Posted on 28 December 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports, Reviews by SuperWooper

In the weeks leading up to the summer 2017 season, Ballroom e Youkoso was one of the most buzzed-about new series. Produced by the Production I.G. team responsible for the smash hit Haikyuu!!, and set to air on Amazon’s brand new Anime Strike service, the series had no shortage of promotion or hype behind it. All that remained was for the creative staff to carefully transfer Takeuchi Tomo’s manga to the small screen, and they mostly succeeded – at least, in conveying its individual images and moments. But sports anime have evolved beyond an upper limit of simple panel-by-panel adaptations, and in the end, Ballroom didn’t manage to keep pace with its contemporaries. While its characters deserve some praise, both for their designs and their personalities, the series is limited by shounen clichés, haphazard progression, and an inadequate sense of movement during dance competitions.

The show’s lead character is one Fujita Tatara, whose general listlessness is gradually transformed into passion after he accidentally discovers ballroom dance. Tatara’s timid nature stands in stark contrast to the more dominant personalities he encounters throughout the series, and the show makes good use of that difference to portray Tatara’s personal growth in tandem with his improvement as a dancer. Though he is initially intimidated by rival characters both aloof and hotheaded, he learns from and ultimately befriends them as the series goes along. His relationships with three girls, all of whom serve as his dancing partner for some length of time, are even more central to Ballroom’s formula. Tatara struggles with the traditional notion of male-dominated performances, and aims to cooperate with his partners as best he can. There might have been some interesting social commentary to be had here, but the show smothered that potential during its second half by pushing the idea that its protagonist ought to become a perfect leader, but never satisfactorily explaining what that meant or how to do it.

Despite some muddled goal-setting, Ballroom’s characters are fun to spend time with, and worth learning about in detail. The show frequently explores performance anxiety, feelings of inferiority and stagnation, and even digs into the dark personal lives of its cast once or twice. But more common than these positive tendencies are competition-interrupting flashbacks and clunky comments from nameless observers, which become more common and more frustrating the longer the show goes on. Even Tatara’s biggest rival, an unflappable genius by the name of Hyodo Kiyoharu, begins seeing into the heads of other dancers by the show’s end, describing exactly what they’re feeling and perfectly evaluating their performances as a stand-in for the writers. This may have been necessary, however, in light of the show’s most glaring issue – for a show about ballroom dance, there isn’t nearly enough dancing to be found.

Many of the show’s problems intensify in its second half, but its poor dance animation is more noticeable in the early episodes. Even with an eventual uptick in the number of prolonged choreographed sequences, however, the damage is done at the start, with plenty of panning stills, reaction shots, CG dancers, and speed lines instead of honest-to-goodness dancing. Audience members aren’t given a proper introduction to the sport in motion, so we have to fall back on snippets of verbal speculation about whose stamina is giving out, or whether Tatara has finally learned how to execute a proper hold. This robs several key scenes of the impact they deserve, though others are bolstered by Ballroom’s frequent use of visual metaphor during competitions. If you cut your teeth on sports anime from the 90’s or early 2000’s, these techniques may not be too bothersome, but fans of newer titles in the genre may find the lack of dynamic movement disappointing.

This aspect of the show does improve as the series draws to a close, but there’s a trade-off to be made. Several characters are marginalized to make room for a brash newcomer, and her transition from manga to anime is less than seamless. The series also succumbs to a shounen tradition with which most anime fans will be quite familiar, though for the sake of potential viewers I won’t get too specific. Still, Ballroom ends well, and my original affection for the show did return for the final episode, so there’s reason to hang in there if you’re already halfway done. There’s little hope for a season 2, based on the lack of remaining source material, but if you’re reading this in the future and a sequel has emerged, you may be wondering whether the original is worth your time. My advice: if you’re a fan of sports anime, sample three episodes and see how you like it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

Posted on 23 December 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

This is going to be a loose, informal series of takes on the last four episodes of Ballroom e Youkoso. We’re saving the professionalism for the series review post. If you think this show is the best thing since sliced bread, or just a competent anime series that you happen to enjoy, you’ll want to avert your eyes.

