou, or the slightly ditzy (but arguably brilliant) Natsu.
One of the high points of Baby Steps is Kachiki Hikaru's attention to detail. To be specific, Hikaru does a tremendous job of portraying every instance of tennis as accurately as possible. From the tennis matches, to the training sessions, to the discussions of strategies, techniques and rules – each and every detail is factually true and portrayed in a extremely realistic fashion. For example, when Eiichirou enters his first competition after training nonstop for 4 months, Hikaru is quick to point out that the latent abilities he had were only brought out as a result of that harsh training. Nevertheless, he is still a non-seeded, unranked first time competitor – the fact that his is able to do as well as he does in the following chapters is though the gradual use of his mind and available talents. The artwork in Baby Steps reflects this: anatomically correct bodies, proper character movement, etc. This style is smooth and light, except during the matches where a more rough and hurried style appears.
Take a look if you’re interested!