This might not be a bad time for younger anime fans to Google “Wally Pipp”.
This was kind of a big episode of Ballroom e Youkoso for me, as it’s the first “new” one I’ve seen given the preview screening at Anime Expo. And while I get some of the concerns about this series – even share them to an extent – I can’t deny that I was pretty swept up by what was happening on screen. I think the show has improved each week, and that’s always a good sign.
One issue some have raised is the rather stereotypical fanservice moments – most obviously the “accidental peeping” but also stuff like Sengoku yanking Shizuku’s dress down this week. Yeah, I can live without it too – but a little context is merited here, I think. In the world of shounen manga you’re dealing with an audience that’s accustomed to formula. You have a few chapters to try and win readers over – because if you don’t, your series is going to be axed. Shounen’s a cutthroat world for new manga, with many failed trial runs for every serialization, and you have to make an impression any way you can. Somebody like Arakawa or Togashi can take their time and do what they want – a new writer like Takeuchi-sensei cannot. Maybe that sounds like an excuse, but it’s also reality. And I don’t see anything egregious with Ballroom by any means.
I won’t claim to be an expert, but I suspect that ballroom dance is one of those semi-mystical aspects of Western culture in Japan – it’s literally and substantively quite foreign and has more than a whiff of the exotic to it. That’s why the rather grand, storybook tone of Welcome to the Ballroom seems to fit – we’re seeing this world through Tatara’s eyes. And when he goes backstage at the Prince Mikasa Cup, those eyes are wide indeed (one almost wants to call his “That person has such long a long neck!” comment an inside joke, but it’s surely unintentional). These people (even Shizuku and Kiyoharu to an extent) are like Gods to Tatara-kun.
One of those people we meet backstage is Iwakuma Yoshinori (Yuusen Isamu), a rival of Sengoku that he calls “The Gorilla”. He’s going to be important, because through an accidental encounter in the men’s room we see that Hyodo-kun is having knee problems – he’s using athletic tape – and later, after swamping the Latin competitors, he doesn’t show up for the waltz preliminaries. In fact we see him crumpled at the foot of the stairs (what is it with this kid and stairs?) with Iwakuma-san standing at the top – and the implication is that Iwakuma, frustrated at forever finishing second, pushed him. Personally I don’t believe that happened – I think Hyodo’s knee simply gave out and Iwakuma happened to be with him at the time.
This is where things get a little wild. I don’t know the rules of these competitions and they aren’t explained in detail, but my presumption is that Shizuku simply has to survive the heats and reach the finals – but what happens if she has a different partner? For Sengoku to push Tatara into this – even if it is the waltz – is obviously an enormous risk. But the truth is, what we see of Sengoku tells us that he’s a great dancer and a terrible dance teacher. He doesn’t offer encouragement, only insults, and can’t be bothered to deliver any actual instruction himself. By pushing Tatara into dancing with Shiziku here he’s risking a trauma that could not just ruin the lad’s dancing career, but his life – destroying not just his confidence in dance but across the board (and he doesn’t have any to spare). But for Sengoku, it’s perfectly in character.
However it’s set up, this last third of the episode is splendid drama. Tatara is obviously terrified, but what saves him is that he remembers watching Hyodo’s choreography – the problem is, he’s only seen the first part of it. That means he has to wing his own choreography after that – a huggermugger amalgam of practice moves like “The Whisk” and high-level flash like the “High Hover”. The point is, Tatara is a natural – watch, learn, adapt. All through this tense madness I was wondering how he’d managed to fit into the tuxedo, but then he tripped over his pants hem at the very end – which I suppose answered that question.
I have no idea where this leaves Shizuku (or Tatara for that matter) in the competition – are they disqualified for switching partners? Would they make the grade even if not? But what’s most interesting is Kiyoharu’s reaction – he grabs Tatara by the scruff and screams “Give it back!”. Obviously we’re intended to muse over what he means, though my feeling is that he’s talking about his choreography (as opposed to Shizuku-san, which is the crucial point). We’ll see – and it remains interesting to speculate on just how this triangle is going to play out. Ballroom e Youkoso has definitely accomplished the hard part – I’m wrapped up in what happens now.