21: I recently had a conversation with my brother about whether art can be objectively labeled “good” or “bad.” Take anime, for example. Show the same episode to 100 different people, and you’ll get 100 varying ideas about how “good” it was. There’s no perfect metric that can be used to determine the quality of an artistic work – or so I thought, until I watched this episode. It is now my belief that you can fairly and impartially measure how bad an anime is by the length of its flashbacks and digressions. This episode was full of them, and it all started with a two-and-a-half minute free association exercise by our resident rival character, Hyodo Kiyoharu. We got scenes of him grilling his mom about her coaching technique, his opinions on the strengths of different dance partners, and a breakdown of stretches that can increase mobility, all in the middle of Tatara’s performance. This was just the beginning, as the show proceeded to bring Shizuku, Mako, Gaju, and a couple of sideline reporters in on the fun. No amount of metaphorical door kicks could save this episode from distracting itself to death.


Posted on 23 November 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

It seems that the closer Ballroom e Youkoso gets to the end of its run, the further it moves from my strike zone. The series’ wide-ranging cast is its greatest asset, so you’d think that an extended flashback exploring Akira and Chinatsu’s shared past would be a slam dunk, but these episodes left me cold. There are too many hurdles for the show to overcome, between a lack of expressive motion, inconsistent portrayals of skill and compatibility, superfluous dialogue, and poor scene transitions. Assuming I continue doing double-episode posts, I’ve only got two more to go, but I’m dreading the final review that lies beyond them. Takeuchi Tomo, the original creator, has given us the heads-up that the Ballroom anime may receive an original ending due to delays in the manga’s release schedule, which only adds to my apprehension. Then again, the show has been pretty faithful to its source and still ended up in this rut, so maybe some fresh material is just what it needs.

There was a minor controversy surrounding Ballroom’s 41st chapter (from which “Rival” draws) a while back. When it was first published in Monthly Shounen Magazine, it contained a page where Akira thought to herself, “What I love is something else.” She expresses a similar thought in this episode (though Amazon’s subs use “like” instead of “love”), a reference to her affection for Chinatsu, rather than the sport that binds them. However, when chapter 41 was included in a compiled volume of the Ballroom manga, that text was removed, probably because it suggests a same-sex attraction on Akira’s part. Coming into this episode, I was curious which way the show would lean, and to my pleasant surprise, they included the line. In fact, this episode was heavy with lesbian subtext, from Akira’s descriptions of heart-pounding excitement at being around Chinatsu, to her “embarrassment” at studying the nape of her neck, to her jealousy at the thought of anyone else teaming up with Chinatsu.

Now we know that Akira is gay (or at least bisexual), and that her attraction to her former partner has shaped their relationship coming into adolescence. We even delve into her psyche a bit, as she manipulates Chinatsu into dancing the boy’s part because she prefers her in a “male” role, and labels her feelings as “wretched.” Despite its success in telling their story, however, Ballroom fails to connect it to the larger picture of the current arc. Akira dances to be close to Chinatsu, not because of a particular love for competition; Tatara’s current goal is to become a better competitor by understanding what it means to lead. Those ideas don’t have much to do with one another, although you could argue that the show has lost sight of Tatara’s arc, as well. The show is constantly giving us mixed messages about both him and Chinatsu. Take Mine-san’s evaluation of the pair, for example: “They have childish faces, but their childishness has disappeared.” Hello?! How does this explain Chinatsu’s relentless mocking of Akira in this episode (which kind of undercut the emotional aspect of their backstory), or Tatara’s exasperating timidity?

That brings me to my next point, about the lack of consistency surrounding the show’s treatment of the Tatara/Chinatsu partnership. Just a couple weeks ago they were in the zone, flying through the early rounds of the competition, and using their clashing personalities to push each other to new heights. We even got that scene where Chinatsu was viscerally influenced by Tatara’s movement, so much so that it threatened to overtake her. Then we get to these episodes, and the entire peanut gallery is shit-talking them, Chinatsu is acting totally aloof, and they’re literally stepping on each other’s feet. Then we move to the slapstick second half of “Friend,” which features a scene where Hyodo sits on Tatara’s back and “separates his muscles” over his anguished cries, while Chinatsu and Akira nonchalantly eat bananas in the foreground… I’m cool with anime moving rapidly between different styles and tones, but only if they establish that versatility as a part of their DNA, and Ballroom has never been as wacky or felt as conflicted as it was here. The majority of this doubleheader’s appeal was lost on me, but hey, there’s only four episodes to go.

