Among the sports anime aired this year, Baby Steps and Haikyuu!! really stood out for me. While both are sports anime, their premises couldn’t be any more different. Haikyuu!! focuses on volleyball, a team sports while Baby Steps focuses on tennis, mostly known as a single player sports. I think that in itself laid out the major differences between the two anime in terms of atmosphere, excitement and player dynamics.
Baby Steps follows the journey of an obsessive note-taker called Maruo Eiichiro. In the beginning, he’s known to taking very detailed notes for all the subjects at his school. Ei-chan, as his friends called him, even organizes his time to make sure he stays alert and healthy. When he accidentally discovers the world of tennis, Ei-chan makes good use of his note-taking skill to collect various data on his and opponents’ game plays for good use.
He ventured into the tennis world as an unfit teenager, panting just after a few shorts runs and even passed out in his first club tryout. Through sheer determination, he managed to gain fitness and slowly working his way up the ranks in the club as a serious tennis contender.
Based on what I’ve just written, Baby Steps sounds a lot like the typical anime with a main character working very hard to realize a big dream. In many ways, it’s true. But what sets it apart is the frequent monologues going around inside Ei-chan’s head every single time he plays a match. It shows his determination, hunger for victory as well as self-doubt and vulnerability. More importantly, it shows his analytical skills. He’s well aware of his standards and his position. This shows us the viewers that sometimes, we need to accept our flaws to better ourselves. We need to constantly examine what we have right now in order to take further steps ahead.
Also, what I like about Baby Steps is how the series focused on incremental building of Ei-chan’s tennis career, as opposed to a quick dash to fame. Besides his note-taking skill, the only other skill he managed to develop while waiting for his dad to return from work as a kid, is keen eye observation. These two skills aren’t really extraordinary, but it works for him and his way of tennis. Trust me, his way of tennis is nothing sparkly at all. Nonetheless, it’s still entertaining.
What’s inspiring is Ei-chan’s willingness to make reckless decisions, something that’s out of character for a super organized and rational guy like him. He makes risky decisions on court and in life. While he’s well on course to a seemingly bright future with his good grades, Ei-chan’s willing to wash it all away with a strong desire to become a tennis pro. I’m not saying it’s okay to be reckless. We need to brave sometimes to make changes in our lives. Let go of what we’ve achieved and start from scratch.
To be honest, my favorite of the two is Haikyuu!!. It showcases much more energetic casts with roaring enthusiasm in their matches. Karasuno team is especially rowdy with hyperenergetic character lead Hinata Shouyou alongside Nishinoya and Tanaka. Be it an official match or a practice match, the Karasuno team never let viewers down with its intensity and willpower. It’s important to note though, besides Taneshima, all of the members get along well. Even though I singled out Taneshima, he’s still a team player despite lacking the enthusiasm on the front.
What makes Haikyuu!! so enjoyable is the well executed storyline. It seamlessly shows the team’s progress from one phase to another. Karasuno started out as the forgotten heroes, being constantly looked down by opponents after years of failing to yield good tournament results. The seniors on the team expressed doubts on their skills, but are willing to step up to the game when called for. On the other hand, the freshmen were eager to play and contribute. Slowly, the team transforms.
The matches are highlights of Haikyuu!!. Viewers will be constantly left on the edges of their seats with episode cliffhangers and whatnot. Some matches are more exciting than others. However, they’re all enjoyable. It’s really nice to see all teams are united and rarely have clashes of individuality as seen in sports anime like Kuroko no Basuke in which the Generation of Miracles received special treatments and are egoistic. During games, they know they can count on each other to strengthen their weaknesses too. I’m sure anyone who has seen Haikyuu!! would immediately think about Kageyama Tobio as a self-centered player. But he’s changed, hasn’t he? It doesn’t take long to see Kageyama’s changes, which is a good thing because it makes watching Karasuno playing all the more fun!
More importantly, in Haikyuu!!, it clearly shows for each team and player that the biggest wall to overcome isn’t the long arms extended on the other side of the net, but themselves. They worked hard to make sure they are not only physically fit, but also mentally.
As opposed to Baby Steps’ quiet and calm Maruo Eiichiro, Hinata is super loud and energetic. While Ei-chan expressed his thoughts internally, Hinata loves to openly speak about his thoughts. He’s not shy to express awe, disappointment and tears. In fact, his excitement is contagious. I’d like to believe that whoever’s watching Haikyuu!! is also affected by his fun-loving personality. He doesn’t sweat too much on details. In Hinata’s simple mind, he only has one goal – to win.
Both anime have their highlights unique to themselves and are titles I’ll recommend to anime fans who loves to watch anime sports. Haikyuu!! may appeal to those who only watch anime occasionally too. These two titles are also the first two sports anime I watch on weekly basis and I tell you, it’s a torture!!
Anyway, these are my thoughts of what I think could be the best sports anime in 2014. Have you watch these titles? If yes, what do you think?