Posted on 11 November 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

It’s a good thing I didn’t go back to single episode reviews, as I promised last time, because these two didn’t leave me with a whole lot to talk about. Much of “Performer” was spent bringing Tatara and Chinatsu back together after their spat from the previous installment, but since I didn’t buy into that conflict in the first place, it ended up feeling like more of a hangout episode (with plenty of fanservice and shipping to boot). We got some uncommon character pairings, too, like Chinatsu/Mako and Tatara/Shizuku, the latter of which is a rarity these days. And while these sorts of cast shake-ups might have delighted me a couple months ago, they seemed rather utilitarian here, given the need for our main couple’s big breakup to be reversed. Thankfully, the chill-inducing conclusion to “Competitor No. 13” justified the show’s clumsier machinations – but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Ballroom e Youkoso has devoted what seems like a dozen monologues to the ideas that 1) Tatara is a poor leader, and 2) he and Chinatsu aren’t a good fit. There’s a glaring issue with this constant hammering of the same couple points, and it’s one I’ve tried not to mention too often, since it’s such a widely repeated criticism of the show. Maybe this episode was the straw that broke the camel’s back, though, because I’m compelled to bring it up: the dancing direction isn’t strong enough to communicate the same messages. We hear it verbally, but we rarely see Tatara failing as a leader. What we see are a lot of still shots, anguished expressions, and reactions from judges or crowd members. Moreover, Ballroom hasn’t properly shown its audience what successful leadership looks like in motion. We’ve just been trained to equate confidence with skill, and as anybody who’s ever played a sport knows, they’re not the same at all.

Without the choreography necessary to convey Tatara’s failures, the show falls back on dialogue to destroy and rebuild his new partnership. A lot of Chinatsu’s grief seems to stem from jealousy, which comes to the surface after she learns about the past Tatara/Mako partnership. I felt really proud of Mako for keeping her patience with Chinatsu, even after the older girl implied that dancers with consistent partners led breezy, carefree lives. Mako’s maturity aside, however, this scene boiled down to Tatara’s leadership being verbally praised, and Chinatsu deciding to give him a second chance as a result. The Tatara/Shizuku scene involved even more lip service, but was somehow less convincing – if Tatara is capable of impressing a veteran like Shizuku, why is his lack of leading ability constantly being harped on? As this scene played out, with one of Japan’s best amateur dancers calling him “a mystery,” I couldn’t help but think that Tatara has always been portrayed as an open book.

Alright, that’s enough criticism of the show’s visuals. As important as they ought to be in a show about ballroom dancing, the characters are the main attraction, and they really came through in the second of these two episodes. Being in a competitive setting once again, Tatara and Chinatsu really seemed to be click, despite their occasional bickering. The appearance of the dancers’ family members was a lot of fun, as well, especially Mine-san’s wife and child, from whom he kept his continued dancing a secret. But the thing that really sold me on the start of this arc was the final scene, where Tatara’s intensity started to overtake Chinatsu, represented both by smoke and by blood cells entering her body. Ballroom pulled out a couple of neat dance sequences for the start of the Metropolitan tournament, but taken alone, those wouldn’t have been enough to convince me of Chinatsu’s sensation. This show tends to hit a home run whenever it uses visual metaphors this way, so I’m glad it went back to that well. It’s no small task to convince your audience that someone as stubborn as Chinatsu would give control to another person, but the creative team took a good first step with this episode.

Posted on 23 October 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

Boy, this was really a Tale of Two Ballrooms. One of these episodes was almost certainly outsourced, based on the visual inconsistencies that extended even to key poses, but handled its character moments dutifully. The other looked markedly better than most of this show’s recent offerings, but rushed through so much material that its conclusion had hardly any impact. I suppose it’s a good thing I watched them together, since they make up for each other’s weaknesses, but episode 16’s abrupt finish left a sour taste in my mouth to end the doubleheader. A word of warning before you read any further: this is going to be one of those reviews were I make reference to the Ballroom manga more than once, and the eternal anime buzzword “pacing” will probably make an appearance before too long. If that sounds like something you can tolerate, at least for a few more paragraphs, then let’s unpack these episodes together.

My favorite part of “Taking the Reins” was the introduction of Kugimiya, who made an excellent transition from page to screen. He’s a blunt, imposing figure, whose tall stature and thin eyes make him a good aesthetic foil for Tatara. They’re opposites in the way they approach dance, as well; Kugimiya speaks harshly to his partner (who he’s nicknamed “Banshee”), and considers the strength of a couple’s leader to be of paramount importance. When Tatara objects to that philosophy, Kugimiya uses his undeniable skill to toss Tatara (occupying the female role) around like a ragdoll. Even Kugimiya’s theme, with its schizophrenic bassline and backwards piano, is brash and off-putting – the anime staff did an A+ job with his character. Off-putting though he may be, he’s right about how important the leader’s role is in ballroom dance, a fact that Hyodo’s mother Marisa reiterates more clearly than ever before. As Tatara’s new coach, it’s her job to make her pupil take a more active role in his routines, but it won’t be easy given his typically passive attitude.

Tatara’s old coach makes an appearance in this episode, as well, with Sengoku’s return to Japan after a month-long timeskip. The kids attend Japan’s International Dance Championships and watch as he and Hongo place third on the world stage, a feat which leaves Tatara in awe of his former mentor. After sharing a few laughs throughout the day, teacher and student have a nice moment together when Tatara works up the nerve to call him “sensei” for the first (and probably last) time. I thought it was swell of Ballroom to acknowledge the influence Sengoku has had on his old student’s development, especially because its newly-heightened narrative pace risks leaving some characters behind. Sengoku could have been a little more sentimental about it in the moment, but he had some encouraging words for Tatara during their classic train station farewell, so I’m happy. If there’s one criticism I’d level at this scene, it’s that it played a bit like a final goodbye, but it shouldn’t have, since I doubt this is the last time they’ll see one another. And speaking of scenes that don’t feel right…

Here’s a tip for all you aspiring storyboard artists out there: USE THE MANGA PANELS WHEN PLANNING YOUR ANIME. The beauty of series with existing source material is that some of the work is already done for you, and comics in particular lay things out really nicely. You can deviate from the manga, of course, but since anime is presented to the viewer at a fixed tempo, it’s important to note panels that indicate the passage of time, and use a similar device in your adaptation. Elaborate on them, do a montage, or throw a few stills on screen set to a throwaway piece of music – just make sure the episode is paced appropriately. Here’s what not to do: finish a scene with Marisa telling Tatara and Chinatsu that they can’t compete in a Grand Prix, fade to black, and transition immediately to the two of them on a train to the Grand Prix one month later. You might do this for humorous effect, but that’s not what Ballroom wanted to achieve here, and their omission of the manga’s dance training and end-of-school panels made the end of the episode feel super choppy.

The same problem carried over to the next episode, where Tatara’s obsession with a peculiar sensation he experienced while dancing led to his disqualification from the Grand Prix. He zoned out while sitting on the sidelines, you see, and when he came to, the competition was over. That’s what you might think, anyway, given that the anime only presents us with a shot of Chinatsu’s anguished look, then cuts straight to them in street clothes at a train station. Gone are her repeated attempts to rouse him, his slow return to reality, the call from another competitor asking if he should be on the dance floor, and the indication that the heat is still going on and they only missed it by a minute or so. The show was so preoccupied with showcasing its (admittedly cool) four-legged animation that it forgot how to sequence itself. I can only guess whether anime-only viewers found these scenes to be sloppy, but I know that similar transitions in other series have bothered me, even without knowing a thing about the original work.

There’s a whole half-episode of content left to discuss, but I don’t want this review to hit a thousand words, so I’m calling it here. Looks like I’ve still got plenty to say about Ballroom, so we probably ought to go back to single episode reviews. I’ll touch on whatever I missed from “Four-legged” in the next one.

Posted on 10 October 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

The unstoppable Anime Catch-up Train continues with a Ballroom doubleheader. These two episodes weren’t aired on the same day like 4 and 5 from the previous cour, but they might as well have been, given the way they complimented one another. Chinatsu has stolen not only the spotlight, but every bulb in the damn house at this point, but her peculiar personality needs explaining, and that’s what these episodes set out to do. For all the popularity that the tsundere trope enjoys, I’m glad that Ballroom decided to dive into Chinatsu’s background and explore what makes her tick, rather than carelessly dropping her into the cast and coasting on Japan’s love for girls who play hot-and-cold. If it hadn’t taken the necessary time to examine her character, her clashes with Tatara would be even more frustrating than they are now (even if the OP blatantly foreshadows them).

When I first read the Ballroom manga, I had a theory that Chinatsu was a lesbian. It might not be the most open-minded assumption in the history of fan theories, but there was at least some justification for it: her initial fangirling over Sengoku is revealed to be a smokescreen for her obsession with Hongo (his total babe of a partner), and her rivalry with Akira has the faintest hint of yuri undertones to it, given their history as dance partners. Because of the anime’s faithfulness to the manga, I was reminded of that past speculation when watching these episodes, but something else jumped out at me, too – Chinatsu’s desire to be normal. In a quiet scene where she’s doing a bit of spring cleaning, she appears torn between repairing and giving away a pair of dancing heels, but when her mom asks whether she’s thinking of getting back into the sport, she recoils at the notion. Similarly, she initially mocks and rejects Tatara for his interest in ballroom dance, but agrees to practice with him even before roping him into a scheme to humiliate Akira.

The thing about Chinatsu is that she suffers from role confusion. Having been forced into the leading position in her juniors partnership, where girls dance together, she tends to take the lead in other situations, as well – but only if she gets a clear signal that it’s okay. So when Tatara confidently admits to the class that he participates in ballroom dance competitions, she keeps her passion hidden; but when he nervously abandons a request for her to practice with him, she coolly agrees, and steers the flow of their waltz to boot. Chinatsu wants to be normal, but she knows that leading isn’t “normal” for women, neither on nor off the dance floor, which results in that signature hot/cold personality. Tatara isn’t exactly charmed by it, asking himself some variation of, “What is with this girl?” probably ten times over the course of these two episodes. This became exasperating after a while, but I can understand his bewilderment, since Chinatsu is so different than either of the other partners he’s had thus far.

The conflict between our resident redhead and her old partner Akira was beautifully set up, with Tatara caught in the crossfire at his new part-time job. Seeing him standing diligently at attention in his spiffy new uniform, even after his boss told him to take it down a notch, got an audible laugh from me. The atmosphere in the café became a lot frostier once Chinatsu walked in the door, though, as Akira pays her ex-leader a series of scathing backhanded compliments, all while asserting her superiority as a dancer and a woman. Although she looks like a high school boy’s dream, Akira is more than capable of going for the jugular, and in her rush to scrape together a rebuttal, Chinatsu declares that she and Tatara will partner up and defeat her at the Mikasa Cup. Despite their incompatibility, they perform well at a qualifying novice round, but first place is snatched from them by a pair of dancers under the tutelage of Marisa Hyodo, who appears just before the credits roll. Always the provocateur, she accuses Tatara of forcing Chinatsu to do all the work in their routine, cementing his dawning realization that he doesn’t know how to properly lead. From this point on, the series will be intensely focused on his journey to understand both the rigid requirements of ballroom dance, and the thoughts and feelings that drive his new partner. Without spoiling anything, I can reveal that it’ll be a long time before he manages either task, so I hope you’re strapped in for the ride.

Posted on 28 September 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

We’ve reached the halfway point of Ballroom e Youkoso’s projected 24-episode run, and along with a new high school life for Fujita Tatara comes a new OP/ED combo. Unison Square Garden returns to do the intro for the second cour, and I’m loving the new song choice. Both openings have been serviceably energetic for a shounen series, but I prefer the backbeat-driven danceability of the new one to the vocal theatrics of the original. The new ED trades clever waltz-pop fusion for even more J-rock, though, which is a definite step down. One notable thing about both visual sequences is their heavy emphasis on Chinatsu, the redhead that we glimpsed last week and to whom we were briefly introduced this time around. The OP’s use of a thunderstorm as the setting for her dance with Tatara tells us everything we need to know about her personality, and the contentious relationship she’ll have with her eventual partner. But that’s a topic for another time, as the present episode features Gaju and even Sengoku more strongly than any one newcomer.

Unfortunately for our hero, Tatara’s first year at his new school doesn’t get off to the blossoming start he’d hoped for. The cute girl sitting in front of him mocks his hobby, which he was brave enough to mention during his class introduction, and a new gang of thugs recruit him to be their errand boy on day one. The poor kid just wanted to make some new friends in high school – he even thought to himself on the way to homeroom that five was plenty! A hooded figure appears to save him from a year of subservience, though, who is eventually revealed to be our favorite mullet-head Gaju. It’s great that the elder Akagi sibling happens to go to the same school, and that he properly befriends Tatara after beating up the bullies who were on his case, but I’d love to see Tatara meet new people or stand up for himself using some of the confidence he’s learned from dance. For now, though, I’m glad he’s got somebody he can talk to between classes, even if Gaju’s the kind of weirdo who gets upset that his sister has started wearing a bra. Anime keeping it classy as always.

Something I noticed while watching this episode were the minor tweaks Ballroom made to its characters in the move to its second cour. There’s been a bit of a timeskip since the Tenpei Cup, which could explain a slight shift in their attitudes, but it was still troubling to me in a couple spots. Gaju’s sheepishness when asking for Tatara’s cell number was one instance, since it doesn’t gel with his brash personality. It felt like the show was working overtime to make him sympathetic, since he functioned as a bully himself just a few weeks ago, but in most other scenes he was his usual hotheaded self. The bigger sin, from my perspective, was turning Shizuku into a blushing Tatara fan and beacon of encouragement. Her speech about enjoying the Tenpei Cup because of his presence bore zero resemblance to her ice queen demeanor at the event itself, and while we know that was just a façade, I don’t understand why she’d drop it so completely now. Nor am I able to grasp why she wants to compete with him again so badly, since she’s light years beyond his skill level. Their whole conversation was a setup for Tatara’s new goal of finding a partner and rising through the JDSF rankings, but Shizuku needn’t have become the Perfect Girl for that to be communicated.

The show’s second act was devoted to a professional dance competition where Sengoku (and his partner Chizuru) were the main attraction. Tatara and Gaju go to watch them perform, which is a rare opportunity now that he’s traveling abroad once more. There’s a distinct sense here that the world of Ballroom is expanding, as Tatara realizes that Sengoku spends most of his time overseas, being a major figure in the DanceSport world, and that it’s a miracle he managed to attract his attention. Tatara’s self-doubt comes to the forefront in this scene, leaving him unable to make eye contact with Sengoku as he leaves the floor, but as his former coach passes by, he instructs him to “watch closely.” What follows is an exhibition of skill that the show really needed to nail, and I think they pulled it off nicely. There were several clear, fluid dance sequences here, nestled amidst the disorienting effects used to illustrate Sengoku’s unorthodox movement. (Even the CG background dancers looked better than usual, although that could have been my imagination.) His performance is so captivating that a mob of screaming fans chase him as he leaves the arena, and who else should Tatara happen to spot among them but Chinatsu? Hearing her explain away that earlier dismissal of ballroom dancing ought to be good, but then, so will everything else involving her character – she’s my favorite!

Posted on 21 September 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

And so the Tenpei Cup comes to a close at last. It took five episodes to get from the first round to the awards ceremony, and not all parts of the competition were created equal, but I’m happy that my girl Mako managed to claim the Ballroom Queen award. After she received the trophy, there were several key players in the crowd who gave Tatara all the credit for leading so well, but I’m chalking that up to shounen hero bias. Mako is the more experienced dancer, with better form and greater stamina, and she’s one who managed to break up the Gaju/Shizuku pair and team with her brother once again. Despite everything that’s been said about their mismatched heights and skill levels, Gaju seemed relatively accepting of the situation (after pouting for a bit, that is), so we ought to see the Akagi siblings pairing together at future events.

Of course, Tatara played an important role in Mako’s victory, but his obvious fatigue and sloppy footwork helped to land them at the bottom of the finalist rankings, which translated to a 7th place finish out of 43 couples. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, considering it’s his first competition (if you don’t count his stint as Hyodo’s body double earlier in the series), but Tatara is ashamed, which is right in line with his character. Immediately after hearing that he hadn’t placed in the top two, he confessed to his coach that he’d been dwelling on his poor dancing abilities for the entire affair. There were tears in his eyes as he made that admission, which I felt were appropriate, but might have been more impactful if Ballroom hadn’t turned on the waterworks at least once a week for the entire Tenpei arc. All Sengoku could do was pat his head and tell him to take the floor with a smile, which he managed to accomplish. Given what we know about Tatara, though, this loss will weigh heavily on his mind for some time to come.

Tatara wasn’t the only character to be deeply upset by the final standings, however. Although Gaju and Shizuku placed first with ease, the loss to Mako in the Ballroom Queen category caused Shizuku no small amount of grief, as we learn from a brief post-competition scene where she cries quietly to herself in front of a restroom mirror. More interesting than her sadness, though, is her frustration, which shone through with the self-targeted accusation, “You’re terrible!” I’ve written a lot over the past few weeks about the similarities between Tatara and Mako, but this critical, unforgiving attitude is the first time I’ve picked up on a real link between Tatara and Shizuku. Their goals couldn’t be more different, but it’s possible that they share more narrative DNA than meets the eye. Both are newly partnerless, as well – could they possibly join forces for the upcoming DanceSport season?

If you watched past the ending credits this week, you were treated to a handful of scenes revolving around Tatara’s high school entrance exams. Near the end of the episode, as he and his dad celebrate his acceptance, a redheaded girl can be seen smiling and walking away from the jubilant pair, though the camera refuses to travel above her mouth. If you’re familiar with anime character introductions, you know that withholding part of someone’s face means they’re an important part of the story. Spoiler alert: this girl is Tatara’s new partner, not Shizuku. The redhead’s name is Chinatsu, and she’s my favorite character in the manga, which begins to focus on Tatara’s high school life after this point. I like Ballroom most when the characters are bouncing off one another outside the competitive setting, so hopefully the anime director has resisted the urge to truncate some of my favorite parts of the story. Fingers crossed!

Posted on 14 September 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

When I was a kid, my friends and I included my brother in our games, but only reluctantly. He was younger, smaller, and slower than all the other players, whether the contest was bike racing or tag or touch football. If I were a team captain, I’d be sure to pick him for my side, but not until the last round – I didn’t want to arm the neighborhood brats with any reason to pick on me. Obsessed with the safety of my own reputation, I failed to notice his embarrassment until years after that part of our lives had passed. You might imagine, then, that the scene in this episode where Gaju shooed Mako away from his grown-up kickball game sent a pang through my chest. Before this flashback, his primary role had been to mock his sister at every turn, but now we have another piece of the puzzle. Gaju was just another kid who put too much stock in the opinions of others, and he’s carried that concern with him into adolescence.

This week’s opening flashback consisted of more than just the kickball scene, though. It showed us how the Akagi siblings entered the world of ballroom dancing: through Mako’s repeated appeals to her beloved older brother, who eventually caved and became her partner. Gaju may have been ashamed at the idea of dancing at first, but his stubbornness prohibited him from quitting, and his natural athleticism allowed him to excel once he began competing. When that talent was noticed and praised by a judge at one of his first events, his switch was flipped – from that moment on, he was a dancer. This need for recognition is a much stronger motivation than wanting to surpass Hyodo or impress Shizuku, so it goes a long way in making Gaju a human character with internal drives and desires. Those desires were strong enough, though, that he began to heed the whispers of his classmates and the advice of his coach, all of whom assumed that he’d leave Mako behind one day, because she was holding him back.

Now that he’s found a better partner, then, how does Gaju feel in the wake of Mako’s heart-stopping waltz from the previous episode? He’s sufficiently distracted to make a small footwork error that all the dancers and judges in the room notice immediately, and upset enough to get teary-eyed at his failure when he leaves the floor. Most shounen-y of all, he gets angry to the point of punching himself in the jaw, ostensibly to refocus himself on the contest at hand. This scene was more than a little goofy, but it wasn’t bad enough to sap the goodwill that his backstory created. Gaju left his sister because he wanted to be the best (and the way the show frames it, he made the right call, at least from a competitive standpoint), so if he starts making silly footwork mistakes, he’s both letting down his new partner and dishonoring his old one. Luckily, Shizuku is there to pick up the slack as the Tenpei Cup moves into its final group stage.

With Hyodo in the crowd, Shizuku is still aiming to blow the doors off the place, even if she has nothing to prove at an unsanctioned competition like this one. We got a second flashback to one of her practice sessions with a much younger Hyodo, where he nonchalantly informed her that she was more of a rival than a partner in his eyes. This scene did a lot less for me than the carefully-structured opening sequence, but the memory is clearly a strong one for Shizuku, who goes into beast mode during the Slow Foxtrot and wins over the entire room, much as Mako did last week. Even Tatara is stunned, which is not a good look for an underdog trying to highlight his own partner’s appeal. The last segment of the competition will be the Quickstep, but even with Sengoku’s special variation in their back pockets, I’ve got a bad feeling about the outcome of this competition for the exhausted Tatara/Mako pair. With Shizuku on fire and Gaju having found his footing once again, our heroes still have a mountain to climb, and only one dance left with which to do it.

Posted on 6 September 2017 with categories: Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports

For the last month or so, Ballroom e Youkoso has been keenly interested in expanding and developing its cast of characters. Even with the introduction of the Tenpei Cup, most of the show’s dramatic moments have been rooted in something deeper than dance, be it feelings of inadequacy, a bitter sibling feud, or a budding attraction to a partner or competitor. This episode was a payoff for a lot of the conflict and struggle we’ve witnessed until this point, but it also functioned as a straightforward sports anime, and those aren’t necessarily my favorite. The constant crowd reactions, the special technique names, and the 20-minute runtime that covered five minutes of action all recalled a barrage of lesser series that Ballroom needn’t have imitated at this stage of the game. Luckily, this episode was concerned primarily with honoring Mako, whose transformation from timid duckling to blossoming rose kept the half hour afloat.

The particularly impressive thing about Tatara and Mako’s performance this week was that they rehearsed for only a few minutes before the finals started, and without a particular set of steps in mind. That’s just as well, because Sengoku’s assumption that the Quickstep would be the last hurdle was foiled by Marisa, who convinced the judge to pivot to the Waltz at the last minute. We still don’t know the precise cause of the animosity between these two – the smart money is on her displeasure with Sengoku coaching someone besides her son, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she’s his former coach, or if you want to get really soapy, an ex-lover (even if she’s ~15 years his senior, I could see it happening). Whatever the reason for their bickering, Sengoku ends up with egg on his face, but the brief practice session between his pupils pays big dividends when they hit the floor.

Last week I wrote about DanceSport couples being graded largely on the skill of their male halves, and this time we heard the same thing straight from the mouth of a judge. Tatara and Mako’s partner-centric performance, though, creates a difficult task for their evaluators, who are so mesmerized by Mako that they forget to observe her leader. The show’s limited animation makes it hard to decipher what part Tatara has in this captivating routine, so it falls back on phrases like “Throwaway Oversway from a Double Turning Lock” and “Same Foot Lunge to Right Leg Develope,” which might as well be wrestling terms for all I know. The constant crowd reactions clue us in to the originality and impressiveness of their performance, but they do a poor job of keeping us involved in the scene (even if I got a laugh from the comment that Tatara was “too bland” for Mako). Putting the peanut gallery aside, though, there were two major characters whose impressions of this scene really sold it for me.

The first was Hyodo, who knows just by looking that Mako has worked her ass off to achieve her silhouette. This was a particularly important observation for the show to make, because it tells us that her overwhelming appeal is due to her own effort, rather than yet another aspect of Tatara’s genius. There’s no doubt that he played a role in “making her bloom,” as she requested just moments earlier, because Mako thinks to herself during their routine that he’s providing a solid frame. But in the end, all eyes are on her, including Gaju’s, and it’s his stunned response to his sister’s waltz that matters more than anyone else’s. Ballroom chose to repeat and expand on a previous flashback in this episode, which established Mako as unwilling to express herself for fear of “getting in the way” of her irritable brother. By contrast, she comes alive in Tatara’s arms, not because he’s a better leader than Gaju, but because his biggest concern is that Mako shines. And shine she does – her brother can hardly believe that the radiant young woman on the dance floor is his former partner, and he’s probably kicking himself for failing to bring out this side of her. This is the biggest payoff the show has offered so far, but despite Tatara and Mako’s happiness at having danced so well, it’s not as though they’ve won the event. Gaju and Shizuku are up next, and the continued partnership of both couples is still on the line heading into the next episode. Whichever pair emerges with the Tenpei Cup in hand, though, Mako achieved a significant victory with her performance this week.

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